Alvarado’s gorgeous essays evoke the fluidity and awe of an underwater journey.
~ Aisha Sabatini Sloan
From Autumn House Press, on the upcoming April, 2019 release of Beth Alvarado’s essay collection, Anxious Attachments: Alvarado’s essays explore the writer’s personal struggles—from quitting heroin to caring for premature infants to tending to the dying—and become a lens through which she allows readers to see our shared social and political lives. As a larger narrative, the book is about the power of compassion and our ability to revise who we are, what we believe, and what our story is.
Of the collection writer Aisha Sabatini Sloan says, “Alvarado’s gorgeous essays evoke the fluidity and awe of an underwater journey. She offers us a tour of grief—its causes, its cultural conditions, its grasp. In delineating, with devotion, with humor, losses that are at once ordinary and extraordinary, material and supernatural, she offers the reader a chance to better see what’s right in front of them. This book is an act of generosity, of friendship, of remembrance. I felt my head turned by it, encouraged to see my everyday loves with wider eyes.”
In my own words:
Most of these essays are about the opposite poles of life—birth and death—about quitting heroin when I found I was pregnant, about the struggle of caring for premature infants and of tending to the dying. And yet each essay is about so much more, the life that goes on around the edges of those moments, the writing life that gets neglected as you care for others, and the interior life that expands as you are called upon to give more than you thought possible.
Although the theme of anxiety ties the essays together, I have also woven my story with my husband, Fernando, through it. Being married to him gave me a way of seeing our individual lives as being part of a larger web of lives—how we are all connected and how we are, therefore, responsible to one another.
None of the essays is purely personal. I am always conscious of larger cultural, historical, and political contexts, and the impress they have on our lives. For instance, one essay is about the water pollution in Tucson, Arizona that contributed to Fernando’s death as well as the deaths of 20,000 others, mostly Mexican and Native Americans; one is about caring for my infant grandchildren while, all around us, people are being evacuated due to drought-caused wildfires; another explores the ramifications of school shootings and video games in my life as a professor and the lives of my older grandchildren who attend public schools; yet another is about a journey I took to see the part of Mexico where my father-in-law was orphaned just after the Mexican Revolution.
Although that part of Mexico was relatively free of the cartel violence, the threat of it tinged everything, just as the threat of a mass shooter now tinges everything when I’m teaching or dropping my grandchildren off at school. Even if we have the luxury of thinking that these issues don’t affect our personal lives, they hang over us like a cloud, something we don’t want to look at directly, but always see just in the periphery of our vision. If you think about it, not looking, like not looking at someone’s impending death, takes its emotional toll. Not looking changes nothing.
Read “Water in the Desert” in Guernica.
Read “Stars and Moons and Comets,” named a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015, in The Sun.
Read “The Motherhood Poems,” which first appeared in Necessary Fiction & later was reprinted in New California Writing, 2011, Heydey Press, & in Notes from the Motherfield, Kore Press.
Projects in Progress:
I am pleased to announce that Jillian in the Borderlands: A Cycle of Rather Dark Tales will be published by Black Lawrence Press in October 2020. One of the stories, “Dear Juana of God,” appears in Drunken Boat’s Librotraficante Portfolio. This story was anthologized by Shade Mountain Press in The Female Complaint:Tales of Unruly Women.
Praise for Anthropologies, University of Iowa Press
“Anthropologies is an epic effort of personal anthropology rendered in bright washes of detail-rich, super-lush remembrance.”
~ Eula Biss, Notes from No Man’s Land
“Anthropologies offers us the eternal present tense of memory: all our lives and our families’ lives existing at once, like the voice of her father, preserved on her mother’s answering machine and now here with many others in this lovely echo chamber of a book.”
~ Ander Monson, Vanishing Point
“Beautifully written, the perfect tone — intense and restrained simultaneously.”
~ Francine Prose, My New American Life
“Anthropologies will not let you sleep, get to work, distract. Even your dreams get stolen by her indelible images. And when you wake from reading, you find yourself wading in tenderness. Alvarado skillfully interlaces the stories of many generations, a life lived across the lines of race and class, and a meditation on memory as memoir. In the end, we are left with love, grief, loss, and the enduring resiliency of family.”
~ Valerie Martinez, Each and Her
An excerpt from Anthropologies, first published in Cue: A Journal of Prose Poetry:
The summer Dora saw la llorona, she was just a girl. They had sprayed down the dirt outside the house, to cool the air, it was early evening. They had sprayed the dirt, packed it down with their bare feet until it was hard and polished as stone, they had taken the beds outside to sleep under the trees, behind the hedge in her grandparents’ yard, and they all saw her, a woman dressed in white, floating down the street, like this, as if her feet weren’t moving. That was the summer her two younger brothers died. First the older one, and then the baby. The older one came back on a breeze through an open window at dawn and told her father he would take care of the baby. There were other stories she could tell: how her grandmother came back after she had died and brushed her mother’s hair, braided it; how her mother got headaches, there, where her mother had touched her in anger. How the priest put a glass of holy water on the mantle and said, when the water evaporates, her soul will be in Heaven. It takes a long time, when a mother dies, a long time, because she does not want to leave her children.
In the mornings, the yellow light, the percolator on the stove, Fernando’s youngest sister, only three, the older children getting ready for school, and Dora tells me stories about the Mexican Revolution and Fernando’s father, Maurilio Miguel.
Maurilio grew up in Michoacan, on a large hacienda built around a central courtyard. Open the huge wooden doors and there it is, an oasis. From the trees hang clay pots of water to cool in the breeze, there are birds, a cacophony of songs, flowers so large and vibrant they have tongues. But the land around the hacienda is arid. In a good rainy season, it would produce, but there has been drought after drought, banks close every day, this is after the first revolution, during the Depression, every day they lose twenty-five head of cattle. There is no work. The campesinos have nowhere to go. Whole families wander from ranch to ranch, looking for work, for a place to stay, stealing to feed themselves. Ranchers say anyone caught on their land is rustling. You can ride across central Mexico and see men hanging from trees.
Maurilio’s father, Carlos, had been a Cristero, one who defended the church. In the early 1920’s, when the government was looting and burning the churches, Carlos had gone with other men to defend a nearby town. After the Federales left, while smoke was still rising from the rubble, he rode up and saw a beautiful woman standing in the ruins. As if in a movie, he helped her on to the back of his horse and they galloped away and fell in love. She was the daughter of a wealthy German merchant and he was the son of a Spanish hacendado. They fled to California and married, had two children before returning to Mexico. Late one night, Carlos was in town, working in the family’s trucking firm, locking up the office, and someone shot him in the back. Maurilio, four or five at the time, remembers his German grandfather at the wide wooden doors of the hacienda. He has come to collect his daughter and granddaughter. Maurilio, he leaves behind.
There is a church on the ranch, long and low and white, built in the shape of a cross. Above the altar, Christ carries the cross, stumbling, one knee on the ground. When Maurilio is five, the Federales come out to the ranch and he hides in the cellar of the chapel with the statues. The statues are white and cold, the cellar is dark, and he can hear the hollow sound their boots make on the wooden floor above his head, the fine dirt sifting down with the light. He remembers his mother, she was afraid of thunder, he used to hide with her and his little sister; they would crawl under the dark table in the sala and hide until the storm had passed.
Later, when he is thirteen, he will get into a gunfight with a Federale, perhaps the same one who killed his father, and his uncles will dress him as a woman, smuggle him out of Michoacan to Mexico City where he will live for a year with ancient aunts in a large house with servants. There are high walls he is never allowed to see over. Bowls of water on the table, you squeeze lemon in and then rinse your fingers. There is mole, camarones float in a red sauce, mangos and papayas are sweet. The old women wear black and rustle like angry nuns from room to room.
It is a relief to leave even though he has to be dressed, again, as a woman, and smuggled across the border, even though he is left alone, at fourteen, in California where he will learn English and find work mounding dirt over stalks of asparagus so they will stay white and tender. Where he will drive trucks, taking food to relocation camps for the Japanese, where he will fall in love and have a son and leave them both. Where he will wear a Zoot suit and fight with the sailors and end up in jail for stabbing a policeman. Where, at the age of twenty-four, he will reinvent himself: move to Arizona and work on the roofs mopping hot tar, one hundred and twenty-five degrees in the summer, easy; he will learn to read and write English; he will marry, raise nine children. He will never look back. The past, like Mexico, is a place to be from: he is mexicano, pero de los estados unidos. His name is Mike.
You can buy Anthropologies here.
Praise for Not a Matter of Love and other stories, winner of the Many Voices Project, New Rivers Press:
Of Not a Matter of Love: “Alvarado’s is a formidable talent, wise and witty and unflinching. To read her fiction is to understand two terrible truths: that humans hardly ever understand each other, and that we will persist relentlessly in an attempt to do so. This is serious, beautiful work.”
~Antonya Nelson, Bound
“Beth Alvarado’s splendid first book burns with the landscape of the Southwest and the quiet passions of its characters. Potent and darkly beautiful, these are unforgettable stories that haunt us long after the book is closed. Not a Matter of Love is a marvelous debut.”
~ Karen Brennan, The Garden in Which I Walk & Being with Rachel
“Not a Matter of Love invites us into that still largely unexplored territory in which Hispanics and Anglos share their lives as lovers, students, drug dealers and users, spouses, parents, step-parents, and siblings. But, more important, these artful and surprising stories bring us a cast of diverse, powerfully drawn individuals as they struggle to find their own truth.”
~ Elizabeth Evans, Carter Clay & Suicide’s Girlfriend
Read “Emily’s Exit,” from Not a Matter of Love, first published in Spork Press here.
You can buy Not a Matter of Love here.