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Four Questions with Jaquira Díaz

Four Questions with Jaquira Díaz

Author: Emmanuel Henderson

June 7, 2023

Lambda Literary is thrilled to announce Jaquira Díaz as the 2023 winner of the Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction.

In memory of the beloved activist and author, the Córdova Prize honors lesbian/queer-identified women and trans/gender non-conforming nonfiction writers. The award goes to a writer committed to nonfiction work that captures the depth and complexity of lesbian/queer life, culture, and/or history. Winners have published at least one book and show promise in continuing to produce groundbreaking and challenging work. The award was established in 2018 and includes a cash prize of $2,500.

Jaquira Díaz is the author of Ordinary Girls: A Memoir, winner of a Whiting Award, a Florida Book Awards Gold Medal, a Lambda Literary Awards finalist, an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce Selection, an Indie Next Pick, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Notable Selection. The recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, a Shearing Fellowship from the Black Mountain Institute, and fellowships from MacDowell, the Kenyon Review, VCCA, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and elsewhere. Her second book, I Am Deliberate, a novel, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. As of July 2023, Díaz will be an Assistant Professor of Writing at Columbia University. 

How has access to queer literature/queer stories impacted your life as a queer person and shaped you as a queer writer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about access lately, how access (or the lack of access) to queer books shaped my childhood and adolescence. I was a closeted queer kid because I lived in a community where homophobic and transphobic violence was rampant. I was raised in Miami Beach, a city that had a huge LGBTQ population in the 80s and 90s, but I spent much of my childhood and adolescence pretending to be someone else. Why? During the AIDS epidemic, Miami became one of the nation’s major urban epicenters, but in my Miami Beach community, it seemed like the whole world was trying to erase us. LGBTQ people were targeted, harassed, attacked, arrested, beaten by police.

I grew up poor, so we didn’t have money for books. I read what I could pick up in the library, and I didn’t find myself in books. Books were my solace, but my community was not in the books we read in the classroom, or the books handed to me by the librarians at the Miami Beach Public Library. I’m grateful that years later, I found the work of Gabby Rivera, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, and Mayra Santos Febres.

My queerness has shaped every aspect of my life, and continues to influence the work I do, how I read, how I live, how I love. I feel for this generation coming up after us, having their school libraries raided by fascists. May these fascist book bans bring forth the queerest, fiercest, smartest, and most liberated generation of readers and writers this country has ever seen.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process (besides finishing)?

Besides connecting with readers, which happens after the work is out in the world, I’m a huge research nerd. I love love love research, and reading, and learning. I’m into every aspect of research. Traveling to a place, spending time with people, having conversations, all in the name of research. Digging through archives, looking at photographs, listening to audio files and interviews, reading transcripts, looking at art, finding every single piece written about a particular song, reading a bunch of science articles, interviewing former political prisoners… There is something about learning as much as you can about a thing before the writing begins, or while the writing is in progress. That’s my favorite part.

What’s your emotional support writing habit?

Drinking coffee while writing. So much coffee.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on so many queer things: I’m finishing a novel called I Am Deliberate, which is forthcoming from Algonquin Books; I have a Young Adult novel looking for a publisher; I’m always working on essays; and finally, there’s a TV adaptation of Ordinary Girls in the works (although development is paused until after the writers’ strike).

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