Flesh to Bone: An interview with Tejana indigena writer ire’ne lara silva
Transcribed by Anayanse Garza of Tu San Antonio Magazine
Today we have with us ire’ne lara silva, writer and author from Texas.
Ire’ne’s latest book is called Flesh to Bone. She’s the author of two chapbooks: ani’mal and INDíGENA. Her first collection of poetry, which is called furia, was published by Mouthfeel Press in October 2010 and received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. ire’ne is a Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom award, the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award, a Macondo workshop member, and a CantoMundo Inaugural Fellow. She and Moises Lara are currently co-coordinators of the Flor De Nopal Literary Festival.
So, ire’ne, tell us a little bit about where you are from…
A little bit of everywhere. My parents were migrant truck drivers so they would haul the produce from the fields to the bodegas in each town. You know, so we followed the harvest. So, we did a little route from South Texas from the Rio Grande Valley up into the Mathis, Corpus Christi area. Sometimes to Bay City, to Oklahoma, to the Panhandle, to New Mexico, and back to the Valley. So we kind of split our time, you know, doing that little circuit every year.
How do you identify?
I’m ok with being called Latina, with being called Chicana or Xicana, Tejana, but probably what I most identify with would be indigena because I do feel very strongly attached to my indigenous roots. Especially, when in my family history there’s been so much shame, you know, to do with our indigenous ancestry, our indigenous features, you know, our indigenous ways. And, so, that’s what to me feels the closest.
Can you tell us a little bit about the organizations or projects that you’re a part of and what you invest your time in?
The one right now that is taking the most time is Flor de Nopal. My brother actually had the idea back in 2008 but I didn’t have the energy until 2011. So we started in 2011 and currently we are in the fourth Flor de Nopal season. And basically we offer free writing workshops and several featured readings every single year. But usually we feature almost 20 writers every year.
We do workshops. We’re under the umbrella of Red Salmon Arts, which is the organizations that Raul Salinas started. And then we are also incredibly supported by the Mexican American Cultural Center here in Austin. They give us workshop space. They give us performance space, publicity and funding. They’ve been wonderful and it’s been incredible to be able to promote diverse voices.
We do have a commitment to bringing everyone together and making it a space that everyone can come to. You know, even though the focus is on Mexican American writers we’ve invited a little bit of everything. We’re just look forward to expanding who have been part of Flor de Nopal.
Also I have been working on the board of Red Salmon Arts for the last couple of months. And so that’s been wonderful because the Red Salmon Arts and Resistencia Book Store for me when I first came to Austin back in ’98, in those first years, it was so receptive. It was my family. It was my community. It was where I was every week.
Over the years I’ve never strayed that far from Resistencia. In fact, I was just read there yesterday with Laurie Ann Guerrero and Tim Z. Hernandez. And it still envelopes us. It still brings people together. It still provides this unique space that’s just not available anywhere else.
I’m also a part of CantoMundo, although I’ve recently graduated it. So, now I’m involved with it in other capacities. And otherwise, I’m at work and writing. So, a little bit of everything.
What is the history of your craft and medicine? How did you come to your process of literary creation?
I would have to say, very, very, slowly. I was telling someone yesterday, I wrote the first lines that are my short story collection probably 20 years ago. But, at the time I didn’t know how to write. I didn’t know what I thought a story was. I didn’t know what I was going to do with these lines of these characters. Until these little bits of lines just kind of followed me around for years.
And then when I actually really dedicated myself to writing back in ’98, I had to figure out what that meant. And, then, with each story, you know, most people have an idea of what’s going to happen. I had no idea what any of the stories were going to be about. And so I just kind of had to sit with them for a few years and figure it out.
And, then over time polish, and polish, and polish, and polish, and polish.. And a lot of rejection. And a lot of polishing until I came to feel confident, the way I do now, that I’m using the language that I want to use and that I’m telling the stories that I want to tell and that the new stories that I’m writing now are the direction that I want to go in. And I feel very sure about them in a way that it took 20 years of writing to get to.
But, I think also, people write with different intent, with different purposes. And for me it’s really important that anything I write change and transform me.
I’m not a writer who’s going to write for my own entertainment or for other people’s entertainment. I’m writing because I’m trying to figure out problems. I’m trying to figure out issues. I’m trying to figure out transformation or healing. And, so, if I’m writing working on a book that’s not going to do that for me then I don’t have any reason to write it.
You know, if anyone who writes knows, you know, it’s a long and a involved and very costly process and not just costly in a monetary fashion but costly in an emotionally and physically and psychologically and mentally…I mean, you pour everything into the work. So, if it’s not going to give me even more, you know, back in that process then I just move to another project.
So, if I’m having trouble with a new one and if it’s taking me a while to figure out, that’s where I’m supposed to be…I’m supposed to be working on something difficult.
And on that note…on the note that it took 20 years, that it took constant polishing, constant revisiting, constant re-visioning, envisioning…what advice would you give to emerging Xicana warriors/artists/creatives?
The first thing would be, and this is actually something that I realized a few months ago that I was trying to talk to someone that was very frustrated with her writing. And that’s that you can polish a piece, you can go to an NSA program or a school or, you know, go to other people for feedback but there’s a point where you really have to figure out what is useful feedback and what is harmful feedback.
And, sometimes we polish things to the point where everyone else is happy with them but we know that we’re not happy with them. And what I think we really want…the place we really want to get to, is to a place where there is still some rawness in the work. Because when a piece is polished it doesn’t have any individuality.
But when a piece is raw, in the way that only you can make it raw, then that becomes a piece that only you could have written. And, I think it’s in the raw edges. I’m not saying that this is “raw” where as you kind of just throw it on the page and there’s no intent behind it, there’s no art behind it, there’s no discipline behind it. But raw where you have learned and figured out how to get your individual self on the page or in the art work. That’s where you have, you know, that piece where only you could make. And, I think that’s what’s the most important – it’s to write the things or create the things that only you could make. And, it’s sometimes that’s going to be extremely, extremely painful.
I went through years of workshops where I didn’t have sympathetic co-participants. You know, lots and lots and lots of people telling me “oh, this isn’t right,” or “this isn’t the way you should write it” or “this isn’t a story.” You know, and it’s this constant negative feedback but I had to cling to what my idea was of what I was doing.
Sometimes you have to have the support of other people. This short story collection would not have survived if my brother hadn’t believed in it, you know, if he had not kept me from giving up. What was it? It was almost 12 years ago. And it was on a particular day that I remember very clearly where I was about to give up. So, you’ve got to find people who believe in your vision and keep them really, really close.
What is one thing that you are excited about for the future?
I am really excited that in the next few months I am going to be at several different events in several different readings. And, I’m just really excited about meeting people who have read the book and who have loved it. Excited to meet people who are barely beginning to read the book and to meet people who are going to be completely new readers of the book. And so that’s been really exciting. Because that’s something, you know, you always dream of that you’re going share what you wrote with other people.
I’m going to be at the book festival the next month and Flor de Nopal will be also up until December. And, then I have a couple of visits to Houston, well nearby but Houston, San Antonio in November and a couple of out of state trips in the Spring. So, I’m just really, really excited to do that.
That’s awesome. Where can folks find out more about you and your work?
My site is irenelarasilva.wordpress.com and I tried to make it as informative as possible without it being overwhelming. So, you know, there’s links to things that might be helpful. There’s links to publications that have published some of my work in case people want to figure out places to start submitting. Or just other places that are more sort of community focused if they want to submit to. There’s a couple of interviews that I’ve done and interviews that I’ve had with other people.
I’m also working on a series called, NEFELIBATA interviews with Latina poets, that up on the Letras Latinas Blog. I just started with those but next up will be Jessica Helen Lopez, who’s the poet laureate for Albuquerque.
I have a little bit of everything. So everyone please feel free to come visit. And check out what’s on there and write me if you have questions. I’m here.
Where can people buy your latest book, “Flesh to Bone”?
A couple of different places. They can either contact me over email, and a really simple email address firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find a signed copy. Or you all can go to the Aunt Lute books website and you can order it’s a discounted copy there. You can also order the ebook version of the book, too.