Classy Talk with Jennine Capó Crucet

Posted Mon, 6/17/2013 - 6:18pm by  |  Category:

What is the title of your class?

I’m teaching two: “Holding Your Feet to the Fire: A Manuscript Boot Camp for Prose Projects,” which is a generative class centered on a project you’re either beginning, stalled on, or pushing to finish; and a more straightforward short-story workshop focused on really intense feedback and designed to help you strengthen your editorial & critiquing skills as much as your story-writing ones.

People should take this class because?
Because it’s going to be crazy fun and also challenging! And also because it’s sort of (probably) a one-time-only opportunity for all parties involved. I’m from Miami, and I normally live in Florida, where I’m a faculty member of Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program. But this summer, the stars aligned in a wonderful way and brought me out here for a little while (WHICH IS AWESOME). I’ve been hearing about the amazing work of Hugo House for years, and I’m thrilled to be the Anti-LeBron James and take myself away from South Beach. (Please note: FSU is not on South Beach, but neither is the arena where the Miami Heat play. Way to confuse America’s basketball fans, LeBron!)

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how? 

I’m @crucet on Twitter— say hello! I’m also on Facebook, though I’m on a summer break from that in order to get some writing done. (No break from Twitter though. Twitter is F O R E V E R.)

Are any of your works online and available to the public?
My first book, a short story collection titled How to Leave Hialeah, is available from the University of Iowa Press (it won the Iowa Short Fiction Award) as both a book and an ebook. The title story from the book also appears in the 2011 PEN/O.Henry Prize Anthology Vintage/Anchor). There’s an excerpt from my next book (a novel which currently dominates my life) up at Guernica. There are stories and book reviews up at other places, too—hit me up on Twitter if you’re interested!

What are you reading right now?

I’m re-reading Moby Dick, but I’ve also recently read and loved the novel The Art of Fielding (I love all things baseball) and the memoir Yes, Chef (I love food, too, but I’ve never really met anyone who’s like, “Yeah, I don’t really like food that much, I’d eat paper if it had vitamins,” etc.).

What excites you about the material you’re teaching?

I love meeting new writers; I love the synergy and commitment that comes with a good writing group or workshop. I’m excited to meet and work with new voices and hear about the projects they’re working on, then work together to push those projects as hard as we can. Being around creative, committed people is the thing that brings me the most joy.

What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?

This will be my first time, so I don’t know just yet. But for now, I’d say it’s the fact that Elliot Bay Books is so close by! 

What books made you want to write?

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (my all-time favorite for so many reasons); Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Viramontes (it made such an impact on me that I looked up where she taught and went there — I owe her, and this novel, so much); The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue by Manuel Muñoz (a mind-blowingly gorgeous collection set in California’s Central Valley that made me double down on my efforts on my own stories). Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones was (and is) hugely important to me.

If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?

This question is hard, because any advice I give immediately makes me want to just go get some coffee with the person asking for advice and just spill my guts about all the things I’ve learned and all the mistakes I’ve made and how you can avoid them. So let’s plan on doing that soon. In the meantime, one thing I’ve done is that I printed out (in tiny font so it all fits on one page) the response in the Write like A Motherfucker post of the Dear Sugar column, written by the amazingly talented and the amazingly generous Cheryl Strayed. I taped it up in a place where I have to face it if I decide to leave my writing spot for some reason, and it gives me the pep talk I need to turn right around and get back to work. That essay says everything you need to hear about humility and perseverance and faith in your work and the creative process. We’ll talk all about it when we get that coffee.

Is there a book, poem, essay, etc., by another author that you wish you had written yourself? Why?

Not really, because I’m happy to be a super-fan, but maybe the closest I come to wishing I’d written something by another writer is the George Saunders story “Sea Oak,” which I admire so very much. I got my start in writing as a sketch comedian (I wrote comedy long before I ever tried writing a “serious” short story), and his particular use of humor is something I admire to the point of worship. The real answer to this question is probably that I sometimes wish I’d written the “Googly Eyes Gardener” sketch on SNL a while back (though it might be Christopher Walken’s performance in it that launches that sketch into the stratosphere for me). 

If you could have coffee with any author living or dead, who would it be? 

Too hard! Right now, I’d say my mentor from my MFA years, Charles Baxter, because I miss him, and because he is such a phenomenal teacher. When I run into a question or complication in my teaching or writing life, I often ask myself, “What would Charlie do?” It would be great to get coffee with him any time.

What’s your favorite book? If you could pair it with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, what would you choose?

I mentioned earlier that it’s Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. When I first read it, I was 16 and so had yet to reach the legal drinking age, so from a nostalgia standpoint, that fact makes me want to pair it with my drink of choice before I knew any better—an admittedly gross Smirnoff Ice. But in all seriousness, since the novel’s most moving scenes (to me) are set in Florida, I’d probably pair it with a pint of Native Everglades Pale Ale, or with any of the craft beers coming out of the (fairly new) Due South Brewing Co. down in South Florida.