Award-winning story collection is inspired by childhood stories
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
Professor Gabrielle Fuentes discusses how Latinx literature shaped her career, and how childhood stories inspired her new short story collection.
By Laura Wortman 🇵🇪
Dr. Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes posing at Tawes Hall on Dec.7,2022. (Justin Guzman)
Professor Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, a former resident of Wisconsin, comes from a family of Cuban, Irish, and American descent. She is able to understand and appreciate many different cultures as a result of her multicultural and mixed-race upbringing.
“I grew up hearing a lot of stories from both sides of my family,” Fuentes said in an interview.
Many of the stories in her recent story collection, “Are We Ever Our Own,” stem from childhood stories and reimagine her grandmother’s life in Cuba.
Fuentes is the winner of the tenth annual BOA Short Fiction Prize for her collection.
The stories center around the experiences of women of the Cuban diaspora, who live separate lives but are connected through their heritage. She also drew inspiration from Cuban and American photos and the lives of different visual artists.
Fuentes’ exploration of Latinx literature and her identity took shape in college, at Brown University where she received her undergraduate degree.
Fuentes’ motivation to better her Spanish in college influenced her writing style and content. By noticing the differences in Spanish literature, such as the grammatical structure of sentences, and a smaller Spanish dictionary, she slowly developed her own writing style.
Her later writing would also draw inspiration from Latinx history.
“This was a part of me that I don’t have full access to but I want access to, it’s a big part of my identity as a writer,” she said in an interview with The Writers Center.
Her undergraduate university didn't offer any creative writing courses during her time there that highlighted varied writers or honored various cultural identities.
Fuentes felt frustrated because the curriculum at the time offered no space for diverse writing.
“It was really frowned upon to write about your identity and your history, especially if that history wasn't white,” she said.
It wasn’t until graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, that Fuentes was able to find great mentors with different experiences to help guide her through her writing and identity.
“I was able to explore all the different aspects of my history but also know what I was interested in learning and writing outside of my own personal experience as well,” she said.
Dr. Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes reading her book "Are We Ever Our Own" while sitting down at Tawes Hall on Dec. 7, 2022. (Justin Guzman)
As an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Maryland, Fuentes is now able to be what she needed, bringing a diverse variety of literature into undergraduate English classes.
According to Fuentes, her scholarly yet personal background and deep understanding of Latinx literature and writing offer students a rich foundation to learn about Latinx literature and authors.
In her class “Selected Topics in U.S. Latinx Literature; The Latinx Short Story,” students get to read from a diverse selection of writers including folktales, poetry, and graphic fiction.
While the class was not offered during the Fall 2022 semester, it will be offered in the future according to Fuentes.