Saturday, June 11, 2011

Interview with Teresa Dovalpage

Today, we feature Latina writer, Teresa Dovalpage, author of Habanera: A Portrait of a Cuban Family.

Welcome, Teresa.

1. Can you please tell us about the kinds of stories you write?

Up to a few months ago I was writing primarily about Cuba. All my published books, in English and in Spanish, (Posesas de la Habana, A Girl like Che Guevara, Muerte de un murciano en la Habana, El Difunto Fidel, Habanera) either have Cuban characters or the plot takes place in Cuba, but I find myself more and more interested in science fiction and esoteric themes right now. Maybe that’s a consequence of living in a mystical place like Taos, New Mexico.

2. Is Habanera based on your life or experience?

Yes. In fact, it started as a memoir but when I realized (with my mother’s help) that I had embellished the story too much, I turned it into a novel. It is definitely inspired by real events, but also seasoned with made-up stuff.

3. What inspired this story?

My crazy family life. Dysfunctional families are wonderful sources of inspiration—particularly when one is finally away from them and can look at them with certain detachment, and even laugh at things that used to be exasperating or embarrassing.

4. Are you an only child like the main character?

Yes, and Longina is pretty much based on myself. Since it began as a memoir, the first and second parts are the ones closer to reality. But we didn’t have a ghost at home, as far as I know…

5. What was Longina’s fascination with funerals?

She inherited it from her grandfather, whose favorite place to visit was the Havana cemetery. My grandfather, a quirky recluse like Ponciano, loved to go there because it was free and there were few people around.

6. What was the psychological reasoning behind Longina’s “throwing up?” And why did she stop when her grandmother left?

That episode is also autobiographical. I was being smothered to death, like Longina. My grandma made such a big deal of the fact that I didn’t eat as much as she wanted me to that I dreaded dinnertime and vomited with an alarming frequency. When my grandma travelled to Miami, just like Muñeca, I felt free to eat (or not to eat) and I began to have a healthier relationship with food.

And by the way, I wasn’t anorexic. In fact, being rubenesque and having a big butt were signs of beauty in Cuba then. I actually wanted to become chunkier for a long time, without success.

7. What was the writing process like? Any advice for new writers?

I write and rewrite, write and rewrite…Let things cool off for a while, review…repeat.

8. Who is your intended audience for this book?

Primarily Cuban exiles who want to know what the island has become after 50 years of communism. It can also be of interest to younger Cuban Americans who would like to find out more about the land of their ancestors. (I have noticed that many of them prefer to read in English, even if they speak Spanish fluently.) And it can be marketed to academics and to a broader readership curious about contemporary life in Cuba.

9. What do you hope people will get from reading your book?

I hope to transmit a portrait of life in today’s Cuba, how people talk and think, as well as the younger generation’s view on politics and life.

10. Do you consider yourself a woman writer or a Latina writer? Why?

Ay, Dios mío… I never think in such terms, I am just a writer. But if I had to choose, I’d probably say Latina writer, since the fact that I am a woman is already implied in Latina.

11. What are you working on next?

I am currently working with Patricia Padilla, a Taos-based eighth generation curandera, on a book about Curanderismo. Its title is 101 Questions to a Curandera and it will be published in English and in Spanish.

12. Do you have a website where we can learn more from you?

My website needs to be updated but I have two blogs. One in English, where I post the articles I write for our local newspaper, The Taos News, and other publications

To watch a book trailer of Habanera, click


Habanera, by Stephen Karl, originally published in the Adirondack Review
Best Fiction Books

A portrait of these Cuban times, by Margaret Duran, Ph.D.

A sad song to Havana, by Olga Karman, published in LatinoLA

More info can be found at

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