Catching up with ‘Sabrina & Corina’ author Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Fresh off another award for her debut short-story collection, the Denverite dishes on international acclaim, pandemic writing and supporting her Colorado community.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s short-story collection “Sabrina & Corina” continues to earn critical accolades with the bestowing of an American Book Award.
The Denver author’s debut hit store shelves in April 2019, landed on numerous best-of lists and was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Foundation’s top fiction picks.
The Before Columbus Foundation, sponsor of the American Book Awards, announced its 41st annual awards Sept. 14. The winners will be formally recognized in an online event Oct. 25.
Before that, however, the Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate will return to her alma mater for the 2020 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform common-read program. RED interviewed Fajardo-Anstine to discuss the success of “Sabrina & Corina” and learn what she’s working on now.
How has the pandemic affected your approach to writing?
In the beginning of everything back in March, the stress and sadness were pretty overwhelming, and I wasn’t really in the writing headspace. Now, I’m completely occupied with creating, with using fiction as a form of self-healing in a controlled environment.
I’ve been writing as a sense of escape, which is something I haven’t really done since I was a kid.
How did writing help you escape as a child?
When I was young, I started writing nonfiction; I had a diary filled with these little stories that often had these wildly sad things happening. My mom discovered this and was like, “Oh, my God, something’s wrong!”
I didn’t want her to get upset, though, so I started making things up. That’s what originally led me to writing fiction – to not get in trouble!
What are you working on now?
I’m doing online workshops and events with different universities and organizations, which has been interesting and challenging, as a way to reinvent the literary space. I’ve been busy revising my forthcoming novel, a multigenerational tale set in historic Denver from the 1890s through the 1930s.
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I also recently completed a short story about Denver amid the pandemic backdrop. Everything I write has been imbued with elements of social justice, and the houselessness in Denver has reached a point where there’s no way people can deny the issue. The gap between the haves and the have-nots in Denver has become more pronounced than ever.
My recent work has a decidedly darker feel, but … I write realism.
What’s it like to see the widespread success of “Sabrina & Corina”?
It’s so very exciting and wonderful. The book recently came out in Japan and will be out in Italian and Spanish next year. As the book has grown and been translated into different languages, it’s brought me as an author into a global sphere. … But at the same time, due to the pandemic, everything has become more localized.
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Place is a critical component to the stories in “Sabrina & Corina.” Tell us about the places you recall from your time at MSU Denver studying English and Chicana/o Studies.
I think about the cubbies upstairs in the library, the openness of the King Center, the energy of a place like St. Cajetan’s that used to be the center of the neighborhood before campus was there.
My mom’s still there (as leader of the Journey Through Our Heritage cultural-education program), and I’m writing about it in my stories. I live downtown and still see campus every day – I’m just here (laughs).
What is the value of having a common-read program like MSU Denver’s 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform?
Reading and writing are such solitary acts – you do both of those alone. When you bring that out into the community, there are these almost-magical things that happen from the sharing of private experiences with other people.
That’s critical. Being seen erodes loneliness and creates a sense of community and togetherness. It underscores the importance of knowing each other in our communities and the resources that connect us.
Who are some local artists and businesses you’re supporting?
Monica Villalobos at Cabrona Coffee has some fantastic packaged coffee beans and horchata mix. The M12 arts collective. I recently worked with Caleb Alvarado, who created some incredibly evocative and beautiful photographs.
Other creatives I’m into include Xencs L. Wing and Armando Geneyro, Alyssa Mora – and can’t forget about the independent West Side Books.
What advice would you give to younger folks as they undertake their own creative journeys?
I would recommend trying as many art forms as possible since you don’t know where you’ll unlock your talent. You might be an amazing weaver who just hasn’t picked up the yarn to know it yet.
I discovered my natural propensity for storytelling at a very young age, but that’s not to say it’s easy. Writing is difficult. Fiction is very hard for me, but I enjoy the process because I love the thrill of completion and the making of art. That’s a challenge I can do for hours – or a lifetime.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine will take part in a forthcoming author visit Oct. 14 at 11 a.m. as part of MSU Denver’s 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform initiative; more info available on the program website.