TRP Q&A: An Interview with Caridad Moro-Gronlier

Stephanie Savell interviews Texas Review Press author Caridad Moro-Gronlier

CARIDAD MORO-GRONLIER is the author of the chapbook Tortillera, the winner of the TRP Southern Poetry Breakthrough Series: Florida, and Visionware. She is also a Contributing Editor for Grabbed: Poets and Writers Respond to Sexual Assault, Empowerment and Healing and an Associate Editor for SWWIM Every Day. Recent work can be found at The Best American Poetry Blog, RhinoGo MagazineFantastical FloridaNotre Dame ReviewWest Trestle Review, and others.

What books are you reading right now?
I’m reading Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz and Red At The Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and they are both phenomenal!

If you could have a conversation with any writer living or dead, who would that be and what would you ask them?
That’s an easy one—Toni Morrison, without a doubt. I met her once, at the Miami Book Fair, and when the line snaked around so that I was finally in front of her, the words I had prepared to greet her abandoned me and I was rendered mute by the lump in my throat. She shook my hand, and I bowed, as I would have had she been royalty, which to me, she was.  Rather than replaying that “fan-girl” moment, I would ask not about her work, but rather, I’d ask about who she was—as a woman, a mother, a daughter, a teacher, a friend. I’d ask what her favorite meal, flower, color, book, poem, song was. I’d ask how she found the strength to face often hostile, racist, misogynist critics, colleagues, students, bagboys, police officers with patience and tolerance. I’d ask how she learned to incorporate grace into narratives that were built out of pain and rage and injustice. I’d ask her if she would prefer wine or coffee or tea or scotch. I’d ask her to tell me one last story, in her velvety voice. I’d ask her if she could please stay, just a little longer.

Do you have a writing routine or ritual? What does that look like?
Not really. I try to get to the page shortly after waking and before I interact with people. I usually make tea before going to the computer but sometimes I start writing straight away. Sometimes I read first, but not always. When I’m writing, I try to keep silence about me. I’ve been able to organize my days to do linguistic creative work in the early part of the day and reserve conversations, news intake, and so forth for later. Often, when I’m writing poetry, if I’m into a poem, the music is such that it’s easier for me to slip in and out of poet-mind at any hour of the day, but with prose, I’m best when I tackle it early.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Every dollar I have ever spent on writing workshops has been worth the cost (and they do get awfully pricey). While I haven’t always left said workshops with a completed poem or manuscript, I always find myself reenergized, refocused and eager to write after engaging in the business of words with the fellow writers I meet. Sometimes I leave knowing exactly what I want to do next in terms of a poem, a line, an image; sometimes I leave knowing exactly what I don’t want my work to do or what I must change or nix all together. Both perspectives are equally valuable.

What did you edit out of the book?
I edited out my fear. My work tends to draw from my life, especially the problematic cultural constructs I learned from my family. At times I felt conflicted about what I had to say, fearing I’d hurt someone’s feelings or fray my frazzled family ties even further. In effort to protect them, and myself, I’d tone down my truth or euphemize what I really wanted to express, for the sake of someone else, but never for the sake of the work or my truth.  When I started to revise the first draft of the book, it was easy to spot the cop-outs, the half-truths, the self-imposed censorship that hampered my writing. I opted for courage, dispensed with the fear and (Write it!) re-wrote it true.

Does writing energize or exhaust you, or both?
Both! When the writing is slow and plodding and I delete more than I keep, I am overcome with an exhaustion that is not physical, but mental and emotional, the kind that is fueled by self-doubt and that can result in a sort of psychic paralysis.  When the writing is going well, though, when the words flow and my fingers fly across the keyboard, when I don’t pause or question, but simply let the words land on the page, there is no greater high. A good writing spree leaves feeling energized, awake, alive.

What the most challenging aspect of writing? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of writing is meeting a deadline when the story or poem or article hasn’t “clicked” in my head, yet. The panic I feel as I struggle over the false line or sentence or point of view helps to keep me writing, though. As difficult as it is, the looming deadline forces me to keep at it (it helps to keep my phone in another room so I don’t succumb to procrastinatory scrolling!). The reward comes when the shift finally happens (and it always happens), when I figure out the “in” to the project at hand. When that happens, the rush is so sweet, and the relief is as intense as a fever that finally breaks, or a water valve that dispenses water as a mere trickle, a trickle that with tenacity and a good hard twist, will turn into a stream, followed by a gush of water that quenches the panic. When that happens, well, that’s the sweet spot.

Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?
I’ve been writing since I was a young girl, but I didn’t start publishing until I was 35. My first chapbook was published when I was 40 and it was then that I started to truly come into my own as a working, publishing poet. So, I guess we will call it something in between, because the writing has always been a part of who I am, but what with the publication of my first full-length poetry collection, Tortillera, it turns out, I’m still blooming!

Does your family support your writing career?
I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family unit. My wife is my first reader who offers keen advice with no judgment and unwavering enthusiasm. She reads my work, asks vital questions of it, attends every reading and keeps my time, sells books and swipes credit cards at my events and refuses to let me give up when the writing is not going well. My son is also a great source of support. He is my cheerleader, my social media ambassador, my Instagram mentor who taught me how to post about my books, my readings, my events. He’s been a fixture at my readings for most of his life, and now that he is old enough to decline the invite to yet another poetry reading, he still shows up for me. So yes, I am an incredibly fortunate writer who finds safe harbor and vast reserves of support at home.

How do you handle negative reviews?
When I think of a negative review, I think of Anne Sexton who carried around a copy of the James Dickey’s eviscerating and vitriolic review of her first book, All My Pretty Ones, in her purse for years. The thought of that slices through me every time, because although she railed against his Dickey’s vicious words the fact that she carried his review in her wallet indicates that despite all the praise her work did earn, despite the publications, the reading engagements, the awards, the Pulitzer Prize(!), the words that ended up carrying the most weight, the words that held the most longevity, were also the ones that hurt her the most.

I can relate. It’s been my experience that praise is slippery and slides off the brain and the heart much easier than the criticism that aligns itself with every vulnerability, every doubt, every “who do you think you are?” moment in a writer’s life. Like Sexton, the negative words are the ones that stay with me, but unlike Sexton, I don’t let that hurt consume me— I harness it, own it, look at my work through the lens of that negative review in order to discern whether I  should reject the criticism or acknowledge it and use it to hone my craft even further, to write tighter, clearer, better. More so than praise, sometimes a negative review provides the right amount of gas in my task to ensure I keep going, fueled by the opportunity to respond, to educate, to realign, and yes, to write and write again.

Stephanie Savell holds an MFA from Sam Houston State University. Her novel Paper Hearts was published by Medallion Press in 2014 under their Ya-Ya imprint. Her other work has been published in Vox PopuliBeacon magazine, and Aquifer: The Florida Review. She served as the assistant editor at The Texas Review and editorial assistant at Texas Review Press.

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