Preparing to talk to Alberto Ríos

Laptop screen with books nearby and window in background

How does a non-poet prepare to interview a prolific and esteemed poet who has garnered national awards, was selected as the inaugural poet laureate of Arizona, and served as chancellor of the American Academy of Poets?

With trepidation and fingers crossed that she doesn’t mess it up.

Man with arms folded standing next to bookshelf

Photo from Seattle Arts and Lectures website

Next month I’ll be interviewing prolific Chicano poet Alberto Ríos for Seattle Arts and Lectures. The pre-taped event can be viewed online on May 28, 2021 for pay-what-you-can pricing.

Before I was invited to do the interview, I had been preparing an essay for Poetry Northwest about Ríos’ work that considered his prose and as well as his poetry. I figured the next step about writing about a famous person’s work is to actually talk to him about it.

So here are a few things I’ll be mentioning when I meet Alberto Ríos:

  • Daydreaming
  • The border
  • The word next
  • Inspiration and intention
  • Salting your watermelon

Yes, it’s all deliberately vague to tease you into buying a ticket for the event. But I’ll reveal the thing about salting your watermelon. One of the poems in Ríos’ most recent book Not Go Away is My Name is “Salted Watermelon.” In the notes at the back of the book, he expresses his shock at learning that not everyone salted their watermelon. Well, I’m here to say that I grew up salting my watermelon. Who else out there did the same?

Speaking of Alberto Ríos, he was among the luminaries who blurbed Kathleen Alcalá’s first novel Spirits of the Ordinary for its initialBook cover with image of a horse release in 1997. Others were late icons Larry McMurtry and Ursula LeGuin. How’s that for a trio of literary VIPs writing luscious things about your book?

I loved reading Spirits when it first came out. I remember it was quite an anticipated book, following Kathleen’s award-winning collection Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalist, whose stories I still like to reread. I read Spirits again several months ago and was again delighted to be carried back to late 19th century Mexico and an intriguing and vibrant cast of characters, which Rios called an “engaging weave of voices.”

The book is being reissued by Raven Chronicles Press with a new cover that features the art of internationally-known Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguín and a foreword by renowned Chicano writer Rigoberto Gonzalez. This beautiful package of a book will be released May 10.

I interviewed Kathleen on a video about the book. We talked about the other-worldly twins and the fierce women characters, magic realism and family lore, and story structure and style. The interview is in five segments and can be found on the Raven Chronicles Press website.

Check Kathleen’s website for a list of events featuring Spirits of the Ordinary, including one with former Washington poet laureate Claudia Castro Luna.

And be sure to read the book. The great Larry McMurtry said, “Her prose is continually arresting – there’s a spirit in it which is not ordinary.”

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