MEET THE AUTHOR: SARAH RAFAEL GARCIA

1. Could you explain your style and approach to telling this story?

Similar to my stories in SanTana's Fairy Tales, I'm using magical realism and inanimate objects to illustrate social commentary in A Womyn's Place.... It was actually this collection that led me to write SanTana's Fairy Tales to begin with. I deconstruct contemporary narratives from media headlines and historical quotes that impose gender roles on women. My goal is to create more complex female characters and play with magical realism, ultimately providing readers with a new feminist outlook on the "traditional" fairy tales. Each story begins with a female-centric epigraph and includes a familiar female narrative. Some fables don't shy away from hot-button issues like abortion and violence against transwomen. The title itself is taken from a story based on a single-woman owning a house. It is narrated by the house, which uses its old views to judge its owner, even casting wicked spells to turn unfit suitors into cockroaches. In another tale, a young Chicana becomes an object of obsession for a mischievous Mexican duende, he follows her through life by possessing her prayer candle and combating against a replica Frida self-portrait, each displayed as cultural icons. Both inanimate objects narrate the story while illustrating how materialism has come to replace culture in our society. Together, the stories celebrate all women.

2. What ideas drove you to write your story and what do you hope readers take away from your book?

The initial idea started in my MFA experience. I wrote a story to mock what workshop readers had ridiculed in other feminist and cultural pieces I had submitted. Indirectly I accredit misogynistic, white spaces for motivating me to find solace outside of the mainstream literary world. I realized I became a stronger writer when I reinstated and accepted my identity as a female, writer of color. I do not desire to compete with or become my “white male” counterparts or even accept a literary hierarchy. I aspire to write for me. To offer a counter-narrative for my gender and culture, while I play with words and narrative structures without the constraints imposed by society—or a MFA program. 

I wrote a story from a house's point of view, an attempt to return the white male gaze onto society, making society responsible for perpetuating gender roles and stereotypes. Since then, I added more stories depicting/calling out gender roles imposed on women. I hope A Womyn's Place... is instrumental in bringing life to feminist and cultural narratives...and critical dialogue.

3. What character/section/story challenged you the most and why?

There are two stories I struggled writing since they focus on the transgender community. One in particular led to the development of the SanTana's Fairy Tales multimedia project—Zoraida & Marisol. Initially I heard of Zoraida’s death through social media in 2014. I was still living in Austin completing my MFA degree at Texas State University. I had met Zoraida in passing during a couple of community events in Santa Ana. I was familiar with her work in the undocuqueer and trans communities. I met her through a mutual friend and writer, Alexa Vasquez. When I thought about writing the story I was apprehensive to do it without permission. Being that I was facing microaggressions and witnessing cultural appropriation in my MFA experience, so I sought out Alexa for her opinion and guidance. That conversation naturally turned into an interview and I continued to converse with Alexa through various versions of the story. I also continued to research stories published in the media and using their point of view to offer a counter-narrative and publish Zoraida’s name, as it should have from the beginning. Prior to publication, I proceeded to share the story with more folks who knew Zoraida too. I still feel apprehensive reading it aloud, I can’t say I’m the voice for Zoraida, nor do I want to be. But I do hope this version of her story and the transman story I include in this collection inspires other folks in the trans community to share their writing and for the writing industry to include transgender narratives across all genres.

4. What is your literary philosophy?

After attending a MFA in Creative Writing program, I quickly learned I wasn’t the common voice celebrated in the MFA workshop. I assimilated just to cope with the alienation. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t necessarily my gender, Spanish language or cultural pride that kept me from obtaining approval from faculty and peers. My feeling of displacement was due to the lack of diversity in faculty and curriculum. Therefore my focus as a writer is best summarized by Toni Morrison, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

5. What is your advice for young writers?

As writers who have to challenge stereotypes daily, I advise youth to be their own mentors and rise above the microaggressions and dismissals from any part of society that seems to be an obstacle to reaching life goals—as so many have done before them. I tell youth to push through, to write in any shape or form they desire, to adapt critical-thinking in daily life, to share their culture whether it be based on race or just your love for a particular type of music, to speak assertively, “Your voice is your weapon!” Don’t just be the bigger person, role model to those younger and older than you. I also remind them to find their support in their community. And if they can’t find it, then create it—begin your own community to empower others like you.