Monday, May 18, 2020

Denise Low Interviews Xanath Caraza

One of the most outstanding Mammoth Publications authors is Xánath Caraza, who now lives
in Kansas City. She is a traveler, educator, poet, short story writer, and translator. She writes
for La Bloga, The Smithsonian Latino Center, Revista Literaria Monolito, and Seattle Escribe. Mammoth has published some trilingual works of hers: Nahuatl, Spanish, and English versions of the same poems. This is a recent email interview. See Xanath Caraza's Mammoth books:  Mammoth Publications is a small literary press located in Northern California and published by Denise Low and Thomas Weso.

Denise Low: When did you begin writing? Was poetry always a primary genre? Why?
Xánath Caraza: Hola, Denise, it so nice to chat with you. I began writing when I was a young girl. As a young child, I was presented with poetry and literature. Mostly, I need to express gratitude to my father for this and also one of my tías, my tía Martha, my father’s sister. As a gift at my birth, my father bequeathed to me the three volumes of Las mil y una noches. I cherish these volumes to this day. As I pleasantly recall from my early childhood, he used to introduce me to authors such as Lorca; he used to recite part of “Romance Sonámbulo” for me  “. . . verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. El barco sobre la mar y el caballo en la montaña….” Naturally, I didn’t have the notion this was Lorca. I just learned it by heart. He also recited Sor Juana for me, “Hombres necios que acusáis a la mujer sin razón, sin saber que sois la ocasión de lo mismo que culpáis y si las incitáis al mal…” and a haiku that I also memorized early in my childhood, “A la fuente vieja/ salta veloz la rana/ el agua suena” by Basho. As well, he acquainted me with Li Po or Li Bai and my brilliant Nahuatl poets. Habitually, I take with me the following verses from one of Netzahualcoyotl’s poems. It must have been from “Canto de primavera””…libro de pinturas es tu corazón, has venido a cantar…en el interior de la casa de la primavera…”   I have a good number of books of poetry that
my father gifted me. To this da,y in fact, he shares with me books of poetry. Each one has a lovely dedication he wrote in the front cover. My aunt was also quite active in my early introduction to literature. Nevertheless, she presented to me more novelists than poets. Later as an adolescent, I had a reawakening with poetry along with my friends. Incidentally, a few of these friends are writers now themselves, as well. I began to put pen to paper as a young child, but I started publishing more formally as an older adolescent and into my early twenties. My father would share with me, “La que lee mucho algún día va a escribir”—the one who reads a great deal one day will become a writer. I quickly agreed with him as I self-prophesized about being a writer. My first poem I created, or should I say what I remember as a poem, was at six years old. The stars and moon were its theme. With a pink marker, I wrote it and ran to give it to my aunt.
Denise Low: I met you at the Association of Literary Translators of America conference in 2011, where I first heard your bilingual poetry. We talked, and you sent me a manuscript, Conjuro--in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English. This became your first full-length book and first of three books with Mammoth publications. How did you develop that first book? I know there was a chapbook that came first.
Xánath Caraza: I was certainly happy to know that Mammoth Publications wanted to read one of my manuscripts. I started by reading and rereading many of my poems in order to find a rhythm for the collection. I had previously published in several literary journals, but I had never published a full-length poetry collection. After deciding the order of the poems, I started translating them into the English, I also had one poem, “Mujer”, translated into the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs by my mother. And, I had recently met Sandra Kingery, who translated two poems in Conjuro.
DL: You celebrated Conjuro with a wonderful Sunday dinner for Tom Weso, the Mammoth co-publisher, and me. I see you post scrumptious food on social media. Do you find and continuity between cooking and writing?
XC: Cooking relaxes me from my daily routine. I love art and taking photos of the dishes I cook is another way of creating. I’m glad you enjoy them.
DL: How many books of poetry do you have now? I've lost count! And where can readers find them? 
XC: I have sixteen books of poetry and two short story collections. FlowerSong Press, Mammoth Publications, Mouthfeel Press, Lobo Estepario Pandora Press, Editorial Nazarí, Spartan Press, Capítulo Siete, and Gilgamesh Edizioni are some of my publishers where my books can be found.
DL: What are some of the major themes in your poetry?
XC: Between worlds, I have always lived. As a child in Mexico my borders were linguistic and social. At an early age, I was aware of this. My mother grew up bilingually between Spanish and Nahualt, the language of the Mexica (Aztecs). I was also aware of the drastic division of social class in Mexico at an early age. Currently, I live between the US and Mexico, and, again, I am a border crosser, linguistically, physically and emotionally; therefore, place has been always inherent in my work. For instance, Sílabas de viento / Syllables of Wind / Le Sillabe del vento, one of my books of poetry, published in three languages—Spanish, English and Italian—is entirely a reflection on place, México, Spain, Croatia and beyond. What’s more, my book of poetry Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light is Violet is full of the light and colors of Italy. This book I wrote in 2015 during a writer’s residence that I had the opportunity to do in Italy that same year. Women’s voices have always been present in my work. As a female poet, I pay attention to what other women experience and weave those sounds into my poetry or narrative as a manner to validate our diverse perspectives of seeing the world. Frequently, these voices come through their own culture. As mentioned, I live between the US and Mexico and, within each of these countries, a myriad of cultures has co-existed for centuries. From these cultures and beyond, I want women’s voices to be recognized and interacted with in a public sphere. For example, the title story of my short story collection, Lo que trae la marea / What the Tide Brings, presents the voice of a young Afromestiza/African Mexican woman and the challenges she faces in her daily life. In addition, my book of poetry Lágrima roja is a lyrical document of a personal concern I have for femicides. The social theme is constantly present in my work, Corta la piel / It Pierces the Skin, my most recent book, is another example of my writing flowing among the personal, political, and geographical terrains.
DL: You also have books of fiction, which are also wonderful. How do your short stories extend your overall narrative?
XC: I love writing short stories. I like to think that I write with my five senses. Both my prose and poetry project sounds, colors, aromas between the lines.
DL: What are you working on now?
XC: Among other projects I am working on Ejercicio en la oscuridad. Ejercicio en la oscuridad is a collection of poetry that is in the process of being translated by Sandra Kingery’s translation class, for which I am thankful. At the same time, artist, Tudor Şerbănescu from Romania has created images for each of the poems in this collection.
DL: I so appreciate your legacy of writings as well as your community activities. Thank you for this interview, and thank you for your tireless literary citizenship!

Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet, short story writer, and translator. She writes for La Bloga, The Smithsonian Latino Center, Revista Literaria Monolito, and Seattle Escribe. In 2019 for the International Latino Book Awards she received Second Place for Hudson for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish” and Second Place for Metztli for Best Short Story Collection. In 2018 for the International Latino Book Awards she received First Place for Lágrima roja for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish by One Author” and First Place for Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble for “Best Book of Bilingual Poetry by One Author.” Her book of poetry Syllables of Wind / Sílabas de viento received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry. She was Writer-in-Residence at Westchester Community College, NY, 2016-2019. Caraza was the recipient of the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain. She was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten Latino Authors by Her books of verse Where the Light is Violet, Black Ink, Ocelocíhuatl, Conjuro and her book of short fiction What the Tide Brings have won national and international recognition. Her other books of poetry are It Pierces the Skin, Balamkú, Fără preambul, Μαύρη μελάνη, Le sillabe del vento, Noche de colibríes, and Corazón pintado. Caraza has been translated into English, Italian, Romanian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, and Turkish. For more about Xanath Caraza, see her website: