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Q&A: Danielle Cadena Deulen's English Memoir, "The Riots," Honored

Danielle Cadena Deulen was recently honored with the Great Lakes Colleges Association 2012 New Writers Award for creative nonfiction.

Date: 1/31/2012
By: Tom Robinette Photos By: Tom Robinette
Danielle Cadena Deulen’s new memoir describes her complicated and often confusing familial relationships, but her message is coming through clearly.

Deulen, assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, was recently honored for her new memoir, “The Riots.” The book, published by the University of Georgia Press in 2011, earned the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) 2012 New Writers Award for creative nonfiction. The association works to strengthen and preserve its member colleges and promote education in the liberal arts and sciences. Deulen’s book is a compilation of personal essays exploring class, race, gender and disability.

What was the inspiration for your book?
As vague as it sounds, language was the inspiration for my book. I began it as a kind of linguistic experiment. I was trained as a poet, but wanted to explore the possibilities of prose. I’d recently read Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” and was completely awestruck by the incantatory quality of its language. Woolf’s work, Anne Carson’s work (especially “The Glass Essay”), and the loose, exploratory nature of Michel de Montaigne’s essays all served as literary models for me as I wrote. Because I was working in a new genre, I allowed myself to write about whatever subject came to mind and often found myself writing about my personal relationships. Through psychological exploration of those personal relationships, I began to consider issues of race, gender, class and disability.
Danielle Cadena Deulen's memoir, "The Riots," recently earned a nonfiction writing award.



What was it like writing something so personal?
While I was writing the book, I didn’t think very much about the subject matter. As I mentioned, I was far more focused on technique than subject, so I didn’t begin to think of the book as “personal” until it went out into the world. After it was published, I found myself answering questions from interviewers about situations in the book that, of course, correspond to my life, and was plagued by the idea that perhaps I divulged too much about myself. I wrote the book very quickly, feverishly, and had the great advantage of having the essays reviewed by a small group of very close friends who also happen to be talented and intelligent writers. The only people who saw early drafts of the work already knew these stories about me, so they weren’t shocked by them. I didn’t stop to think, in the writing process, whether or not I wanted other people to know these things about me as well. This is, of course, the danger of autobiographical creative nonfiction — because it involves both the literature and the self, the author of such a work risks both

You’ve named the book after your essay “The Riots.” What made this story stand out?
The title of the book is more conceptual than literal, though the title essay does include a discussion of the L.A. Riots. That is, though there is a literal riot in “The Riots,” I was more concerned with the way it is structurally emblematic of a “riotous” state of mind. It is probably one of the more formally loose essays in the collection, utilizing juxtaposition and associative leaps rather than chronology or direct exposition.

How do you feel about winning the GLCA award?
I’m overjoyed. Truly. It’s such an honor. Beyond just the honor of receiving the award itself, as part of the prize the GLCA sets up a reading tour for its authors, so I’ll be traveling quite a bit in the 2011-12 school year which creates a larger audience for my work.

How did you get nominated for the award?
The University of Georgia Press (publisher of “The Riots”) sent a copy of the book on my behalf to the GLCA where it was deliberated over (along with all of the other books entered) by their group of judges. This year the nonfiction judges were Marin Heinritz, Kalamazoo College; Kirk Nessett, Allegheny College, and Sylvia Watanabe, Oberlin College.

What does this honor mean for the A&S creative writing program?
More exposure for my work also means more exposure for our program. In traveling around the Midwest on my reading tour, I’ll meet other people in the literary world and have the opportunity to discuss with them the good work that we’re doing here. It might also make me more attractive as a potential teacher of creative nonfiction for candidates applying to UC’s already prestigious doctoral program in creative writing.

Where can readers buy the book?
On the University of Georgia Press website (http://www.ugapress.org/), or on Amazon.com.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a new collection of poems (the first collection, “Lovely Asunder,” was also published last year by the University of Arkansas Press). The working title of the collection is “After Fever” and, thematically, it’s concerned with the aftermath of tragedy and what it means to survive.


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