Winner of the American Book Award—and named one of the best books of the year by The New York Public Library, Kirkus and Library Journal—Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Sabrina & Corina is a short story collection sure to make you laugh, cry and learn. Focused on Latinas of indigenous ancestry who live in the gorgeous yet brutal American West, the female characters navigate the land and their lives with the grace of feminine power; the caution of those traumatized from the violations of their culture and bodies; the exploration of female relationships; and the universal experience of abandonment and what “home” truly means.
“Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado, ending up in a hostile California land. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city barely recognizable from the one she remembers in childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine herself is from Denver, Colorado, and Sabrina & Corina has earned countless accolades: a finalist for the National Book Award, the PEN/Bingham Prize, The Clark Prize, The Story Prize, the Saroyan International Prize; her work has been honored with the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts and the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Reading the West Award; and she’s written for The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, O: the Oprah Magazine, The American Scholar, Boston Review, and more.
In our exclusive interview, Kali Fajardo-Anstine talks about the customer question in a Denver bookshop that made her realize her true calling, her next project—a debut novel!—and what she’s reading.
Sabrina & Corina is such an amazing narrative on feminine power, and exploration of heritage and home. What first sparked the creative idea behind writing it?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and as a teenager I got a job at West Side Books in Denver. I was bookselling one day when a customer came and started asking questions about what I wanted to do after college. I said that I wanted to be a novelist; that’s why I worked at a bookstore. The customer said, “What could you possibly add to these thousands of volumes that hasn’t already been written?” And I thought for a moment before I said, “I will write books about my people and where I come from, because we aren’t in many books at all.”
The stories in Sabrina & Corina came out of a deep need to feel seen, to feel understood, and I wanted others from my background to feel less lonely in their experiences.
In an interview with Mieko Kawakami, you mentioned that that “there’s power in documentation, even if hard to look at.” That is a more realized statement now than ever before. How would you encourage people from all backgrounds to share their stories?
Sharing stories about our lives is a deeply personal act. Sometimes we are encouraged to share information about our experiences that we may want to keep private. With that said, I do think there is comfort in collecting our experiences through writing, even if we don’t share our work with another person. Writing can serve as a means to make sense of our lives, to remember moments of beauty, to heal from acts of violence. I encourage everyone to keep a diary or a type of private and safe writing space within their lives—even if this is just a little notebook beside the bed.
Are you currently working on another book, or creative project?
Yes, I am! My first novel, Woman of Light, will be published in 2022 by One World/Random House. Readers can expect my focus on place and strong woman characters, but unlike the short stories, Woman of Light is an epic that spans five generations in the American West. The novel is partly inspired by my family history, especially the stories of my great grandmother and her sister, my Auntie Lucy, during The Great Depression.
What are you currently reading?
I just called my local bookstore looking for a copy of My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. I don’t have it in my hands yet, but they ordered a copy for me! I’m super interested in the horror movie trope of the Final Girl and I’m fascinated to see how Stephen Graham Jones approached this idea in his latest novel.