Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Artist Trust Fellowship Visit

September 29, 2008

On September 24, I drove to Eastern Washington to visit Heritage University. The weather was mild and sunny, the sorts of days when we forgive Washington State for all of her winter darkness. Everywhere were trucks full of corn and other vegetables, the roadside stands bursting with produce.

I visited Radio Cadena, KDNA-FM, a Spanish language station in Granger, Washington that recently built new facilities with the assistance of a Federal Block Grant and the Gates Foundation. The station has served the community for 25 years. The founding director, Ricardo Garcia, recently retired and will serve in a consulting basis to the station. www.kdna.org

Gabriel Martinez, Station Manager, showed me around, and I was interviewed by one of the producers concerning my Artist Trust visit to Heritage. I also drove out to Tieton to see where it was!

I spent the night in Yakima, then drove out to Heritage University in Toppenish. It was founded in 1981 by Kathleen Ross, still president, and two Yakama Nation women who could imagine more for the community. http://www.heritage.edu/Main.php

Loren Schmidt, the faculty person with whom I made arrangements, introduced me, including a mention of Artist Trust. I spoke about the writers life from 10 to 11, read the first essay from my recent collection, The Desert Remembers My Name – On Family and Writing, and answered questions from students and faculty. A majority of the students are Mexican or Native American.

I gave a workshop on “Lying, Stealing and Exaggerating – Using Your Bad Habits to Improve Your Writing.” Everyone present wrote, including the faculty. Three people read their work for the group, then I read them a recent ghost story, “Skin Deep,” that will be part of a Los Norteños performance on November 2 at Elliott Bay Books. Those who could stay then had lunch with me, and several other students and faculty came by to chat.

An interesting bit of serendipity I discovered at Radio Cadena is that the business school at Heritage has an exchange program with La Universidad de Antonio Narro in Saltillo, Mexico. I am part of the Narro family. The famliy story is that the land was seized during the Mexican Revolution, and the family said “Okay, fine, take it, but build an agricultural college on it.” It is now a major university in northern Mexico.

Both faculty and students were very welcoming and interested in my work. Some of the faculty with whom I visited or who stayed for the talk and workshop were Dr. Loren Schmidt, Winona Wynn, Mary James, Ann Olsen, and Bertha Ortega, vice president of External and Academic Affairs. Students included Cierra Mendoza, Ana Cruz, and Ana Ramos (in photo above). Professor Ortega in particular emphasized the need for successful role models for the young women in the Yakima Valley, and was anxious for me to spend some time with her students.

I donated a complete set of hardcover books to the Heritage University library, and several students and faculty also purchased books.

I have wanted to visit Heritage for a long time. The Artist Trust Fellowship I was awarded earlier this year calls for a presentation of my work in an area of the state away from where I live, so I took the opportunity to visit. Faculty member Winona Wynn said that another faculty member plans to have her students write an article on me for “Voices from the Gaps,” a sort of Wiki on women writers. I am grateful to be included.

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Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
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Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
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–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

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Short Fiction
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