Charles “Chuck” Whitney joined the Journalism faculty at the University of Texas at Austin my sophomore year there, and I was lucky to land in his first reporting class. He taught with such rigor and panache, he would have been intimidating if he weren’t so jolly. One afternoon, I knocked on his office door. Before I could introduce myself as his student, he said to sit on down, there was something he wanted to discuss. My future. He had plans. He nominated me for a scholarship that covered not only part of my tuition but also enabled me to take an unpaid internship at the Seattle Post- Intelligencer. That summer was a watershed: first job, first byline, first business suit, first time I ventured out on the road alone. And Chuck’s mentorship was just getting started. He went on to counsel me through every career decision I made for the next twenty years, writing countless letters of recommendation along the way. He was sitting on a platform on the stage when I received my diploma, and raced over to engulf …
Feliz 2019! I hope your new year is off to a grand start. Before it ambles any farther, here is a little update from my corner.
With 2017 concluding in a CT-Scan that released me from cancer treatment, I deemed 2018 “The Year of Resurrection.” I am so grateful to share that resuming my book tour for All the Agents and Saints did, in fact, revive me from the fog of chemotherapy. Picking up where my last post left off, here are a few highlights from the last six months of the tour:
* Teaching a workshop of brilliant Latinx essayists at Macondo, a foundation that supports socially engaged writers of color.
Macondo was founded by our madrina of Chicana literature, Sandra Cisneros, who hosted a farewell pachanga none of us will soon forget.
* Moderating a panel for PEN America about family separations at the border. Held at the Texas Book Festival, it featured three of our top immigration reporters: Ginger Thompson of ProPublica, Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News, and Lomi Kriel of the Houston Chronicle.
* Giving the …
Driving toward Elon, North Carolina back in February, I didn’t know if I could manage one event—much less the eight I had promised. Chemotherapy seemed to have drained me of all vitality. But when I walked inside the classroom and saw copies of All the Agents and Saints upon the students’ desks, a spark of energy started swirling inside of me. Back in the hotel, I promptly collapsed, but when I returned for the next event, the current surged stronger than before.
Thirty-two events and seventeen cities later, I feel revived at the cellular level. My oncologist warned that it would take a year to fully recover from treatment, but the book tour quartered that frame. My deepest gratitude to everyone who supported me on the Resurrection Tour. You directly contributed to my healing. Gracias/Niawen/thank you.
Among the tour’s highlights:
* Returning to the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, where the second half of the book is based, and presenting it to the subchiefs of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.
* Summoning up the courage to tell my first Moth Story—without …
What got me through abdominal surgery, three rounds of chemo, and hair loss? First: all of you. And second, the hope of resurrecting my book tour for ALL THE AGENTS & SAINTS. It gives my heart joy to say: I’m packing my bags now. Won’t you please join me:
Wednesday, February 7: Elon University, Elon, NC Wednesday, February 14: American University, Washington DC Thursday & Friday, March 8-9: AWP Conference, Tampa, FL Tuesday, March 20: North Park University, Chicago, IL Tuesday, March 27: Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne Thursday, March 29: St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY Monday, April 2: Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY Saturday, April 7: San Antonio Book Festival Sunday, April 8: Brazos Books, Houston, TX Tuesday, April 10: University of North Texas, Denton, TX Wednesday, April 11: Wild Detectives, Dallas, TX Tuesday, May 29: Universidad de Salamanca, SPAIN Wednesday, July 25: Macondo Writers Workshop, San Antonio, TX
And! Gratitude to Dhanraj Emanuel and Sheryl Oring for the photo shoot. Here I am, holding the pelt of my former identity…
Beautiful people! I am relieved to share that 2017 concluded with the sweetest acronym I know: NED, or No Evidence of Disease. The CT-Oracle revealed that surgery + three cycles of chemo have wiped my abdominal cavity clean. This rollercoaster ride has ended and I have pulled back into the station, bald but jubilant. Rejoice!
Sincere apologies for not responding sooner to your outpouring of support, but please know that I felt each letter keenly. I am especially indebted to all the cancer survivors out there, for extending their brutally earned wisdom. Together, you helped transform the scariest stretch of my life into the ultimate heart-opening exercise. I am a well of gratitude. Thank you, thank you.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be working to resurrect the tour for All the Agents and Saints. Do stay tuned for details: North Carolina, Washington DC, New York, Texas, California, Illinois, and Florida are all in the mix for 2018.
Until our paths cross again, I wish you a powerful new year. May you find the strength to endure its challenges, the levity …
A friend recently told me: sometimes, all we can do is sit back and be awed by what life has in store. I feel this now as I type these words.
On September 18, I flew home from the first leg of my book tour with a bloated belly that I assumed to be the result of too many enchilada platters while down in Texas. A flurry of tests revealed it to be a basketball-sized tumor instead. On September 27, a surgical team at UNC Hospital drained the tumor of two liters of fluid, pulled it out, and did a thorough biopsy that has since revealed Stage I, Grade II of a rare strand of mucinous ovarian cancer. I will be starting chemotherapy in two weeks (and shopping for wigs in the interim).
Meanwhile, I must cancel my entire fall book tour, including the Texas Book Festival, University of North Park, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Houston (for a second time, aye!), University of North Carolina, University of San Diego, and Wild Detectives in Dallas. It …
My friends, I am so sad to say: life has thrown a mighty curveball. Since returning home from the first leg of the book tour last Monday, a CT-Scan has revealed that my left ovary has sprouted a massive (22×11 cm) growth that will be removed tomorrow in a 3-4 hour surgery starting at 8:30 am. They will conduct pathology while I’m still on the table to determine the next course of action.
With recovery expected to take at least six weeks, I must cancel all of my book events for October, including: St. Lawrence University, Syracuse University, the Fall for the Book Festival in Virginia, the Southern Festival of Books in Tennessee, and—to my profound regret—the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne.
As you can imagine, this is evoking a rush of emotions, not least of which is disappointment to be spending my sabbatical in a hospital rather than on a book tour. But I want you all to know that, regardless of outcome, my far overriding emotion is gratitude. Gratitude that I have been able to reconnect with …
The first leg of the book tour for All the Agents and Saints is now complete. In the last 15 days, I’ve held 13 events in San Antonio, Austin, San Marcos, Corpus Christi, Edinburg, and McAllen, Texas. The timing was intense: days before my arrival, my home state endured the worst natural disaster in its history. Due to the catastrophic flooding in Houston (where my tour was supposed to begin), my flight got re-routed to San Antonio. Gas lines wrapped around entire city blocks. I wound up postponing the Houston events, as it felt wrong to take up space and resources there. So many people had lost everything, while others feared for their safety after nearby industrial plants started exploding. It is a tragedy that Houstonians will be grappling with for generations. I have never known a city so resilient.
By the time I reached my hometown, Corpus Christi, power had mostly been restored, though many trees and fences were still down, including at my parent’s house. The much-loved communities of nearby Rockport and Port Aransas, meanwhile, were completely devastated. …
I am thrilled/relieved to announce that–after nearly a decade of road trips, interviews, research, writing marathons, and psychic meltdowns–my fifth book has finally arrived! Called ALL THE AGENTS & SAINTS, it explores the ramifications of having an international borderline split your ancestral land in two, as experienced by Tejanos down south and Akwesasne Mohawks up north. You might recognize the book’s cover girl as the artist Ana Teresa Fernandez, seen here erasing the border wall between San Diego and Tijuana in a piece called “Borando La Frontera.”
Next month, I’ll be launching a national book tour, and it would be amazing to see you:
Saturday, July 8, Pine Manor College, BROOKLINE, MA TBA
Sunday, July 9: Politics & Prose, WASHINGTON DC, 5 pm
Tuesday, August 29: FlyLeaf, CHAPEL HILL, NC 7 pm
Labor Day Weekend Decatur Book Festival, DECATUR, GA: TBA
Tuesday, September 5: Brazos, HOUSTON, TX 7 pm
Wednesday, September 6: The Twig, SAN ANTONIO, TX TBA
Thursday, September 7: Texas State University, SAN MARCOS, TX 11 am
Friday, September 8: Book People, AUSTIN, TX 7 …
Feliz 2017, everyone, and farewell to 2016. Between Syria, Brexit, Orlando, and our electoral apocalypse, it’s hard to separate 2016 from its tragedies. So much rage, so much ache. And I doubt that the headlines of its first two weeks have allayed anyone’s anxiety about 2017. It feels like a thousand marbles are crashing down upon our heads at once, each one representing a different program or ideal that has long been a touchstone for many of us, now racing out of reach. As individuals, we cannot chase after all of them at once; indeed, we’d fall if we tried. But if we strategize about who runs where after what, we have a shot at maintaining our nation’s integrity.
I feel many emotions about 2017: fear, anxiety, dread. But hope is among them—a great deal, in fact. And I attribute that to being a writer. Even when my subject matter tends toward the brutal, I meet extraordinary people because of it. People of wisdom, people of grace. They are the fuel I will draw upon in the (4?) year(s) ahead. …
As more and more communities across the United States are (righteously) celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day, I thought it time to share my latest essay: “Chiefing in Cherokee: Commodifying a Culture to Save It,” which has been published in the Fall 2016 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review. It examines the immense complexities of “chiefing,” or busking, in the Qualla Boundary, which is the ancestral home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian. What follows is the opening segment. My deepest gratitude to the many citizens of the Eastern Band who shared with me their perspectives on a wide range of difficult issues: identity, cultural appropriation, authenticity, privilege, and tourism. Thanks also to the photographer Stacy Kranitz for her powerful artwork (including the one accompanying this post, which is the lead photo in the VQR story).
CHIEFING IN CHEROKEE
By the time we rolled into Cherokee, North Carolina, Nick and I had been crisscrossing the country for three months straight, scouting for stories for an educational website called the Odyssey. Because it was the year 2000—that is, when cell phones were …
Happy International Workers’ Day! Hard to believe it’s been a year since my last blog post. I recently joined Twitter and Instagram @SElizondoGriest, and am much better at keeping those updated, so join me there, if you’d like.
One reason for my absence is I’ve been buried in my next book, and am thrilled to share that I handed in the first draft in December and am adding the finishing touches now. It picks up right where Mexican Enough left off, making it the last of the trilogy commenced with Around the Bloc. Called All the Agents & Saints, it examines the existential impact of having an international borderline slice your ancestral land in two, as experienced by Tejanos in South Texas and the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, which is located along the New York/Canada borderline. Like my previous books, it blends memoir, travel writing, and literary journalism in a journey that is both personal and political. UNC Press will publish it in April 2017, and I’ll be spending much of the fall on tour, so check back …