Ivelisse Rodriguez’s debut short story collection is Love War Stories (Feminist Press, 2018), a 2019 PEN/Faulkner finalist and a 2018 Foreword Reviews INDIES finalist. She is the founder and editor of an interview series focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College and a Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She currently lives in NC with her beloved Lhasa Apso, Chocolatte Rodriguez. To learn more about Rodriguez, visit: www.ivelisserodriguez.com.
It is in the middle of my third week working at Columbia Law School’s career services office when he finally comes in. I’m standing in front of the brown filing cabinet—the one that has a dent in the top right corner because a law student flipped out a few years ago and threw one of those heavy-ass case law books at it—and I smell his cologne. Obsession. And when I turn around, there he is. David.
My heart remains flatlined, my anger, like his, is private. I had made half-hearted attempts to find him. Vanessa, my old college roommate, told me he had transferred to Columbia as an L2. When we were undergrads here, I was pleased that he hadn’t been accepted into a first-tier law school. Things would not be well for him either. I walked around campus hoping to spot him, but I knew sooner or later he’d have to come in here. He stands in front of me now, and all I want to do is catalogue how much he’s changed...
Maureen Langloss: Love War Stories strikes me as a political and feminist text, but your stories are not the least bit didactic. Can you talk about how you achieved that balance? Do you have any advice for our readers who would like to write fiction about gender, class, race, and power that isn’t heavy-handed and is still literary?
Ivelisse Rodriguez: I cringe when I read didactic stories—didacticism takes you out of the story. So I think ferreting out anything that sounds preachy in your stories is partly a craft issue. No one wants a lecture with her/his/their story. I am listening to a podcast now and the podcaster made a point to add social commentary to her tales of true crime. I want my murder without a lesson. So I achieve a balance by constantly asking myself if this is too didactic... And I whittle down the words until they are didactic no more. For anyone writing about the above issues, they need to know that good literary fiction should seamlessly weave in political stances. And if the need to lecture is greater than writing well, then fiction is not the best genre for them. Why not write non-fiction instead?
This is the short story collection I've been waiting for. Love War Stories arrests the heart with its stunning exploration of women who are put through a kind of hell in their determination to find true love. Hilarious at times even in the midst of the tragic and heartbreaking, Love War Stories is extraordinary. Punto y final.