Cuban American Novelist Chantel Acevedo & the Power of Place

June 21, 2019
Chantel Acevedo was born in Miami to Cuban parents, and her fiction evinces a fascination with the history and culture of that beautiful fraught island. In The Distant Marvels, a Booklist Top 10 Historical Novel of 2015, Acevedo nests her narrative in two historical periods, 1963 during Hurricane Flora, and 1895-98 during Cuba’s War of Independence. Born at sea en route to Cuba, the narrator describes how her mother, Lulu, named her:
The island appeared like a low cloud on the horizon. Inspired, Lulu carried me unsteadily toward the ship’s bow, to glimpse our homeland. The sea was calm and crystal clear. Dolphins played a few feet away, their polished backs breaking the surface again and again, like extraordinary fruit bobbing in the water. Lulu says that the dolphins dove deep suddenly, and in their foamy wake, a ghostly white hand emerged, then another, then finally, the dark, wet head of a lady rose from the water. . . The lady did not speak, though it felt to Lulu as if she had marked me, claiming me for herself. The lady had lifted her arms and beckoned with a small flick of her wrists . . .  Because she did not know what form of divinity she was dealing with, Lulu took no chances and named me Maria Sirena.
Booklist called The Distant Marvels “a major, uniquely powerful, and startlingly beautiful novel that should bring Acevedo’s name to the top echelon of this generation’s writers.” Acevedo’s other novels include Love and Ghost Letters, which won the Latino International Book Award, The Living Infinate, and a new series of middle grade novels. A professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Miami, Acevedo will teach a two-day workshop at KyWomenWriters on Sept. 20-21, as follows:
The Power of Place: A Writer’s Boot Camp. How might setting help open up stories and reveal character? In this 2-day, generative workshop, we will discover the power of place in our work. Participants will engage in exercises designed to get the ideas flowing, whether they’re starting from scratch, or hoping to open a gill into existing work. We’ll also discuss different approaches to visualizing the path toward finishing a work-in-progress.
Slots are still available in this workshop, as well as in Lydia Millet’s fiction workshop, DaMaris Hill’s poetry workshop, Barbara Hurd’s nature writing workshop, Darcey Steinke’s memoir workshop, and Ifa Bayeza’s playwriting workshop. For more information or to register, please visit: or call 859-257-2874 or reply to this email.
This week’s joyous announcement of Joy Harjo as the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate had us scrolling through our list of past presenters to verify that, yes, she came to our conference in 1987! We now count five U.S. Poets Laureate among our past presenters, along with Rita Dove, Louise Glück, Natasha Trethewey, and Tracy K. Smith. Another link to the 1980s is this year’s Sonia Sanchez Series speaker, playwright Ifa Bayeza, who is sister to playwright Ntozake Shange, who came to KyWomenWriters in 1983. In this 40th anniversary year of our conference, we are finding many such occasions to marvel at all the talent that has converged in this place. We hope you will join us and become a part of that history.