Jennine Capó Crucet is a novelist, essayist, and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. Her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers was the winner of the International Latino Book Award, a New York Times Editor's Choice book, and was cited as a best book of the year by NBC Latino, the Guardian, and the Miami Herald. She is also the author of the story collection How to Leave Hialeah (winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize and the John Gardner Book award), and of a forthcoming essay collection, Never Imagined Me Here. Her writing has been awarded an O. Henry Prize and Picador Fellowship, among other honors, and her work has appeared in venues including Medium, the Los Angeles Review, Guernica, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and on PBSNewsHour. Raised in Miami, she’s currently an associate professor of Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska.
One could argue that the first few paragraphs of any work of short fiction establish a contract with the reader: they telegraph tone, character, and even—when exceptionally on point—the trajectory of the story's action.
We often think about mass media and journalism in the context of social responsibility: what and how news is covered, as well as accuracy and objectivity. What about literature? Do writers have a responsibility to engage with critical societal issues or movements? What brings a writer to feel compelled to use their art as social commentary or activism? How do race, class, and other social categories affect our lives and lead us toward certain subject matter or genre? Can creativity even be obligated at all?
The church is quiet except for the nun's approaching footsteps. You could imagine the sounds of the soft soles of her shoes scuffing down the center aisle, coming towards the last pew, barely growing louder as they approach. Or, you could imagine that someone has just finished playing an organ, practicing before the morning mass, the notes echoing off the high ceilings and moving into silence.
Perhaps the new problem begins at the manatee exhibit. Again, her uncle and aunt argue about the map. Her aunt has, against her uncle’s advice, directed the entire youth group to this exhibit, which they learn upon their arrival is Not Yet Ready For The Public To Enjoy. The uncle claims he knew this; he saw the sign right at the park’s entrance, and she would have seen it too, if only she would Pay some goddamn attention to anything he said, ever.
Once I decided to use a fictionalized version of Elián [González] as a character in the book], I took all the liberties that the story demanded. There was a point in the writing of this book where I decided it would not be a novel that tackles that time in history, but instead it would show a year in the life of a character as it plays out against a larger political situation, one where the political becomes very personal — so much so that it’s only personal, as far as Lizet [the narrator] is concerned. I took any and all liberties that Lizet’s story demanded, and when things lined up with the real-life events, I took it as a sign that the story was on the right track. I used the real-life timeline and events as springboards — as inspiration and as guidance — but I didn’t let them hinder Lizet’s story.
Jennine Capó Crucet was the first person in her family to be born in the United States. Her parents came to Florida from Cuba, and she grew up in Hialeah, a suburb of Miami that is 95 percent Hispanic.
For Crucet, going to Cornell was a bit of a shock — she was the first person in her family to attend college at all, let alone at a prestigious school in upstate New York.
"You leave home and then when you come back you have a kind of perspective that you didn't have before that in some way problematizes your relationship with your family," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "You just start to be able to have a sort of double vision about them and who they are and how you grew up that can be really painful."