#70: Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Denver fiction author Kali Fajardo-Anstine draws from her centuries-old Colorado heritage, breathing life into her Chicana characters with the assurance of someone who’s lived it. With stories in print nationally in a number of literary reviews and residencies at Yaddo, Hedgebrook and Hub City Press under her belt, Fajardo-Anstine now has a novel and short-story collection forthcoming from Random House’s newly revived One World imprint, under the editorial leadership of publishing-world phenom Chris Jackson. Hear more from this local rising star as she tackles the 100CC questionnaire.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: My work is inspired by my elders in the Chicano and indigenous communities, folklore, young students I’ve worked with in places like Fort Lewis College and the Wyoming Girls’ School, and literature. I adore exceptional writing, and nothing thrills me more than the look and feel of a good sentence across my eyes and tongue.
But, more than anything, injustice is my muse. I write to understand human crimes and why we feel compelled to hurt one another.
I’ve only thrown one party for myself. When I turned 27, I was Writer-in-Residence for nine months at Hub City Press in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I’d never been to the South before, and I fell in love with the lush green landscape, the wetness of the earth, those small cobbled mountains and people with voices that sang. For my birthday that year, I made lanterns with images of artists in the “27 club” — Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Basquiat, etc.
I invited everyone to my party. Local bluegrass musicians, punk kids, a group of African-American women who had been police officers, an 88-year-old former spy and his academic wife, a good friend who later died of breast cancer.
That is to say, everyone is invited to my party. But maybe my guests of honor would be James Baldwin, Katherine Anne Porter and Sandra Cisneros.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I took my first fiction class at Lighthouse Writers Workshop when I was twenty years old. I didn’t own a car then, and so my father would drive me to their old location, the Thomas Hornsby Ferril House on Downing Street. It was a maze-like climb to the attic, where I sat for a couple hours each week and listened to writers of all ages share work and ideas. My father would pick me up at the end of class each week and ask, “Is your novel done?” Lighthouse Writers creates community and space for those who want to take their work seriously. Denver writers are much indebted to Andrea Dupree and Michael Henry for giving us such a literary beacon.
I think of my journey as a writer like climbing a vast and varied landscape. Each mountaintop reveals others behind it. I was proud to have my first story published in the Bellevue Literary Review at the age of 23. When I opened the mailbox that afternoon, I screamed in my parents’ Arvada cul-de-sac.
There’s been almost a decade between that and where I am now. Things are happening that I could have never predicted. I recently signed a book contract for my novel and short stories with Chris Jackson’s Random House imprint, One World. When I found out, I wept and wept, but the response was similar to seeing my first published story. All accomplishments are my favorite, for each one changes the landscape.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
My family is indigenous to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. This is our land base. In my twenties, I lived in San Diego, Wyoming, South Carolina, Key West and then Durango, Colorado. But in the end, I came home to Denver. I love walking in Five Points and knowing that my great-grandmother once hung her laundry on the line on Tremont Street. I love the feel of the west side, knowing that my Auntie Lucy lived on Galapago Street for seventy years. My grandfather has a story about every damn mountain, every back-road pass, every fishing stream. This is where I come from for generations upon generations.
My favorite artists are the older generation of Chicanos who paved the way for an artist like myself to exist. Arlette and Stevon Lucero, the Luna brothers, the author Manuel Ramos, and academics like Dr. Luis Torres, Ramon del Castillo and my mother, Renee Fajardo.
As for my generation, I’ve been impressed by the filmmaker Manuel Aragon, the novelist Jessica Thummel, the videographer Tyler Everett, the photographer Aaron Lopez, the designer Trent Segura and many others.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local literary community in the coming year?
There are whole troves of literature set in New York, Chicago and L.A. I’d like to see more representations of Denver in literature, especially by Colorado natives and writers of color.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine and Rushi Vyas will read from their work at the Art of Storytelling author series, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, October 28, at Prodigy Coffeehouse, 3801 East 40th Avenue. Admission is free.