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 culminating keynote of the 2018 NonfictioNow Conference at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix, culled from my next book project about women artists.
All told, the tour hit 26 cities in 10 states and 3 nations last year. At nearly every event, someone surprising appeared in the audience: a long-lost friend, a fellow intern from way back, a classmate I hadn’t seen in a quarter century. These reunions felt deeply nourishing, as did the opportunities to meet so many new readers and students and colleagues. Profound thanks to everyone who showed up!
Soul-balm gave way to heartache in August, when my beloved 82-year-old father, already stricken with Alzheimer’s, was unable to rise from bed one morning. Multiple stints in the hospital and rehab ensued, until it was impossible to keep him at home. Dad, who has drummed in the world’s top venues as a member of the U.S. Navy Band, has since lost his ability to do many things, including walk. However, he can still keep the beat with his granddaughter, Analina. She became his student at age three and is now a thunder goddess for several bands in San Antonio. Here is their duet on Thanksgiving morning:
In the fall, I returned to teach at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after a year of medical leave. The night before the first day of class, a courageous group of students and community members pulled down the statue of a Confederate soldier that had marred our campus for 105 years. Here is the empty base, the morning after:
Another memorable event was hosting two musical heroes of mine, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who won our Thomas Wolfe Prize for their contributions to American song. Here they are, tuning up their guitars in my office before a Q&A session with our students.
This fall, I also taught my dream class: Memoir as Witness, which implored students to braid the stories of other people into their own life narratives. Here we are, lighting candles as an act of solidarity with the Border of Lights initiative in Haiti.
In December, the CT-Oracle again deemed me cancer free. It takes a full five years to reach remission, but apparently my biggest risk of resurgence occurs in the first two. I feel crazy lucky to be halfway to that milestone. When classes ended, I hopped a plane to Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate. This was my first trip back since 2006, when I documented the APPO uprising for my book, Mexican Enough. How incredible it was to walk those vibrant streets again—to feel sun on my face and hear Spanish in my ear, once again.
2018 ended with my family climbing onto my sister’s rooftop in San Antonio to revel in the illicit fireworks detonating across the city. As midnight drew near, we passed around a bowl of grapes and counted out twelve apiece. When 2019 commenced, we gulped them down one by one, making a wish with each, as per Mexican tradition. Among my hopes was to keep crossing paths with all of you. Til then: Joy and Gratitude!