By Sam Gross
Elm Staff Writer
Last Tuesday, Oct. 22, a small audience at the Rose O’Neill Literary House was treated to the lyrical readings of Joy Castro. Once she began piecing together her history it proved that looks can be deceiving.
Adopted into a Hispanic family in Miami, Castro has become living proof of the fluidity of the definition of identity. Born to a woman who initially tried to abort her, raised in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, abused in all senses, Castro managed to forge her own path to the life she has today. With a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University and a master’s degree and doctorate in literature from Texas A&M University, she currently serves as an associate professor in creative writing, literature, and Latino studies and as an associate director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also a founding faculty member of the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Boston. Her works include “The Truth Book: A Memoir” an essay collection, entitled, “Island of Bones,” and a literary thriller, “Hell or High Water.” Her current works for 2013 are a sequel to her thriller, called “Nearer Home” and an anthology she edited, called “Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family.”
In her reading at the Literary House, Castro shared pieces from each of her works transporting the audience to various places with her evocative imagery. She shared pieces of her life and the influence of her childhood. One of her most defining readings was from an essay, “Clips of my Father’s House” from “Island of Bones” where she is able to describe the food there with the same finesse as Laura Esquivel with her “Like Water for Chocolate.”
Stomachs grumbled and mouths drooled just a little bit as Castro described classic Hispanic food—from the “black beans and saffron rice and garlic pork and applesauce, papas rellenos and tamales,” to a dessert of “key lime pie and sliced mangos from the yard.”
She then discusses the mother who gave her up for adoption, explaining how she met with her at the age of 26. She wrote the prologue to her memoir in the voice of her mother, attempting to understand her mindset while pregnant. “It was perhaps the lack of parents I had growing up that made me have this terrible desire to meet my biological mother,” she said. She said that she signed with a program to match them together, and they still continue their relationship until this day.
Castro moved on to other pieces, interlacing them with a witty comment or two. When she read from “Hell or High Water,” set in New Orleans, she described her only fictional piece as “a beach read for smart people.” She also slipped in a comment about the possibility of a television show based on the book including Zoe Saldana before transporting the audience to the tastes and sounds of the most famous Louisiana city.
Her voice remained utterly calm as she talked about her writing process and explained the inspiration behind some pieces—from Chacmool, a sculpture that acted as an intermediary between Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, and the people, to the Latin poet of the late Roman Republic, Gaius Valerius Catullus, to allusions about Nora Ephron, an American writer, director, producer, and blogger.