Tag Archives: Peter Ho Davis

Midwest Literary Walk 2017: Part 1

9 May

Palacio, Ho Davis, and moderator.

I’m very fortunate to live reasonably close to Chelsea, Michigan, home of the Midwest Literary Walk. I’ve decided to split the day into two posts because there’s way too much to share for one!

My friend Amy and I met up again for this event. It was a bit overcast, but a nice day compared to the weather we’ve been having in Southeast Michigan. The first event was Peter Ho Davis and Derek Palacio. I thought these two made for an odd pairing, but their books shared very similar themes. Both men wrote books about immigrants and each shares a heritage with the group they wrote about. The men saw it as a way to explore their heritage.

Ho Davis wrote in The Fortunes about Chinese immigration to the US. He went to China to do research for the book and had the odd feeling of not being Chinese. In the US and UK, people see him as Chinese instead of Welsh (where his other parent comes from). In China, he wasn’t seen as Chinese and it fostered a feeling of rejection. Ho Davis and Palacio both expressed anxieties about having the right to write about their cultures. Both had a generation’s remove from the people and places they were writing about and feared that they would not represent the place well.

Ho Davis’s book is split into several parts. He drew from historical figures for some of his characters, especially in the first part. He was able to incorporate some historical events as well. He pointed out to us that during the Gold Rush, much of the Chinese immigration was male, men coming to work. A lot of recent Chinese immigration has been through international adoption which has been highly female. I’d never thought about gender waves of immigration before. Speaking of being a writer, Ho Davis said that his parents stopped telling him as many stories as they had in his youth. Also, they’ve begun correcting some of the ones they used to tell. Oh, the power of the pen.

Derek Palacio didn’t go to Cuba until after The Mortifications was finished. He’d questioned if he could be Cuban if he’d never been to Cuba. The two discussed a feeling common to immigrants or the children of immigrants of being caught between two identities, one from the homeland and another from the new home. They both wanted to write about how impossible it is to leave your homeland behind. It comes with you and you have to adjust to where you end up.

Palacio’s characters did not live in Miami as one would expect with Cuban immigrants. Palacio didn’t grow up in Florida himself and put them in the Northeast to make them more relatable to himself. I was really intrigued by Palacio’s story especially considering my education in Spanish language, culture, and literature. I was surprised to read in his bio that his wife is Claire Vaye Watkins, the author whose book I got at the 2016 event. I asked Palacio for some advice on writing and told him I wanted to be a novelist. His advice was not to save something ‘good’ for the end of the book. He said to throw it in and see what happens. Maybe what comes from that event will be what’s really of interest.

I’ll be back Thursday with Part 2 of this event. Until next time, write on.

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