A Brief Interview With Esteban Rodriguez
We sat down with Esteban Rodriguez, author of Dusk & Dust, his debut book of poetry due out fall 2019, to ask a few questions about his writing and the collection, as well as how the South has influenced his work.
Tell us a little about your manuscript.
Dusk & Dust explores daily life in the Rio Grande Valley (located in south Texas along the Mexican border). Told through the voice and perspective of a young, male narrator, the manuscript seeks to shed light on the people and landscape that inhabit the region, and to explore the manner in which certain cultural and geographical expectations must be navigated. The narrator (whose voice is a mix of my own life experiences and the experiences of family members and close friends) attempts to understand how exactly he fits into such an environment, which at times isn’t as cut-and-dried as it appears.
A holiday like Christmas, for example, provides commentary on rural living, as well as on the complexity of traditional gender roles. A soap opera and a wrestling match ponder the extent language affects identity. And the land itself – rugged, unsympathetic, and singed with uncertainty – starts a conversation on what truly makes a place home.
If the manuscript does anything, it guides readers through a labyrinth of issues and themes that affects a part of the world that deserves to be remembered and lived.
What/who are you reading right now? What inspires you?
I’m currently reading Brown by Kevin Young, Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
I try to read as much contemporary poetry as possible, not only for inspiration, but because I enjoy the work of other poets and am interested in how they tackle certain issues and themes. I do, however, find myself returning to collections by Bob Hicok, Dean Young, Tony Hoagland, Yusef Komunyakaa, Traci Brimhall, and Valzhyna Mort. No other contemporary writer for me, however, creates such poetic (and often nightmarish) landscapes quite like Cormac McCarthy. Each time I reread his novels and plays I discover something new and meaningful about the world I had never considered before, which is what good writing, regardless of genre, is supposed to make its readers feel.
Can you talk a little about how the South and place in general inform your writing?
Most, if not all, of my writing has place factored into it. I’m not sure of any other way to write, and I don’t think I could adapt a style that didn’t have at least a little of where I was raised mixed into it. I believe the more specific your writing is (especially when it is centered on a certain region), the more universal it tends to become. I think of certain Southern writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote (to name a few) who are lauded across the literary world precisely because of the region they chose to write about.
Yes, there will be those that say Texas isn’t truly a Southern state (perhaps stereotypical and outdated ideas of what Texas is strain Texas’s full acceptance into the category). But the South itself isn’t so easily defined, and I’m glad to writing from a place that is as diverse as it is unique.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Reading. I read a whole lot more than I write. In fact, if I can get on my soapbox for a second, my advice to young writers is to read anything and everything you can get your hands on. I fell into writing not strictly because I liked putting words on paper, but because I loved what others had already written and wanted to enjoy and understand the stories, voices, and ideas they had to offer.
Apart from reading, I’m a high school English teacher, which is what occupies most of my day. When I do have free time, I try to enjoy Austin with my family as much as possible. The city has a lot to offer, and it’s quite inspiring being in a place thriving with innovation and creativity.