When a call from an unidentified number shows up in Carribean Fragoza’s cell, she immediately assumes it’s a spammer and doesn’t answer. But the phone still rings. So she finally answered. “Don’t hang up,” she remembered the voice on the line telling her. “This is the Whiting Foundation.” They called to let her know she had been selected for the 2023 Whiting Award, an unlimited grant of $50,000 for new writers. Fragoza said she was over. with “Crying on the phone”
Fragoza, author of the short story collection Eat the Mouth That Feeds You, was widely acclaimed when it was published two years ago, and was among 10 writers to receive the prestigious award this year. and is the only one from the Los Angeles area.
Fragoza was one of 10 Whiting Award winners announced Wednesday evening during a ceremony in New York. For the past 38 years, the award has often been an indication of future literary achievements. Past winners include novelists Colson Whitehead and Victor LaValle, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and poet and novelist Ocean Vuong. In addition to Fragoza, this year’s recipients include playwrights Mia Chung and Emma Wipperman (who also poets), novelists Marcia Douglas and Sidik Fofana, graphic novelists R. Kikuo Johnson, poets Tommye Blount and Ama Codjoe, and journalists Linda Kinstler and Stefania Taladrid.
Fragoza is a novelist. essayist and journalist from El Monte, who attended UCLA and CalArts. Over the years, her writing has appeared in publications such as LA Weekly and LA Review of Books (I knew her through the art community over half a dozen years ago. When she was a regular contributor to KCET’s Artbound, writing on various topics. including art and space division)
In early 2020, along with three other authors: Alexa Sayf Cumming, Ryan Reft and Romeo Guzman (a historian who is also Fragoza’s husband), she co-edited the “East of East: The Making of Greater El Monte” collection of essays. A kaleidoscopic portrayal of rural L.A. that doesn’t get much air time, “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You” premiered a year later. Immediately praised for her horrific surrealism and focus on the life of young Chicanas, the New York Times called her “the most beautiful woman in the world.” “A Powerful New Voice in American Literature”
On Mondays, Fragoza takes time off her schedule. She currently teaches at CalArts to discuss awards and the writing life. in this discussion (which was condensed and edited for clarity) She talks about the novel she will be working on. Really? Like to the end and why she’s fascinated by the darker corners of the female psyche.
Where does the novel stand? Then chalk will help or not?
I do a lot of work during the winter break. And I feel that if I can take one solid semester, I can. It’s hard to know when I can get that time. I have this capital now. I’ll try to work this summer and in the fall. I think I can do it by the end of this year. I’ve been saying that for a while now. But this year I mean it.
What can you tell us?
It’s about a girl who vanishes—briefly. Her mother is looking for her. The police don’t take her seriously. She thinks the worst could have happened because of the fact that the black girl was missing and that the police weren’t serious about it. But her daughter joins a group of radical bird watchers who protect the environment. and they took over the nature reserve. The centerpiece of the book is this mother and son and their complicated relationship. and located in working-class immigrant neighborhoods such as El Monte.
What was the first thing that attracted you to fiction?
I live in a small house with my siblings and my parents. In a small house, there is not much space to grow. The book gave me that space. and especially fiction gives me space to explore I started writing stories when I was a kid. What matters is those stories your family tells you. I grew up on La Llorona and Chupacabra, a tradition of storytelling from my cousins, my Taia, my grandparents.
What was Carribean Fragoza’s first short story?
it’s a fantasy It was this princess and she was very cold. Everyone tried to warm her and pierce her cold heart. The project is writing a story and illustrating a book. I sewed my own notebook with shiny purple paper. My mom still keeps it — it’s in the garage.
You’ve talked about creating your own precepts as Chicana. Who lives in your precepts?
From the earliest times Helena Maria Viramontes and “Moth” (from the collection Of course, the El Monte writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salvador Placencia were great discoveries for me. to find his book and see those elements of magical realism. It’s a cool, weird book of magic. There are also those weird stories by Leonora Carrington. She has these weird stories that I really dig.
How do you feel about the label of magical realism applied to your work? It may be a term used to refer to transportation. This is often used with Latin writers who convey little to the outside world.
It’s an incomplete label. I think it has a purpose. It’s a quick and easy way for people to get a general understanding of the magical and surreal aspects of work — and I think I’m okay with that. If the reader is willing to go into the next work and know that it won’t be Gabriel García Márquez, but it will be his own, that’s fine. I’m not as angry about it as everyone else. There’s a term thrown into my book like “speculative,” and I don’t think it sticks.
In addition to labels I am interested in exploring the possibilities of strange things. that occur in daily life It’s about looking at everyday life and the mundane. but through the lens of weirdness
I’d love to know about your process. What is the beginning of the story for you? character? settings?
usually a sound If I can hear and write quite clearly I will follow that voice Sometimes it’s not a specific sound but an idea. “Ini y Fati”, the story I wrote about a young martyr/saint who befriends a little girl, is based on the idea of a virgin killed hundreds of years ago. Before and back to avenge the ass of the world . I want to imagine what it will be like.
Your story focuses on women and girls. What aspects of your inner femininity are you fascinated by as a writer?
Two things: I think about the inner life of girls, of teenage girls, and the inner life of mothers. It is largely overlooked by young girls, even if they are not sexually active. But they are exploring what their gender is. And that can scare people. and maybe the goth in me But I’m interested in the dark I don’t mean that in a malicious way. Darker and more complex emotions of girls. Not all sunny bows I was fascinated by the scowl. Little girls’ frowns when they’re young enough to make them smile if they don’t want to. I’m interested in protecting that.
Then there’s the aspect of motherhood. What is your mother’s inner life like? That was a mystery before I became a mother. And it’s a mystery to me now. I have a good relationship with my mother. But there is a limit to understanding what her experiences are. And how was her mother’s experience and my great-grandmother’s experience? It’s not always talked about — our challenges and our emotional lives. It’s still a process of discovery for me.
What are you reading right now? What should I read next?
I just read Marytza Rubio’s collection of short stories. She’s a Chica from Santa Ana. And her book is called “Maria, Maria and Other Stories.” People call it tropi-goth, and that’s fitting. I just returned to Leonora Carrington and I have an upcoming Yuri Herrera collection that I am very excited about (“Ten Planets: Stories”) and Vickie Vértiz has a new collection of poems out. (“Auto/Body”)
I still feel itchy to read. “Nightcrawling” by Leila Mottley. I heard her speak at the AWP (Writers Association and Writing Programs & Books Conference) and she was awesome. This is something I was really excited to read.