The New York Foundation of the Arts hosted Rigoberto González at the 86th Street Barnes and Noble in promotion of his new book, Autobiography of My Hungers. González is a poet, essayist, fiction author, young adult fiction author, book reviewer and professor at Rutgers University. Autobiography of My Hungers is a series of flash prose memoir vignettes that delve into personal moments from González’s life.
The theme of the evening is González’s father, now deceased. He begins with a poem involving his father’s passing before continuing with an essay from his collection Red-Ink Retablos where he discusses his family’s adaptation to American traditions. The narrative follows an Easter Holiday where he feels intimidated by firing guns; he jokes about the reception the essay received when he read it in Alaska to a pro-gun audience. They take their guns more seriously there.
“I give away pieces of my imagination, of my life.”
González reads some of the short pieces from Autobiography of My Hungers. The book was one he felt he needed to write, but never expected to end up publishing. “There had to be a couple of things that were my own,” he says, explaining that in writing, “I give away pieces of my imagination, of my life.”
González worked on this collection between other projects as a kind of escape. The rule was each was to be limited to three hundred words. Each piece is short and the selection he reads are succinct narratives, mostly with a humorous epiphany at the end. He pulls the narratives from intimate moments of his life.
The early portion of his writing career was spent writing book reviews as a regular contributor to the El Paso Times. He is now a contributor to The Los Angeles Review of Books, a relatively new, online publication that has grown in response to the shrinking number of regular book review columns. But he isn’t wholly concerned about the reduction in regular newspaper book reviews. He says that smaller authors and poets were mostly overlooked anyway. But the internet allows for a different kind of promotion and outreach that regular newspaper columns may never have achieved anyway. Authors need to learn to adapt, to use the internet for promotion and other outlets.
González has also written two young adult novels with a third on the way. The books follow a group of openly gay high school teenagers. He explains that part of the reason behind his decision to write the first book was the murder of Lawrence King: “Twenty-years after high school and there is still this fear of otherness.”
“Nothing is ever finished. You kind of have to let it go.”
A woman in the audience asks how he decides his works are finished. He responds: “Nothing is ever finished. You kind of have to let it go.” He then explains that sometimes he sits down and reads his old books to understand his own evolution as a writer. Once, he read a poem he had written in an earlier book and was left wondering what he had meant. “It was a very different me; I see the world differently now.”
If it seems like González has a wide range of styles and formats, its because he was taught growing up that writing was not limiting. Latin American writers are journalists who write novels; they are not pigeonholed into a single genre. “I wasn’t aware you had to make choice,” he says, until he got to college. He keeps five different files going all at once and switches between them. He finishes whatever feels most promising, or if he wants to change genres or narratives, he can always go back to another document.
“Its easy to write something on the paper, but to go back to it a hundred times–that is the hard part,” he says. But ultimately, “the identity of a writer is to be able to write whatever.”