Angelica Barraza interviewed by Ahja Colbert

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Angelica Maria Barraza is an earthling, lover, tiny-desk enthusiast, LGBTQIA advocate, bruja. She teaches creative writing at Naropa University and is a counselor at Attention Homes for homeless teens. When she’s not writing, or thinking about language, or reading, or thinking about narrative, she can be found wandering the Boulder foothills with a fanny pack. This fall, she will begin a PhD in Literature where she hopes to continue developing her craft and indulging her love of words.

 

Interviewer: Who are some of your writing inspirations and how have they helped mold you as a writer?

Angelica Barraza: The first book I fell in love with as a kid was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I was struck by how she navigated the complexities of class — I had never before read a book in which the protagonists were both poor and real, poor and brave, angry, and hopeful. It provided somewhat of a counter narrative to everything else I was exposed to. You know, all the other coming-of-age books we’re given in school that fail to account for experiences outside of white middle-class America. I remember staying up all night to finish it, and when I was done I flipped the book over and started right back again at the beginning.

Since then I’ve found home in so many books, but I had to learn to look for them. Incubation: A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Kapil, Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez, and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano are a few I return to again and again for inspiration. They taught me about voice, about desire, and how a character might come to one day look in the mirror and love/hate what they see.

I: Can you describe your fascination with writing, reading, language and so on? Where would you say it stemmed from?

Angelica: Like so many others, I came to language as a means of escape. As a kid, it was how I did all the things I couldn’t do in my real life, that for some reason or another circumstances wouldn’t allow. A page became its own world, rife with so many possibilities. Does this make sense? It was a way of dreaming something into the world of being. It was about having control, but also too about letting go. When I sit down to write I’m excited by the blank page. I try not to over think it, and follow the language to wherever it takes me.

I: You teach creative writing at Naropa University. What is the best part of your job? With your love for words, is it safe to assume you enjoy reading and critiquing your students work?

Angelica: The best part of this job, hands down, is reading student work. It never ceases to amaze me the myriad ways students respond to the same prompt. I think it says so much about our own unique experience as humans. Also, they’re turning in first drafts throughout most of the semester, and every once in a while I’ll read a poem and be so moved by the rawness of it, by the way it leaps off the page to puncture, that I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon with it. It’s hard to hand these ones back, or to articulate to depth of the impact.

I also feel really fortunate to be able to carve out large chunks of my day for thinking and talking about writing. It hasn’t always been this way and it makes a big difference when it comes to my own process. I always find myself pulling ideas from the classroom and integrating them into my work.

I: How does material for a piece appear to you? Do you just write and see what happens or are you the type to work from a moment or image that is in your head?

Angelica: I love how this question is phrased. So often it is like that, appearing in the shape of a shadow or a ghost. But a lot of the time the moment of writing is preceded by long bouts of solitude. I spend a lot of time walking by myself — to and from places like work, the store, etc, and hiking up the trail by my house in Boulder. My mind wanders in a way that’s incredibly hard to describe. But when I get home and get to my computer, the words that appear on the page are familiar. Like I’ve already worked through them somehow, even if not directly. I edit this way too. I’ll have a few lines in my head and go out for a walk. I won’t necessarily be thinking about them in the front of my mind, but then I’ll round a corner and have a new idea on where to go with them. The whole thing is bizarre to recount. But a lot of things are like that. I mean, like fire. I still can’t believe we figured out we could make it from rubbing two sticks together.

I: Is your working manuscript nonfiction? It reads like a calm confession. How do you step into the voice and tone of each of your pieces?

Angelica: There’s this worn debate about whether or not a writer should be limited to writing what they know. And while I think a writer should be able to write whatever they damn please, I find myself constantly returning to my own experiences for content because, well, I know it. I know it in a way that I do not authentically know other things. I know it in a way that makes me want to interrogate, dismantle, repeat and disguise it. As a means of getting to know myself better. Or maybe as a means of distancing myself from my life, if only to return with fresh eyes.

I recently read somewhere that humans are unable to create new faces in dreams. That each face in our dreams is a compilation of features and people that we’ve seen before, walking down the street or whatever. This struck me. That even in our most creative subconscious states, we are still bound by the familiar. So a lot of what I write is a patchwork of both my experiences and those of the people around me. Which is all a roundabout way of saying yes, it’s nonfiction. It’s me, but it’s also everyone I’ve ever met, wound together in a dream.

I: Keeping your working manuscript and past pieces in mind, could you explain your revision process? How important is revision to you personally?

Angelica: Revision may be my favorite part of the process. Integral to it all is time. I need to step away from a piece for months, sometimes longer, so that when I return to it I see it differently. From this new positioning, I’m able to make notes on what needs to be edited in a way that I wasn’t able to before, because I was too close. This is especially important for my nonfiction work. I need distance for revision, but also as a break from the vulnerability some of the content requires.

I also find it helpful to read my work at open mics. Anything I’m embarrassed to read aloud, I’ll make a note to rework when I get home!

I: What are your plans for this working manuscript? Is there anything else you are currently working on that we should be looking out for?

Angelica: At some point in my life, I’m looking forward to finishing something (ha!), though I have to admit I’m more invested in process than product. I’ve been working on this manuscript for almost a year now, which means I took a few months to write it and am just now beginning the process of its first full revision. I’m starting a PhD this fall and will be bringing this manuscript with me. I’m hoping this will spur my process and nudge me toward the final stages of completion.

Also, because my revision process is so lengthy, I always have several projects in various stages that I’m working on. In addition to this piece I’m about three revisions deep into a poetry collection, and am in the initial writing stages of a longer fiction manuscript. Look out for these! Excerpts are forthcoming in Mourning/Morning & Bombay Gin!

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