Thursday, 23 April 2009


If you haven't heard of Patricia Engel yet, you haven't been reading The Roving Editor. She is a gifted exponent of the short story, at a time when the form is at last gaining the recognition and audience it deserves. (Read James Lasdun on this encouraging phenomenon here.)

So far Patricia has only published in literary journals, albeit in titles of the calibre of Guernica and the Boston Review, where her talent was first noticed by Junot Díaz.

It can’t be long until her work appears between covers. Indeed Patricia tells me that she is currently working on two book projects, and has promised to keep us posted about their publication. In the meantime, it is my great pleasure to present this Q&A with a rising literary star.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and what led you to become a writer?
My parents are Colombian and I grew up in New Jersey, among an extended family of musicians, painters, and a grandmother who was a writer. I sketched, painted, and read constantly, particularly biographies, books about mythology and the paranormal. Writing was a way to entertain myself, build a bridge to another life. I'd never let others read my work, though. My stories were only for me. Eventually the compulsion to write swallowed most of my other brewing dreams and I complied.

What attracts you to the medium of the short story?
I love the vulnerability of the form and that there is nowhere for the author to hide. A short story requires swift seduction but can be as memorable and transformative as the drawn out affair of a novel. I write stories for the pure thrill of it. If it didn’t feel like a party when I sit down to write, I probably wouldn’t do it.

Which writers do you admire?
I admire any writer that goes into the page raw-hearted, but the first heroes to blow my mind during adolescence were Marguerite Duras, Anaïs Nin, Albert Camus, Maryse Condé, Gabriel García Márquez, Esther Freud, Alexandre Jardin and Romain Gary.

Where and when do you write?
Usually at desk or table at home, starting early in the morning. I prefer silence, solitude, and natural light. I rarely write at night.

How did you first come to be published?
In college, I majored in French and Art History, not Creative Writing, and had no sense of the publishing path for a very long time, which was a good thing because it allowed me to focus only on the writing. Then one day I sent ‘Lucho’ to the Boston Review and the fiction editor liked it.

How has being published affected you as a writer?
Placing a story in a journal is like finding a home for a stray cat. Not exactly a miracle, but no small deed either. I'm extremely grateful every time it turns out well.

Your stories seem to feature recurring central protagonists (I’m thinking of Sabina, who narrates both ‘Lucho’ and ‘Día’) and a large and colourful cast of more peripheral players. Can you say something about your approach to creating characters?
The Sabina stories are part of a collection that follows her over two decades. In creating characters I try to give readers the friends they never knew they wanted or needed. I enjoy characters that are tender and cruel, confronting their humanity, who manage to form profound bonds despite personal chaos. My stories are built on the idea that we are the sum of the people we’ve allowed ourselves to care about. We test one another, and we make each other better.

Have you come across any new writers whose work you would recommend?
I wouldn't say they're new, but the voices I've recently pushed on friends are Jorge Franco, Philippe Grimbert, Faïza Guène, Chimo, and Fernando Vallejo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having Ms. Engel as a professor I loved the fact she actually knew what she was talking about when she crtiqued our work. Reading more of her work I am blown away. FIU creative writing students are not fully aware of her literary genius. She isn't the type to toot her own horn but I was a writer who also was teaching others the tricks of the trade I would have no issue bragging a little bit.

-student from her Fall 2008 creative writing class

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.