The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island
As friends began "going back to the land" at the same time that a health issue emerged, Kathleen Alcalá set out to re-examine her relationship with food at the most local level. Remembering her parents, Mexican immigrants who grew up during the Depression, and the memory of planting, growing, and harvesting fresh food with them as a child, she decided to explore the history of the Pacific Northwest island she calls home.
In The Deepest Roots, Alcalá walks, wades, picks, pokes, digs, cooks, and cans, getting to know her neighbors on a much deeper level. Wanting to better understand how we once fed ourselves, and acknowledging that there may be a future in which we could need to do so again, she meets those who experienced the Japanese American internment during World War II, learns the unique histories of the blended Filipino and Native American community, the fishing practices of the descendants of Croatian immigrants, and the Suquamish elder who shares with her the food legacy of the island itself.
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.
The Desert Remembers My Name
An award-winning author offers poignant essays on the spiritual nature of writing.
Kathleen Alcalá’s work takes readers to “a world where one would like to stay forever” (Ursula K. LeGuin). Her words “convincingly move the reader from one reality to the other” (Rudolfo Anaya) and attest to “the power of storytelling as testimony” (The Utne Reader). And now, in her first nonfiction collection The Desert Remembers My Name, Alcalá demonstrates that reflecting upon and sharing one’s own history is as intellectually and spiritually rewarding as using fiction to chronicle the past.
In this lyrical collection of personal essays, esteemed Chicana writer Kathleen Alcalá explores the many meanings of “family.” Having unearthed her family’s history and secrets in three award-winning novels, Alcalá now presents a memoir that reflects upon that past. In it, she ultimately uncovers the forces that shaped her as writer and shows how the act of writing can free a person from cultural and personal restraints.
Although the essays are in many ways personal, their themes are also universal. When Alcalá examines her history, she is encouraging us to inspect our own families, too. When she investigates a family secret, she is supporting our own search for meaning. After reading these essays, we understand not only why Kathleen Alcalá is a writer but also why we appreciate her so much. She helps us to find ourselves.
Treasures in Heaven
Treasures in Heaven is about the things we yearn for, but can never quite grasp. Set at the end of the 1800's in Mexico City, Estela arrives from the north in search of her lover. She finds work as director of a school for street children conducted by an eccentric, wealthy woman. The school expands to include the mothers, and Estela becomes a participant in the feminist movement of the time. The astonishing things she learns about the world transform her into what we would recognize as a modern woman. This is the last of three novels set in 19th Century Mexico, and received the 2001 Washington State Book Award. (Chronicle Books, 2000). Now in paperback from Northwestern University Press.
The Flower in the Skull
The Flower in the Skull, Kathleen Alcalá's second novel, chronicles three generations of women descended from the Opata Indians of the Sonoran Desert. "Like the family in Alcalás previous novel," according to Publishers Weekly, "this one travels far--physically, spiritually, and emotionally--in order to survive." It received the Western States Book Award and the Governer's Writers Award. (Chronicle Books, 1998, Harvest Books, 1999)
La flor en la calavera
La historia comienza en el desierto de Sonora, México, en la década de 1870. Al sofocar una revelión, el ejército mexicano destruye un pequeño poblado, oblligando a una india opata a huir hacia el norte. Cuando llega a Tucson, Arizona, Concha encuentra refugio como empleada en la casa de una familia rica y da a luz a Rosa, una niña hermosa y sensible. A los quince años, Rosa se casará con un joben pastor que vive dividido entre su fe y el espiritualismo mexicano. Shelly es la tercera voz de la historia. Una mujer latina que viva y trabaja en la Los Angeles acutal y acepta la propuesta de realizar una investigación en Tucson, donde descubrirá un pasado inesperadeamente ligado al suyo. Como en Espíritus de las pequeñas cosas, algunos de cuyos personajes reaparecen en esta nueva novela, Kathleen Alcalá escribe acerca de la herencia, la pérdida y la comprensión. La flor en la calavera habla de la belleza extraña, frágil y resistente que nace de la destrucción.
Spirits of the Ordinary
Spirits of the Ordinary, Kathleen's first novel, received the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award in 1998. Spirits tells the tale of Zacarias, estranged from his family and his Crypto-Jewish roots, as he seeks his fortune in the deserts of Northern Mexico. His wife, Estela, and his parents, Julio and Mariana, each see something entirely different in his journey. It has been described by Larry McMurtry as "continually arresting--a book in which passions both ordinary and extraordinary are made vivid and convincing." (Chronicle Books, 1997, Harvest Books, 1998)
Kathleen's novels have been translated into Spanish and Dutch.
Espíritus de las pequeñas cosas
Hacia fines del siglo diecinueve, Zacarías Caravajál, judío clandestino, abandona a su mujer e hijos para transformarse en buscador de oro. Sin embargo, su viaje se transforma en una búsqueda espiritual que lo lleva a la ciudad sagrada de Casas Grandes, donde tal vez encuentre algo mucho más importante que la riqueza material. Estela, su mujer, queda a cargo de sus hijos, y decide declararse una mujer independiente, algo mal visto en la sociedad mexicana del siglo pasado. Cuando inicia un romance con un médico del ejército, la presión de familiares y vecinos se vuelve insoportable. El desierto del norte de México es también protagonista de Espíritus de las pequeñas cosas, un paisaje desolado e inquietante donde no todo es lo que parece y suceden cosas que escapan a toda lógica y razón. Este relato mágico se alimenta de la fantasía latinoamericana de Isabel Allende, Angeles Mastretta y Laura Esquivel, pero Kathleen Alcalá agrega una dimensión única y fascinante: la historia de dos culturas, México y Estados Unidos, y de su esquiva frontera, contada por una escritora con raíces en ambos mundos.
Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist
Kathleen's first book, Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist, received the King County Publication Award in 1992. Published by Calyx Books, it is now available for e-books in a variety of formats including Kobo (see my Home page). Also available for Kindle are five of the individual stories for $.99.
"Her stories convincingly move the reader from one reality to the other," says writer Rudolfo Anaya. "Kathleen's craft illuminates the souls of her characters: the Mexican women who carry the universe in their hearts."