Book Review: Raul Yzaguirre by Stella Pope Duarte

Stella Pope Duarte

Stella Pope Duarte will give the Festival keynote address on Friday, September 29, 5:30pm at Light Hall on the campus of Western New Mexico University. “Up the Spiral Staircase”: A young girl who liked to read, collect words and produce dramas enacted by barrio kids in her backyard, will in mid-life, find herself a nationally acclaimed author. How did it happen?  In a heartwarming, humorous conversation, Duarte—now a multi-award winning author–will share her surprising rise to success via the ups, downs, and twists and turns of a journey that began with a mysterious prophetic message. Led by the “writer within,” her story is an amazing trek into the world of invisible forces, dreams, symbols and awakenings that lodge in every writer’s heart. Duarte will also participate in the “Three Wise Women” panel about the writing life on Saturday, September 30 at 1:30pm at the Seedboat Gallery. Tom Hester shared his review of Duarte’s most recent work, Raul H. Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of Power:

 

From “Sí, Se Puede” to “We Are Here, Take Account of Us”
Tom Hester

La Causa, the movement by Latinos to gain their rightful place in U.S. society, chipped out its foothold in the 1960’s with larger-than-life leaders. Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Corky Gonzales and many others aroused a generation with charisma and fiery words.

To make the transition from those days of marches, boycotts, and mass rallies to years of national policy making, securing funds for staff and facilities, and laying plans for improved housing, education and employment, is to call upon a different sort of leader.

Stella Pope Duarte’s new biography, Raul H. Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of Power, tells the story of such a leader who built the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) into the most influential Latino organization of the 21st century.

Duarte, esteemed as a talented writer for If I Die in Juárez about the rapes and murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez and for Women Who Live in Coffee Shops and Other Stories, traces Yzaguirre from his childhood in the lower Rio Grande valley, living with his grandparents, to his service as U.S. Ambassador in the Dominican Republic during the Obama admininstration.

Themes are repeated. Throughout the book Yzaguirre’s capacity for work and his honorable conduct are traced to his mother’s father, Gavino Morin, whom he called Papa. Yzaguirre’s firm commitments to courtesy and justice came directly from grandmother Licha Morin, Mama.

Although Mexican Americans and the Spanish language predominated in San Juan, Texas, bigotry, segregation and prejudicial school policies oppressed the majority during the 1940’s and 50’s. In an episode that Duarte and no doubt Yzaguirre himself cast as heroic, the 13-year-old Raul ran away from home to work on a Corpus Christi fishing boat. It was during that interlude when he chauffeured Dr. Hector Garcia, the founder of the GI Forum, a civil rights organization that focused on Mexican American men.

Returning home and to school, Yzaguirre excelled in debate and extemporaneous speaking during Interscholatic League events that introduced Texas students to the best competition. Pushed by his mother, who lived down the block from the Marins, Yzaguirre knew that failing to attend college was not an option, but that his family also had no savings. He joined the Air Force, raced through George Washington University and by the mid-60’s was in the middle of community organizing.

During the Johnson years Yzaguirre chaired the National Organization of Mexican American Services, NOMAS, comprising largely university students. The White House illegally employed the CIA to spy on and then to subvert the group, creating conflict with other Latino organizations just beginning to find their voice. The period was fraught with constant debates about civil rights and relations between the African American and Latino organizations, about the war in Viet Nam and where civil rights fit in fighting that war, and about electoral politics and the politics of protest and the streets.

Before Nixon became President, Yzaguirre and some friends from the Office of Economic Opportunity formed a consultantcy group, with the bland name of Interstate Research Associates. The IRA pledged to be both think tank, gathering needed statistics about the state of the Latino American community, and program generator, helping groups to become change agents. Yzaguirre was in charge. Within four years the IRA was employing 100 or more staffers.

As the Nixon years progressed, business for IRA slowed and Yzaguirre, who had married while at George Washington University and working in a medical lab, was tempted to return to San Juan, Texas, and operate a service program. His family had endured hard times in the early days of IRA and he was looking for some stability and regular income.

Instead, Yzaguirre accepted the chairmanship of the Southwest Council of La Raza, a failing Phoenix advocacy organization. It would be years before Yzaguirre would find either stability or an adequate income for three children living in suburban Maryland. The biography follows the meandering course of the National Council, which in 2017 changed its name to UnidosUS.

The chairman, never wavering from his commitment to Hispanos in communities across America – the Mexicanos, Chicanos, Mexican Americans, Cubanos, Puerto Riquenos, Salvadoreños, Guatemaltecas, Latino Americanos, Hondurans, Nicaraguenses, and dozens of other national origin groups – and always highlighting their values and their importance in the economic, social and political lives of this country, used every strategem and lever to advance his cause.

cover of Raul Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of PowerWas there no charity organizing Latinos who had made it big in America? The NCLR created one. No advocacy for Latino actors, producers and directors in film and television? The NCLR created one. No single voice for Latinos facing HIV-AIDs, home-ownership discrimination, employment discrimination? The NCLR provided one.

This is a big book because Yzaguirre has led a big life. Now retired and battling Parkinson’s, he allowed Duarte to capture his interpretations of his challenges and victories. When the story strays from Yzaguirre, it tends to become a bit formulaic. The biography, which was financially supported by the NCLR after Yzaguirre left the chairmanship, does not attempt to assess the shortcomings of its subject. Nor does it have footnotes and an index that would have increased its value as a reference for the people and issues that it discusses. However, this biography provides an essential introduction to a vital figure in Chicano – and therefore North American – history.

 

Stella Pope Duarte is described as a “magical weaver with a sure hand and a pure heart,” and praised as an author who “will enlarge humanity.” Duarte has won honors and awards nationwide, including a 2009 American Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, the Southwest Book of the Year Award, and a Book Sense 76 Selection. She is a descendant of Irish and Mexican American parents, and was born and raised in the Sonorita Barrio in South Phoenix. Inspired to write by a prophetic dream of her father, she believes that writing, like love, begins within, or it doesn’t start at all.


Book Review: Unprocessed by Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble will speak at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 10:00am at the Old Elks Lodge. She will discuss her book Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food (William Morrow 2015), which describes her experience living an entire year without eating processed foods. Kimble was a city-dwelling 26-year-old, busy and broke, without so much as a garden plot to her name. But she cared about food: where it came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body. Far beyond just cutting out snacks and sodas, to avoid processed foods Megan had to ask: What makes food processed? The answer to that question is a journey through America’s food system, past and present. Barb Fila reviewed the book:

cover of UnprocessedThe tale of a young woman’s sojourn into a year of living “unprocessed” opens with the query “what is unprocessed food?” Megan Kimble, in Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, treats the reader to her personal adventure of “unprocessing,” as she sifts through the seemingly limitless possibilities that await when an individual makes a conscious decision to shirk the ubiquitous artificially-flavored and -colored, pesticide-laden, Frankenfood options on our supermarket shelves. Yes, reader, the term “unprocessed” will be bandied about.

Kimble lets us tag along as she visits farms, grain mills, wineries, and landfills; participates in a butchering; makes chocolate; and mills her own grain. She allows us into her personal life, as she discovers the joy inherent in the preparation and sharing of food, as well as the sometimes humorous difficulties – can one go unprocessed and still date a climate denier? She weaves into her narrative numerous developments throughout history, those that have rendered our food supply tainted and far-removed from the producers of what we put on our plates.

While delivering a fact-filled, but never staid, discourse on what it means to be an aware consumer, Kimble reminds us that there are repercussions and ramifications to what each of us purchases almost every day of our lives. She posits that we can, indeed, instigate changes to the food industry by voting with our dollars, and without soap-box histrionics, asserts that we have important choices to make, in her own definitive and fresh voice: “what we do every day is more important than what we do once in a while.”

-Barb Fila

 

Megan Kimble is the editor of Edible Baja Arizona, a local food magazine serving Tucson and the borderlands. Megan has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Orion Magazine, and High Country News. Her articles and essays have been anthologized in Best Food Writing 2015 (Da Capo Press), Coming of Age at the End of Nature (Trinity University Press 2016), and How We Speak to One Another (Coffee House Press 2017). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing nonfiction from the University of Arizona, and teaches as an adjunct lecturer in the school of journalism. For more about Kimble, visit megankimble.com.

This review and article was originally published on September 14 in the Silver City Independent.


Book Review: Chinatown a toda hora by Andrea Cote-Botero

Andrea Cote-Botero

Andrea Cote-Botero will speak at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Saturday, September 30 at 10:00am at the Old Elks Lodge in Silver City. She will discuss her experience as a writer: main literary influences, elements of the creative process, critical approaches to her artistic work, and more. Cote-Botero will read poems from her most recent book Chinatown a toda hora y otros poemas (Chinatown 24 hours and other poems).

JJ Amaworo Wilson shared his review of Chinatown a toda hora y otros poemas:

Andrea Cote-Botero is a much garlanded poet and prose writer, having won The National Poetry Prize from the Universidad Externado de Colombia (2003), the Puentes de Struga International Poetry Prize (2005) and the Cittá de Castrovillari Prize (2010). Her work has been translated into a dozen languages.

Cote-Botero grew up in a Colombia that was gripped by la violencia, the civil war that raged for five decades between guerillas and government forces. La violencia intruded on every aspect of Colombian life: government ministers were assassinated, kidnappings became commonplace, and citizens lived in fear of day-to-day atrocities. Cote-Botero has spoken about how the violence influenced her poetry. At the age of sixteen she witnessed 36 white coffins displayed on the street of Barrancabermeja, her home town; these were deliberately placed symbols of a massacre, “a disappearance” conducted by a paramilitary division. Cote-Botero’s first writing was about fear.

Now settled at the University of Texas in El Paso, where she teaches Creative Writing, she was initially drawn to El Paso by its proximity to the desert. Historically, people of all religions have gone to the desert to take refuge and to hear their own voice. Cote-Botero says the desert forces her to talk to herself.

cover of Chinatown a today hora y otros poems by Andrea Cote-BoleroThis outstanding collection, in Spanish, is diverse in range if not in tone. Its themes are home, family and landscape, but also how these are connected to pain, decay, and the passage of time. The titles tell a tale: Miedo (Fear), Sobre Perder (About Loss), Desierto (Desert), De Ausencia (Of Absence), La Ruina Que Nombro (The Ruin That I Name), Invierno (Winter), Todo en Ruinas (All in Ruins), and La Rosa Moribunda (The Dying Rose). The poems, though never despairing, evoke a sense of loss.

Cote-Botero’s work garners its power from naturalistic imagery – desert, flowers, trees, water, rocks and sky – as well as snatches of dialog, and the voice which so often addresses an imaginary “you,” who is the reader or a (usually absent) lover or family member. The poems, formed of short lines each corresponding to a breath, begin in a conversational tone but, through repeated images and driving rhythm, build momentum and take us places we didn’t know we were going. A superb collection.

-JJ Amaworo Wilson

 

Andrea Cote-Botero is the author of the poetry collections: Chinatown a toda hora (2017), Desierto Rumor (2016), La ruina que nombro (2015), Port in Ashes (2003), Fragile Things and Chinatown 24 hours (Object Book). She has also published books of prose: A Nude Photographer: A Biography of Tina Modotti and Blanca Varela or Writing From Solitude. She has obtained the following recognitions: The National Prize of Poetry from the Universidad Externado of Colombia (2003), the Puentes de Struga International Poetry Prize (2005) and the Cittá de Castrovillari Prize (2010) to the Italian edition of Port in Ashes. Her poems have been translated into English, French, German, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Macedonian, Arabic, Polish, Greek and Chinese. Her first poetry book Puerto Calcinado, was published in French by the prestigious quebecois press Ecrist de Forge. She is Assistant Professor of poetry in the Bilingual M.F.A in Creative Writing at the University of Texas of El Paso.


Words and Music September 16

portrait of Jack Crocker on the left; photo of Jessi Crocker on the right

Beate Sigriddaughter, one of the poets laureate of Silver City and Grant County, invites you to join us for Words and Music! The September 16 Words and Music event at the Tranquilbuzz Coffee House features our other poet laureate Jack Crocker, and his daughter Jessi Crocker (musician, actor, dancer, poet). Their performance will be followed by an open mic for spoken word and music. The TranquilBuzz Coffee House is located at 112 W. Yankie Street at the corner of Texas and Yankie Streets in Silver City. The event starts at 2:00 p.m. 


Fascinating Fiction at the Festival

Check out some fiction authors coming to Silver City September 29-October 1! We are very pleased to be able to host them.

Stella Pope Duarte

Stella Pope Duarte

STELLA POPE DUARTE
Festival Keynote Presenter
Friday Sept 29: 5:30-7:00pm,  Light Hall at WNMU

Stella Pope Duarte is described as a “magical weaver with a sure hand and a pure heart,” and praised as an author who “will enlarge humanity.” Raul H. Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of Power, is her most current work.

Duarte has won honors and awards nationwide, including a 2009 American Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, the Southwest Book of the Year Award, and a Book Sense 76 Selection.

She is a descendant of Irish and Mexican American parents, and was born and raised in the Sonorita Barrio in South Phoenix. Inspired to write by a prophetic dream of her father, she believes that writing, like love, begins within, or it doesn’t start at all. For more, visit stellapopeduarte.com.

 

Matt BellMATT BELL
Saturday, September 30, 1:30-2:30pm, Old Elks Lodge

Matt Bell is the author most recently of the novel Scrapper and the story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall.

His previous novel, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, was a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award and an Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year Honor Recipient, as well as the winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award.

He is also the author of two collections of fiction and a non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur’s Gate II, and his writing has appeared in The New York TimesTin HouseConjunctions, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University, where he serves as the Interim Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. For more, visit www.mattbell.com.

 

Julie IromuanyaJULIE IROMUANYA
Saturday, September 30, 10:00-11:00am, Seedboat Gallery

Julie Iromuanya is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor (Coffee House Press), a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction.

She earned her B.A. at the University of Central Florida and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Arizona. For more, visit julieiromuanya.com. Read a review of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor here.

 

STEVE HAVILL
Saturday, September 30, 11:30am-12:30pm, Seedboat Gallery

Steven Havill

Release of Easy Errors, the latest Posadas County mystery, marks the 28th novel for New Mexico novelist Steven F. Havill-and the 22st in that popular series. The author of four western novels, 22 contemporary mystery novels set in fictitious Posadas County, New Mexico, and two historical-medical novels set in the Puget Sound area during the 1890’s, Steven F. Havill has been writing since 1981.

The first appearance of Undersheriff William Gastner, whom Publisher’s Weekly called “surely one of the most appealing heroes to come along in a while,” was in Heartshot, the first of now 22 titles in the Posadas County Mystery Series, published by St. Martin’s Press and Poisoned Pen Press.

One of Havill’s other hobbies has been the history of medicine, and a long-term writing project, the mainstream historical/medical novel Race for the Dying,was released by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. The protagonist, young Dr. Thomas Parks, finds himself caught up in a medical scam that was so popular and successful that its roots continue to thrive today. The sequel to that novel, Comes a Time for Burning, was also released in January, 2011.

 

Jane LindskoldJANE LINDSKOLD
Saturday, September 30, 11:30am-12:30pm, El Sol Theater
Jane Lindskold is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling, internationally published author of twenty-five novels, including the six volume Firekeeper Saga, the three volume Breaking the Wall series, and, most recently, Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded.

Lindskold has also written something like seventy short stories, nineteen of which are included in her collection Curiosities.  Another recent project is a non-fiction book on writing called, appropriately, Wanderings on Writing. For more, visit janelindskold.com.

 

 

Adrienne CeltADRIENNE CELT
Saturday, September 30, 11:30am-12:30pm, Old Elks Lodge

Adrienne Celt is the author of The Daughters, a novel, which won the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award, and a book of comics, Apocalypse How? An Existential Bestiary.

Her work has appeared in the 2016 PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Ecotone, Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, Prairie Schooner, and many other places, and she publishes a webcomic (most) every Wednesday at loveamongthelampreys.com.

Her second novel will be published by Bloomsbury in 2018. For more, visit adriennecelt.com. Click here to read reviews of The Daughters and Apocalypse How.

Click here to view and download the full Festival schedule.


Theater at the 2017 Festival

“Word Travels Fast!” We invite you to attend three outstanding theater events at this year’s Festival. All are open to the public free of charge.

Mark Medoff

Mark Medoff

Mark Medoff
Friday Sept 29: 2:00-3:00pm, Seed Boat Gallery

Legendary playwright and screenwriter Mark Medoff talks about how his career and how his words have traveled throughout the world.

Mark Medoff received the Tony and Olivier Awards for CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Writers Guild of America Best Adapted Screenplay Award for the film script of CHILDREN. He received an OBIE Award for WHEN YOU COMIN BACK, RED RYDER? Mark is a Distinguished Achievement Professor at New Mexico State University where he has been on faculty and an artist in residence since 1966.

His most recent play, MARILEE AND BABY LAMB: THE ASSASSINATION OF AN AMERICAN GODDESS, is scheduled to open on Broadway in the 2017-18 season.

five cast members of the Virus Theater performing“Blatant Attempts at Understanding” by Melanie Zipin
Performed by the Virus Theater of Silver City
Friday, Sept 29, 3:30-4:30pm and Saturday, Sept 30, 1:30-2:30pm, El Sol Theater
Word travels fast in a series of scenes, monologues, and dramatic sketches that take the audience on an introspective journey, combining a sense of place (the high deserts of NM) with a quest for purpose.
Finding beauty, even solace, in the everyday, Melanie Zipin composes her songs and stories from the material that surrounds her. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Philadelphia, Melanie Zipin is a mixed media artist, performer and singer songwriter with three CD’s of original music to her credit.
Virus Theater has been producing live, original theater in Silver City, NM for 20 years. The mission of Virus Theater is to create relevant original live theater that is accessible to our diverse community, and to provide educational opportunities for adults and children in the performing arts. Virus Theater’s vision is to bring people together through theater to better understand our shared humanity and to inspire individual and collective growth.
“I, Custer” written by Neal Adelman
Performed by Marissa Bond
Friday, Sept 29, 7:30pm and Saturday, Sept 30, 7:30pm, WNMU Parotti Hall
Chosen for the 2016 Mark Medoff Directorial Project Award, a one-woman play that deconstructs Custer, his life, and his last stand.
Neal Adelman writes plays and short stories. His one act play TARRANT COUNTY received an NPP workshop and was a 2014 Kennedy Center for the Arts College Theatre Festival John Cauble Outstanding Short Play National Finalist and his full length play PONTIACS was the 2015 recipient of the Kennedy Center for the Arts College Theatre Festival Mark Twain Award. Recently, his play ONLY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN AT THE FAIR was a finalist for the 2016 Kernodle Prize and his one woman play, I, CUSTER, directed by Mark Medoff, received a workshop production in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he currently lives and works
Marissa Bond is a regular on the theatre stages in Las Cruces. Some of her recent performances include No Strings Theatre Company’s MAD GRAVITY, the 2015 Mark Medoff Directorial Project, RECREATIONAL LIVING,  and Muffin Mix Productions short film, PERFECT.
Join us, and enjoy the shows!

Who Invited Falstaff?

WHO INVITED FALSTAFF?

by Frost McGahey
Presented by the Silver City Community Theater

LAUGHTER AND LASAGNE $25

Join a Shakespearean version of the Academy Awards where Falstaff wreaks havoc.

A staged reading of Frost McGahey’s play that will entertain and inform you about the life Shakespeare and movies of his work. Directed by Wendy Spurgeon. Dinner included.

August 18 & 19, 2017, Fri/Sat – Doors open 5:00 pm; Dinner served 5:30 pm; Show 6:15 pm, Closing 7:15 pm.
August 20, Sunday – Doors open 4:00 pm; Dinner served 4:30 pm; Show 5:15; Closing 7:15 pm.
Menu: Soup or salad, meat or vegetarian lasagna, tiramisu and coffee.
Note: This is a private party for ticket holders. BYO wine or beer.
Location: Silver City Market Cafe, 614 North Bullard, downtown Silver City.
Tickets: $25.00 for dinner and the show.

Tickets are available at The Market Cafe, Gila Hike and Bike, & Vintage Fantasies


Words and Music August 19

cat sitting next to a guitar

Poet Laureate Beate Sigriddaughter invites you to join us for Words and Music! The August 19, 2017 Words and Music event at the Tranquilbuzz Coffee House features Silver City’s second poet laureate Elise Stuart who will read from her brand new memoir My Mother and I, We Talk Cat. Lonesome Richard will provide music, followed by open mic. The TranquilBuzz Coffee House is located at 112 W. Yankie Street at the corner of Texas and Yankie Streets in Silver City. The event starts at 2:00 p.m. 

Elise Stuart


Book Review: Death in the Black Patch by Bruce Wilson

Bruce WilsonBruce Wilson will participate in a panel at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 3:30pm at the Old Elks Lodge in downtown Silver City. The session, “Everything you ever wanted to know about writing,” will cover writing, editing, researching, submitting, and marketing. Wilson will join Sharman Apt Russell and John Gist in giving their perspectives on the craft and the business of writing.

Review by Ron Hamm:

Death in the Black Patch by debut novelist Bruce Wilson is a satisfying initial venture into historical regional fiction. Wilson artfully facilitates our discovery of a 100-year-old chapter of a sometimes violent Kentucky tobacco war history. Wilson skillfully allows the tension in his story to develop and build naturally toward a fateful climax, not entirely unforeseen, despite being foreshadowed by the title. That there would be a surfeit of deaths so tragically intertwined was a surprise which Wilson deftly keeps to himself until his tension-laden denouement. His narrative unfolds naturally as he facilitates empathy for those who deserve it or downright loathing for those who don’t. Wilson sketches a compelling sense of place, allowing some of us to see the Bluegrass State as we remember it in our childhood. The novel evoked my father’s Kentucky roots and my still squeamish but somehow satisfying memories of squishing bright-green, white-striped tobacco worms between my fingers. Let’s hope he finds another chapter of his homeland to explore.

Bruce Wilson is a writer, historian and educator living in Silver City, New Mexico. He teaches American History and English Composition at Western New Mexico University. His debut novel, Death in the Black Patch (Artemesia Publishing, 2016) has garnered good reviews in local and national publications (including the Louisville, KY Courier-Journal and USA Today). Last fall, Wilson led a workshop for the Southwest Festival of the Written Word which focused on the author’s role in marketing his/her book. Learn more about Bruce at brucewilsonwrites.com.


Book Review: Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya

Julie Iromuanya

Julie Iromuanya will have a reading and Q&A session at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Saturday, September 30, 2017, 10:00am at the Seedboat Gallery. Iromuanya’s Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a novel about Job and Ifi, an immigrant couple in an arranged marriage, and the outrageous lie that brought them together. After a short reading, there will be an open discussion about writing craft and the writing life. Iromuanya will also participate in the Round Table with Writers on Sunday, October 1 at 1:00pm at the Seedboat Gallery.

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya (2015 Minneapolis: Coffee House Press)
Reviewed by Mary E. Hotvedt

cover of the book Mr. and Mrs. DoctorAn inherited Nigerian Dream meets a fractured American Dream in Julie Iromuanya’s stunning debut novel. The aptly-named Job has gone to Nebraska from Nigeria to pursue his father’s plan for him to become a doctor. Job’s older brother, the family star, was to have fulfilled that ambition, but he died in the Biafran war. Job returns to Nigeria to take a wife, Ifi, in an arrangement made by their families. The marriage starts with a lie on each one’s part: Ifi pretends to be much younger than she is, and Job passes himself off as the doctor that he has never become.

The mismatched couple return to Nebraska to pursue the dream of upward mobility and success that will allow them to return home one day as substantial citizens. They will open a clinic and Ifi will be Job’s nurse. But life in Nebraska is hard-bitten and far from the America imagined by many immigrants. Job is actually a nursing assistant on the night shift at the local hospital and later a worker in one of Nebraska’s many meat-packing plants. He hides his real work from Ifi for years, or thinks he does. Ifi joins in the deceit by writing letters back home about their glamorous home.

As we follow Job’s and Ifi’s lives, we meet Job’s best friends from Nigeria, Emeka and Gladys, who have climbed higher up the economic ladder—although not without problems. And then there is Cheryl, Job’s first wife, a green-card marriage with consequences, and her bum of a brother; a nosy neighbor; and a thief who turns into a friend to Ifi.

There are wonderful convolutions in Iromuanya’s novel, the kinds of sudden twists that real life takes. Some are funny, some painful and heart-wrenching. All are fascinating. The author describes her scenes well and treats her very human and flawed people with understanding for their complexity.

We discuss immigration on a national and international scale. Border walls, quotas, travel bans, boats washing up in the Mediterranean are daily subjects in the news. We debate what it means to be an American, whether our country is to be an open or closed society. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor takes on those issues in a small and subtle way, a personal way, which makes it a powerful book.

What does it mean if you let go of the Dream, either Nigerian or American? Who is Job if he is not the successful physician? Who is Ifi when she can no longer support his fantasy? Which of them becomes more “American” as their lives progress? I recommend that you savor this book, watch the unfolding of each person as they work out their place in a far less than perfect America.

Julie Iromuanya is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction. She earned her B.A. at the University of Central Florida and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Arizona. Learn more about Iromuanya at julieiromuanya.com.


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