October 16, 2019
To celebrate LatinX Heritage Month, the Writers’ Room at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science hosted writer Dariel Suarez to talk with students about his career and writing. Winner of the 2019 International Latino Book Award for Best Collection of Short Stories for A Kind of Solitude. The other day we got a chance to sit down with the Cuban writer and ask him some questions.
What drew you to writing as something you wanted to explore as a career?
Writing allows me to really imagine people. I can really dig and use real life as a point of reference, and then make it my own and ask questions. It’s through language that you get to articulate these things. I can write out my thinking, my explorations, my sensibility, the kinds of people that I’m interested in, the kind of situations I’m interested in. There’s a lot of freedom in it.
When did you realize that you were a writer?
I think I realized I was a writer when I finished my undergrad work and I spent the year revising three stories for my MFA applications. I realized that if I didn’t get into any of the schools, I was going to spend another year doing this again. Once I figured out that I was willing to do that, I knew I was a writer. If I’m willing to spend two years of my life writing when no one else is asking me to, then I think that qualifies you as a writer.
Were there any LatinX writers growing up who inspired you?
For me, there were writers, like Cristina García, who years ago were already established. I looked at their path and the kinds of books that they published and then I went to their talks or I went to their readings in Miami or South Florida. I would listen to them speak about their identity, and about how they wrote, and about how they were pigeonholed into certain boxes. Those conversations, their work, and their paths really opened my mind to the fact that I could become a writer like them.
In your career have you ever felt like you were at a disadvantage because of your LatinX heritage?
If I’m honest, I would say yes. Part of it is class, not just culture. I come from a very working-class, very poor immigrant family, and I didn’t have a lot of contacts. Scrapping the money for the [MFA program] applications alone was a struggle, a year-long process of saving up. In terms of the work itself, my stories were set in Cuba, and English is not my native language. So I felt like there were certain things as I was applying or submitting work where folks had a leg up because of class or language or cultural perspective.
I need to find that reader who really is curious about Cuba. That alone can create obstacles—fighting biases and lack of curiosity. But there are many people who are fascinated by the country and these stories. There are people who are genuinely excited to read the work. It’s refreshing.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring writer?
Mentorship is huge for many reasons. You need to know what the reality is out there. It helps you, it saves you headaches, it keeps you more focused on your work, and it allows you to really realize who you are as an artist.
Find people who you look up to, who you respect. And not just people whose writing you respect, but people whose careers you respect. I like to look at the folks who had to struggle for their work and then use that as my roadmap so that I don’t get too discouraged.
You also need to have a mentor who tells you how many hours it’s going to take to really get it right. How many classes you should take to be a better writer. If you seek that out, if you keep your eyes and ears open for those mentor opportunities, it’ll make a world of difference.