Texas Book Festival 2019:
Embracing the Journey
Anika Fajardo and Tembi Locke travel far to find what’s near
By Barbara Purcell,
10:00AM, Mon. Oct. 28, 2019
Home is where the heart is, and sometimes that requires a passport. Both Anika Fajardo (Magical Realism for Non-Believers) and Tembi Locke (From Scratch) have written moving memoirs about moving forward; finding a home within yourself. But their panel showed the two women's books to be as similar as they are different.
In From Scratch, Locke recounts losing her husband to cancer and visiting his family in Sicily just a few months after his death. She read an excerpt which describes that first flight over, how the process of going to Italy, with their daughter and his ashes, was “hurling into the unknown – grief, Sicilian style.” Locke is an African-American woman born in Texas, based in Los Angeles, as well as Italy (she holds dual citizenship). She says her layered identity simply speaks to the mosaic of being human, though for her husband’s family, the interracial marriage caused a rift which only healed after his diagnosis.
The book’s title, she explained, is both literal and figurative. Her husband had been a chef, but it also speaks to her starting over without him. Perhaps more than anything, it honors their love: “In a way, we had to make our marriage from scratch – we were from two different cultures, and we worked with the barest ingredients to make something beautiful.”
Magical Realism for Non-believers also deals with crossing cultures and transcending boundaries in order to reclaim home. Fajardo’s memoir retraces her roots to Colombia, where she was born and where her father is from. When she was just 2 years old, her parents divorced; she stayed with her American mother in Minnesota, only returning to Colombia to see her father, at the age of 21. Fajardo read a passage from her memoir which also involves that first flight back. An awkward exchange ensues when a fellow passenger asks if she’s visiting family, leaving her to quietly wonder: Is not remembering her father the same as not knowing him?
Moderating the discussion was Donna Johnson, also a memoirist, who asked both authors what was the hardest part in writing a memoir. Locke was quick to answer: reliving the pain, but also the joy. “I got to recover my 20-year-old self, who fell in love on a street corner in Florence, Italy.”
Fajardo recalled the difficulty in actually getting her book published, a process which took 10 years. But in that time, she was able to rework the ending. “The very end of my book is when I bring my husband and daughter back to Colombia, which is the healing part of the story, but I was trying to get it published before that happened,” she said with a laugh. “It turns out, I had to live a little bit more life.”