In the lead-up to Voices of the Middle West on March 22, 2014, we’ll be presenting short interviews with the acclaimed panelists on our Author Panel.
Born and raised in Detroit, Lolita Hernandez is the author of Autopsy of an Engine and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant (Coffee House Press), winner of a 2005 PEN Beyond Margins Award. She also is the author of two chapbook collections of poems: Quiet Battles (Wayne State University Writers Forum) and snakecrossing (Ridgeway Press). Her collection of short fiction, Making Callaloo in Detroit, is forthcoming form Wayne State University Press in spring 2014. She is a 2012 Kresge Literary Arts fellow. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in a wide variety of literary publications. After over thirty three years as a UAW worker at General Motors, she now teaches in the Creative writing Department of the University of Michigan Residential College.
Midwestern Gothic: What’s your connection to the Midwest?
Lolita Hernandez: I’m connected to the Midwest because I was born and raised in Detroit. The catch is my parents were from Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent. So, obviously, that’s puts a bit of a twist on Midwest.
MG: Where did your first spark of interest in literature come from?
LH: No doubt I owe my literary story-telling self to my Mum. She taught me to read from a third standard Royal Reader and taught me the importance of knowing how to tell a story. I grew up reading Lucy Gray and Little Jim, for example, with her performing them for me. She was an incredibly dramatic reader, engaging. She didn’t know that at the time, but she could tell a story. Daddy was also full of information. The two of them would regularly relay information to me about life in the islands, as if that was an obligation. My son, Pedro, tells me that their stories were so vivid because they were living in diaspora and told stories to keep their former lives real and present. I channel all of that.
MG: How important/significant do you feel the Midwest identity is?
LH: Not so much to me. I’m just here. I don’t actually identify as Midwestern, although I am, with all off the factory stuff and Detroit.
MG: How do you feel the Midwestern voice is different from other cultures’?
LH: That’s a tricky question given that my voice is way more than typical Midwestern. I dunno.
MG: How does the Midwestern voice come to life in your work?
LH: The Midwestern voice comes to life when I write. Strange sounding, maybe, but I’m from the Midwest and when I write, whatever I write, is Midwestern, even when I drag up the island diaspora. I have a lot of characters running around in me.
MG: What was the last thing you read, and how was it?
LH: I’ve read quite a few things lately, but what sticks with me is The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon. It searches for culture and roots in much the same way I do. I love this book. It inspires.