by Dominic Vasquez
Bárbara Renaud González is an award winning San Antonio author, journalist and activist. She is a graduate from the University of Texas Pan American with a bachelor’s of Social work. She also attended the University of Michigan and obtained a masters in social work.
Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? was the first novel from Gonzalez and was the first Chicana fiction novel to be published by the UT Press in 2009. The novel deals with the fictionalization of her mother’s history and as well as her understanding of her mother’s journey to Texas.
Gonzalez has written as well a dynamic interactive children’s pop-up novel about Willie Velasquez. The Boy Made of Lighting, the story of Velasquez, explores how he spent his life fighting for voting rights with his message of “Su Voto Es Su Voz,” which means your vote is your voice. Gonzales recently answered questions about her writing and inspiration during an email interview.
Dominic Vasquez: This is a very silly question but as a native to San Antonio for all my life, what is your favorite restaurant in the area? For me it is the Malt House, all of my family would go there on the weekends when I was a kid and it was a staple of my childhood.
Bárbara Renaud González: I love Thai food. For ambience, I like Tacos & Donuts on Fred.
DV: What has been one of the highlights from your career as a writer?
BRG: Reading in the Capitol Building during the Texas Book Festival 2009.
DV: What advice has been given to you that has stuck with you for your whole career?
BRG: From Naomi Shihab Nye: Publish. Doesn’t matter with whom or the $$. Publish, publish.
DV: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?
BRG: Yes, I wrote a poem about the snow in the fourth grade. My teacher read it in class.
DV: What inspired you to write?
BRG: I felt stifled, silenced, trapped. I felt like my voice didn’t matter. So many things to say. Then I met Sandra Cisneros, and through her, the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska.
DV: What is your writing routine?
BRG: Whenever I can make myself guilty enough. So tired sometimes. No set time, mostly evenings, weekends, whenever I have breaks.
DV: For me when I write poetry I need some sad, mellow songs to write too. Is there any artist, band or genre of music you write too, or does music distract you?
BRG: I like Motown. Jazz. Blues. Flamenco. Everything but hard rock and white noise.
DV: Do you think writing nonfiction is easier or harder than writing fiction?
BRG: If you’re trying to write the best you can, they are different but equally difficult. Nonfiction – research and listen to your voice. Fiction – listen to the characters and research.
DV: How has the city of San Antonio shaped your writing?
BRG: The melange of voices, the freshness of the language-fusion that is San Antonio. Its own music and quest for its history…I can’t imagine any other place to be to write.
DV: Growing up in San Antonio for me I never really saw the beauty of the city till I got into college. Now I see beauty where ever I turn, and I get the drive to write poems and stories about my city. Usually it’s when I am taking bus 44 back down to the South Side. Do you have a favorite spot in the city where it inspires you to write?
BRG: I loved writing when I lived on the second floor of a duplex right besides (west) Jefferson High School on Donaldson.
DV: Was writing Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? A journey of self-understanding?
DV: How was it writing about your mother’s life but fictionalizing it?
BRG: It is true that a writer’s first novel is a family story, how could it be otherwise? I don’t feel like writing about the family so intensely now.
DV: What does it mean for you to be a Chicana writer?
BRG: The air that I breathe. I feel alive and dancing just when you use those words. A few years ago I was in Edinburg in the Valley, where I went to college. Went by Gloria Anzaldua’s grave to pay my respects. Someone had told me at Pan Am (where I graduated), that I was only the second “writer” to come out of Pan-Am, after Gloria Anzaldua. I was floored, and profoundly moved to be in the same listing with her.
DV: What are some tips you have for future Chicana (o) writers and writers in general?
BRG: Know who you are, don’t pretend. There is power in this. Ana Castillo has an exercise, called Map of the Heart. When you’re ready, call me and I’ll lead you and a group in this, it’s excellent. Visit the home of Pablo Nerudo in Isla Negra if you can. When you see where he wrote, you will understand to be true to yourself.
DV: You talk about the exercise from Ana Castillo Map of the Heart can you explain a little more on what that is?
BRG: Forces you to discover who you are, your totality. I like psychoanalytical tools best.
DV: With your book The Boy Made of Lightning about Willie Velasquez, how do you think literature can express social change?
BRG: It takes 1001 stories, and I’ve told one. I think this is what a writer must do. It’s not about money or glamour, it’s about sharing our gifts with the world, like Willie did.
Bárbara Renaud González is a free-lance writer, journalist, and activist. Her works include Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me? and The Boy Made of Lightning. She has appeared on television and radio, worked as a consultant and has been recognized on numerous occassions for her work as a writer and her civic involvement. More information here.