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10 Questions for Xavier Navarro Aquino

Abuela doesn’t want to die. She’s still holding on to life for the stubbornness of it. And on one of the worst days to head down the mountainside, Ma and Pa decided to drag Diego and me to see her.
—from "A Death Foretold," Volume 62, Issue 4 (Winter 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I wrote a lot of bad love poetry in my adolescence. My first piece of fiction came much later. It was a terribly written story about a priest and his friend in some made-up town in Ohio. Mind you I’d never been or known a thing about that state. If I recall correctly, the priest slept with his friend’s wife. After writing that trash, I’d like to think the only way to go is up.  

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
It’s a long list of writers. To be brief I’ll note the works of Edwidge Danticat, Luis Rafael Sánchez, Toni Morrison, Kei Miller, Cormac McCarthy, and Jesmyn Ward. I often return to Derek Walcott’s poetry and his collection, Another Life. M. NourbeSe Philip’s essays and poetry really changed a lot for me starting out. Her work is brilliant.

What other professions have you worked in?
My first job was refereeing little league soccer. That didn’t last more than a season because I’d get distracted during the game. I worked at a call center, one of the most draining experiences of my life. I also worked for some years at a dining center rotating through the service stations, dishwashing, food prep, cleaning.

What did you want to be when you were young?
When I was a kid, I wanted to work for National Geographic traveling the world taking pictures of wildlife and landscapes. Then, that shifted to being a vet. Then high school came around and I learned music and dreamed of being a rock star.

What inspired you to write this piece?
The aftermath of natural disasters in the Caribbean. Namely hurricanes (Hurricane María). I wrote this shortly after finishing my novel, Velorio, set to publish Jan. 2022. But also, other remnants of climate change. Whether it’s shoreline erosion, earthquakes, or the privatization of Puerto Rico’s beaches, most of it came out of reimagining the island’s reality and where things are headed.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Always home. I don’t imagine my work living without Puerto Rico.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Depends on the mood. I have drastic shifts of “mood” music. I could listen to piano collections of Chopin and Ravel and Satie. They tend to keep me leveled. But I also love these piano adaptations of some of my favorite JRPG’s, specifically Final Fantasy.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Unfortunately for her, I put my spouse through first reads. A couple of close friends from grad school usually go next. Eventually, it’ll get to my agent to really test the waters.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
A visual artist or painter. Growing up that was my “natural gift.” I took it for granted and didn’t practice enough. Sometimes I’ll draw something for myself to keep around.

What are you reading right now?
Myriam J. A. Chancy’s What Storm, What Thunder. I’m also looking forward to new poetry collections from Roger Reeve’s and Solmaz Sharif.

XAVIER NAVARRO AQUINO was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Named one of the writers to watch for fall 2021 by Publishers Weekly, Aquino is the author of the novel Velorio,out from HarperVia/HarperCollins and HarperCollins Español in January 2022. His fiction has appeared in Tin House magazine, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and Guernica. His poetry has appeared in The Caribbean Writer and is anthologized in Thicker Than Water: New Writing from the Caribbean by Peekash Press. He has been awarded scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a MacDowell Fellowship, and an American Council of Learned Societies Emerging Voices Fellowship at Dartmouth College.

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