Carmen Boullosa, the award-winning poet and writer, discussed her creative process and diverse career Monday as part of a literary workshop.
“Books are not something I search for, but search me,” Boullosa said. “They are always after me.”
This public talk was part of a three-day series at IU involving workshops and meetings. As a Spanish writer and the recipient of the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, Boullosa is known for her culturally-charged poetry, literature and journalism.
She was introduced at the event by Deborah Cohn, associate director for the College of Arts and Humanities. Cohn was a graduate student when she first met Boullosa, who Cohn said was “so generous, as both a writer and as a scholar.”
Akash Kumar, a faculty member and visiting assistant professor of Italian at IU, arrived early, eager to hear what Boullosa had to say.
“I have long loved her writing and am excited to hear her in person,” Kumar said, before the event. “I’ve read her, both in English and Spanish, and she just has such a great sense of humor. And you need that in fiction when you’re dealing with serious matters.”
Born in Mexico, Boullosa described the way Spanish, her native and predominant language, has evolved for her since moving to the United States. She describes her Spanish as tainted, because “the landscape paints the language."
“I still dream and think in Spanish,” she said. “I’m always asking other writers, ‘What language do you dream in?’ It’s so interesting to me.”
In 2016, Boullosa wrote a nonfiction book with her husband, Mike Wallace, titled, “A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War.'" She said the challenges of writing in English and working so closely with her husband made writing the book an endeavor.
“I think I must love that man because we didn’t get divorced,” Boullosa said.
Having to write the book in English, her nondominant language, was frustrating for her, and the fact that it was entirely fact-based also proved difficult.
“I write with my childhood, my memories, my ears,” she said, gesturing vaguely around her. “This book went against all my training, against all my fantasy.”
Precision in language is essential to poets. Often during the discussion, Boullosa would stop and think for several moments, trying to find the perfect English word for what she was feeling, biting her tongue until she found it.
“Gentle?” the interviewer asked her during the event, attempting to help her and speed things along.
“No,” Boullosa said, defiantly. “Gentle is not enough. I need something that describes the physical touch.”
It is this precision and thoughtfulness which makes Boullosa so special in her poetry and her fiction. It is the way in which she blends the two mediums, fusing them together. Even after publishing 17 books, she plans to continue her life-long search for the perfect word.
“It’s been a beautiful adventure,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will last, but as long as it goes.”