The City of Palaces published earlier this year won Best Latino Novel at the 2015 International Latino Book Awards.
I had a chance to ask its author Michael Nava a few questions myself and here’s what he shared:
Lit: What inspired you to write this book?
MN: Of course, any book has many sources of inspiration. In this case, my immediate inspiration was my own family history. Like millions of other Mexican-Americans, I am descended from refugees from the Mexican revolution; my great-grandparents who fled in 1920 for California.
The Mexican Revolution is, along with the Russian Revolution, one of the two greatest 20th century revolutions and yet it is almost unknown in this country where it had a direct impact that continues through to this day; the first great wave of Mexican migration to the US. It’s as if Irish-Americans knew nothing of the potato famine that drove their ancestors to this country. I wanted to tell that story because it is one that Americans, Latino and non-Latino, need to know.
Lit:Where do you draw inspiration from?
MN: I draw my inspiration largely from my desire to tell the story of the disenfranchised, the outsiders and all those people — whether, for example, LGBT or Latino/a — whose histories have been suppressed or ignored. I am in the broadest sense a political writer. My politics don’t get in the way of the story, but the stories I tell reflect my politics.
Lit: What’s your writing routine like?
MN: I write in the morning before going to my day job as a staff attorney at the California Supreme Court.
Lit: Which books have had a great effect on you?
MN: As a young writer I read almost no fiction because I intended to be poet so until I was in my early 20s I really only read and studied and wrote poetry, everyone from Shakespeare (the sonnets) to modernists like Wallace Stevens, Eliot and Auden as well as a healthy dose of poets in translation from Pablo Neruda to CP Cavafy. From the poets I learned compression and the love of language which, as it turns out, are valuable tools for a novelist.
Lit: What advice do you have for young Latinos/as based on your own experiences?
MN: Except for token figures, the mainstream literary establishment continues to ignore us. The City of Palaces was turned down by 13 New York publishers who said the same thing — good book, but whose going to buy it. Since there are 33 million Mexican-Americans in this country what statement reveals is provincialism and ignorance. So, you must persevere, find ways to get your stories out the rest.