On Solidarity and Home
with Cleyvis Natera, author of 'Neruda on the Park: A Novel'
#NuevasPaginasconLupita is a space that is both an archive and resource aimed to "spotlight" Hispanic/Latinx/e authors with newly published books. The goal is to connect readers to new and/or old favorite Hispanic/Latinx/e authors and their books! So give this & every post a share to help us reach more readers!
How does it work?!
Here’s the deal, I came up with a set of casual/random/funny questions to ask each Hispanic/Latinx/e author, I interview. For now, the questions will all be the same but maybe in the future I’ll launch this into more specific questions to the author or maybe I’ll turn this series into a mini-podcast, or maybe……well, you get it! The possibilities are endless.
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Hey Heyyy Book Franz!
It’s another week which means another new Nuevas Paginas interview. I know I am usually excited about each interview that goes live but I am especially excited about this one because I’m currently obsessed with the book. I read it months ago but I still find myself thinking about and pulling out new layers/threads of what I felt while reading it. It’s a book that dives into tough themes however adds in some humor and romance. Truly the perfect book of the summer and it is available in all bookstores today!!
I don’t consider myself a psychic but my gut tells me this going to be one of those books that is everywhere and that everyone is talking about. I know I personally can’t wait to read anything else this author writes. So don’t miss out on grabbing a copy of this book to help one of my favorite debut authors celebrate the release of her phenomenal novel!
Without further ado, our special guest author today is….Cleyvis Natera, author of Neruda on the Park: A Novel
Could you tell me a bit about where this photo was taken? Is it special to your book in some way?
This photograph was taken on May 21st, the day of my reading in Washington Heights at Word Up Book’s Recirculation. This photo was taken near Sugar Hill, a Harlem enclave where I first conceived of this novel and wrote several early drafts. Holding the book in this neighborhood after the amazing journey both the book and I have been through to get to this day, was a powerful moment of joy.
Neruda on the Park is about a family and a neighborhood under threat. When an old, burnt-out tenement building is demolished to make room for luxury condos, it is a catalyst that sets the novel into motion. Eusebia, a loving mother to Luz and wife to Vladimir, concocts a plot to make the neighborhood appear dangerous to the wealthy and mostly white people likely to purchase apartments in the new construction. But things quickly spiral out of control. Likewise, Luz, a young professional who seeks to live the American Dream to the fullest, ends up losing her job in the early pages of the novel, and so the demolition of her own life leads her to journey to create a life of meaning and purpose. She ends up falling in love with the developer of the luxury condos. The ensuing conflict between mother and daughter propels the story forward and excavates the themes of community, family, belonging, and what we’re ultimately willing to do to save what we love most.
Much of what was happening in my own life during the early drafts of this book is that I was reeling from heartbreak over the rejection of my first manuscript (a book I put away and turned to Neruda on the Park). Standing on this street, with this book in my hand, is a reminder that just like people have fought hard to claim and maintain homes under threat, so have I fought hard and persisted so this book would make it into the world.
Tell me about your book without telling me about your book - share any literary inspirations behind your book! If there are none, the gap you wanted to fill in the literary canon with your book.
One of my aims is it to center the Latine Blackness of an entire neighborhood within the context of an immigrant community. I’d like to celebrate the beauty and strength inherent in people who look like me and push against the constant ways in which we are disappeared in accounts of what it means to be Latine.
What are two central themes in your book that you connect with the most and why?
The central theme of my novel is an exploration of the concept of home. But I wanted to do so in a way that presented a counter-narrative to the ways in which immigrant communities are often portrayed. We are often thought of as temporary people as if we’re only passing through for some cash and are burning to head back to our birthplaces. I don’t believe that is true for many of us, yet I think much of the reason why some are willing to treat immigrant communities with such brutality is because we’re believed to not belong. Both Eusebia and her daughter Luz were born in the Dominican Republic but neither yearns to go back there. Eusebia is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her new home against invaders. Luz has a more abstract concept of home as she often feels she doesn’t belong, even within her own community, and so her path is to find home.
A secondary theme in the book is solidarity. I’m fascinated by the idea of how often individual success and happiness is pitted as contrary to community responsibility. This concept is especially dangerous in marginalized communities, where our ability to thrive is so often dependent on community and solidarity. There are ways in which individual liberation is hard to achieve – I’m thinking now about the ways in which Eusebia is such a committed mother and caretaker and so many people take her for granted, affecting her mental health. But I do hope that this novel creates space to consider what we owe each other and the places we call home. And how false the concept of personal liberation is when it is wrapped up in the promise of individual exceptionalism.
If a book was home, where would your home be?
Without a doubt, my home would be by the sea. I absolutely love large bodies of water and feel instantly at peace and relaxed when I’m by the ocean. Water has such significance in the book and I’m surprised at how transformative it is for my main characters. Some of my most beloved scenes involve both Eusebia and Luz swimming in the ocean and I took such care in those scenes! Honoring the earth, respecting and loving it, are critical aspects of what this book aims to portray by the use of nature throughout but especially in scenes that take place at sea.
If your book was a famous musician who would it be?
My book would be the incomparable Celia Cruz! ¡Azúcar! First, because Cruz never shied away from addressing difficult and urgent issues within our community. Second, she always carried herself with so much grace, joy and happiness. She’s always represented the pride and dignity that comes with being part of the Afro-Latine identity. But more importantly, her music was groundbreaking during her life and continues to break ground years after her death, showing how art that comes from the heart can achieve profundity and joy at the same time!
What comfort food could a reader pair with your book?
Although I don’t often eat desserts, habichuelas con dulce is one of the most comforting foods for me. It is a sweet cream of beans dish Dominicans eat with relish. It is as unusual as it is decadent with its Caribbean flavors of beans, milk, and warm spices. I remember looking forward to the end of Lent, when this dish is usually enjoyed before Easter which for us marks Viernes Santos.
Food is such an important part of this book. Eusebia uses food as a way to communicate her love for everyone around her, and in that way, she is like so many women in my family, who can literally get me to consent to anything with the power of their cooking!
Readers can go to my website for www.cleyvisnatera.com for a full recipe card that’s part of my book club kit.
In what ways has access (or little to no access) to Hispanic/Latinx/e literature defined you as a writer?
Although we certainly need to have more stories by Latines, I grew up reading and was inspired by many Latine writers. Both the OG’s like Julia Alvarez, Cristina Garcia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and so many others inspired my imagination with what it means to represent the complexities of love, relationships, and communities through the lens of culture. I love their books. What I aspire to do now is to be very specific about archiving the experiences of people who are Afro-descendant in nuanced and complicated ways. I think our experiences connect to global themes in compelling, unique, and wonderful ways.
Where can readers keep up with your work?
I’m most active on IG: @Cleyvis Natera
A huge thank you to Cleyvis Natera for taking the time to chat with me about her book! Please please make sure you purchase a copy (or request your local library carry a copy) of their book #SupportLatinxLit!
Author Bio from her website:
Cleyvis Natera is the author of the forthcoming debut novel Neruda on the Park which will be published on May 24, 2022, by Ballantine Books. She was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Skidmore College and a Master of Fine Arts from New York University. She’s received honors from PEN America, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA).
Her fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration, TIME, Gagosian Quarterly, The Washington Post, The Kenyon Review, Aster(ix) , and Kweli Journal, among other publications. Cleyvis teaches creative writing to undergraduate students at Fordham University and graduate students at the Writer’s Foundry MFA Program at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. She lives with her husband and two young children in Montclair, New Jersey.
Synopsis for Neruda On The Park Bookshop website:
The Guerreros have lived in Nothar Park, a predominantly Dominican part of New York City, for twenty years. When demolition begins on a neighboring tenement, Eusebia, an elder of the community, takes matters into her own hands by devising an increasingly dangerous series of schemes to stop construction of the luxury condos. Meanwhile, Eusebia's daughter, Luz, a rising associate at a top Manhattan law firm who strives to live the bougie lifestyle her parents worked hard to give her, becomes distracted by a sweltering romance with the handsome white developer at the company her mother so vehemently opposes.
As Luz's father, Vladimir, secretly designs their retirement home in the Dominican Republic, mother and daughter collide, ramping up tensions in Nothar Park, racing toward a near-fatal climax.
A beautifully layered portrait of family, friendship, and ambition, Neruda on the Park weaves a rich and vivid tapestry of community as well as the sacrifices we make to protect what we love most, announcing Cleyvis Natera as an electrifying new voice.
The best way you can support Latinx/e authors and Latinx/e literature is by doing the following:
REQUEST that your local library carry a copy
PURCHASE a copy of a friend, family member, or your nemesis (hey! I’m sure they read too).
SHOUT about the book on any social media platform or to your friends and family!
SHARE this interview widely! Word of mouth does wonders for connecting readers to books.
REVIEW their books on any website that sells books!
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