Joy Castro is the award-winning author of the new novel Flight Risk, the post-Katrina New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water, which received the Nebraska Book Award, and Nearer Home, and the story collection How Winter Began, as well as the memoir The Truth Book and the essay collection Island of Bones, which received the International Latino Book Award. She is also editor of the anthology Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family and served as the guest judge of CRAFT‘s first Creative Nonfiction Award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Salon, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Afro-Hispanic Review, and elsewhere. A former Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University and alternate for the Berlin Prize, she is currently the Willa Cather Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
Katherine Mansfield–only Latina. In my book, she’s still matchless. Many people seem to forget the fact that, together with James Joyce and Anton Chekhov, she’s considered one of the progenitors of the modern short story, and for good reason. Her fiction is gemlike, exquisite. I try to bring that level of attention, intensity, simplicity, and efficiency to everything I write, in any genre.
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
‘Flight Risk,’ my novel that’s forthcoming this October–but that’s only because I’m always in love with the most recent thing, the thing that’s freshest and most immediate, where all the challenges still feel raw and urgent and just barely, breathlessly surmounted.
It’d be like asking me, ‘Who’s been your favorite lover ever?’ I’d always be like, ‘THIS one. This one right here.’
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
My favorite lover. Because I trust him with everything.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’ve always been drawn to Robert Frost’s advice: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” If I’m not willing to wrench myself open, to scare myself, to shock myself, to take huge risks, why should a reader bother with my work?
5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?
No one does say that to me, thank goodness. But if someone did, I’d say, “Correct: You’re not sure. Full stop. And now we’re done here. My life’s too short to try to persuade you to love a form so patently rich.” Literary nonfiction excites me because it’s truth with a shape.
When brilliant, shattering books like Rigoberto González’s Autobiography of My Hungers exist, objections to the genre seem nonsensical. I’m in love, too, with all of the nonfiction that we’ve brought out in the Machete series: Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir, Barrie Jean Borich’s Apocalypse, Darling, and Michele Morano’s Like Love–and we’ve got several more gorgeous, groundbreaking books in the pipeline.
Joy Castro, The Assay Interview Project, 11/26/2013
DeMisty Bellinger-Delfield, “Exhibiting Speculation in Nonfiction: Teaching ‘What He Took,'” Assay 2.2
The writing prompt itself came from Joy Castro at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: retell the scene of your conception. In the time allotted to us, I never actually got to the love making (phew!), but in that class session I realized something about the genre that I hadn’t before: we are allowed to imagine the bits we cannot possibly know as long as we cue our audience in on our speculation. Castro’s prompt, combined with with Carlisle’s “What He Took” and Lisa Knopp’s “‘Perhapsing’: The Use of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction,” became the foundation of this lesson with my students.