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Why the Texas Book Festival decided to loosen its criteria

By Shawn Badgley, November 16, 2001, Books

Angie Cruz: Fashionably Late

Angie Cruz didn't mean for it to happen this way. She was making money, going to school, living a New York City life that, while not necessarily fulfilling, was certainly better than some of the alternatives for residents of the much maligned Washington Heights neighborhood she grew up in. A student at the Fashion Institute of Technology -- "because of Oscar de la Renta, 'cause he was Dominican, and I thought, he's Dominican, he's a fashion designer, I could do that!, you know?" -- Cruz was working retail on Madison Avenue when it happened. When she happened. "I wasn't happy," the twentysomething novelist says five years later. "And someone walked into the store and just asked me, 'Why do you look so miserable ... what do you want to do?' And I was like, 'Well, I'm studying fashion, but ...' And he said, 'Well, that "but" must mean something.' And I was like, 'If I could be anything, I would be a writer.' ... 'Well, what would you write about?' And I realized I had all this anger."

That anger -- which Cruz would later find best articulated in the work of James Baldwin and Sandra Cisneros -- was fueled by class and racism, by inequality and injustice, and she had been writing about it for years. She just didn't know it. "At that point, I'd been writing in journals my whole life but I never saw that as anything credible, I just did it, because I love documenting everything I do. And that was the moment when I was just like, 'Oh, you mean I could write if I wanted to?' It had never occurred to me." It was then that Cruz transferred to SUNY Binghamton, where she studied English, which led to MFA studies at NYU and her co-founding of Women in Literature and Letters.

It was then that she started Soledad, an explosive first novel that burns with as much narrative ambition as social criticism. When Soledad -- a 20-year-old art student who's just beginning to breathe a sigh of relief after escaping her Washington Heights family -- must return home to a mother "not doing so good," her existence, her very being, seems swallowed up by the troubles of others. In fact, the story is often told by others in a bold perspectival device that finds new narrators nearly everywhere you look. "Originally, when I wrote the book, it was about a community, and I was really interested in how voices sort of identify community and how language identifies a community," Cruz explains. "I had already started with different voices within the narrative and I realized that although I know some people find it very confusing sometimes, for me, I felt that there was something really powerful. And it also gave me a lot more freedom as a writer to go inside their heads."

Angie Cruz will read from Soledad at the After Hours event and will be on the "My First Time: First Novels" panel on Saturday, November 17, from 12:15-1:30pm in Capitol Extension Room E2.012.

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