By Cory Phare
Kali Fajardo-Anstine considers her debut short story collection “an act of narrative preservation.” The National Book Foundation considers it one of the finest works of fiction in 2019.
“Storytelling is a way to retain history,” the 2009 Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate said of “Sabrina & Corina,” a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, among the most prestigious literary prizes in the U.S. “It serves to keep memory alive by saying ‘This is what happened, this is what we need to be aware of.’”
Set in Denver, Fajardo-Anstine’s characters reflect her multifaceted upbringing – along with the discordance she experienced in being labeled and placed in a box, she said. In examining the human condition through the lenses of Mexican, Filipina and indigenous heritage, she sees intersecting voices building on oral traditions to transcend a fixed point in time.
“My characters are obsessed with storytelling,” Fajardo-Anstine said. “It’s a comfort and an instruction; stories teach us about our history and future while entertaining us.”
Denver collegians will find one setting in her collection quite familiar. In “Ghost Sickness,” character Ana is enrolled in a history course on the Auraria Campus and works at the library. “All Her Names” features a protagonist who graduated from the downtown location.
Those stories show how Fajardo-Anstine preserves the past by imposing it on the current reality, a process she describes as "walking along the 9th Street Historic District, having a hallucinatory daydream.”
The author, who majored in English and minored in Chicana/o Studies at MSU Denver before earning her MFA from the University of Wyoming, doesn’t have to look far for inspiration, crediting her mother for instilling a passion for narrative.
“Storytelling creates layers and depth; it puts history into place, making it more vivid and alive,” said her mother Renee Fajardo, coordinator of the MSU Denver-based Journey Through Our Heritage cultural education program.
“It adds dimensions to where you are, even if the things you’re sharing are gone. Wherever you’re at has a life.”
Tapping into that historical perspective provided by her mother helped Fajardo-Anstine find her own road to success. She credited her MSU Denver Chicana/o Studies courses for laying a key theoretical foundation, introducing her to others with whom she shared similar life stories and helping her envision herself achieving her goals. Her next book, a novel about a mixed-race family migrating to Denver in the late-19thcentury, is slated to drop in early 2021.
“Sabrina & Corina,” meanwhile, has received high praise since its debut in April. In addition to being named one of five finalists for the National Book Award, the book was lauded by literary luminary Sandra Cisneros, who said the stories “… blaze like wildfires” with characters that “…made me laugh and broke my heart.” Meanwhile, the collection landed on the top of BuzzFeed’s 37 Amazing New Books To Add To Your Spring Reading List and Westword dubbed the collection 2019's “Best Debut by a Colorado Writer."
With her career taking off, Fajardo-Anstine is poised to inspire the next generation to find their own voices by connecting with their truth, starting with the ground they stand upon.
“Think about where we’re at right now, and all the different parts of Colorado,” she said. “This is indigenous land; some of our state was colonized by New Spain, then Mexico, then the United States.
“Our storytelling and literature should reflect this complicated history and present-day reality.”
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