Claire Jimenez brings bravery to the page in her outstanding debut novel, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, where we meet the fiery family of Ramirez women from Staten Island.

For twelve years, they have dealt with the absence of middle-child, Ruthy Ramirez, who disappeared at the age of thirteen without a trace, leaving the family scarred. When the oldest sister, Jessica, spots a woman on a raunchy reality show with a birthmark that she’d recognize anywhere, she calls youngest sister Nina right away asking: could it be? When Dolores, their mother, learns of their plan to find their long lost sister, she insists on coming along, and bringing her best friend, Irene. The search for Ruthy becomes a family road trip that will finally force the Ramirez women to face their past and heal their future, whether it is with Ruthy or not.

Our March guest author Claire Jimenez is a Puerto-Rican writer and assistant editor who grew up in Staten Island and Brooklyn. She is the author of a short-story collection called Staten Island Stories, which received the 2019 Hornblower Award for a first book from the New York Society Library.

Keep reading for our exclusive interview with Claire Jimenez about the inspirations for her new book, her writing process, and what it was like growing up in New York.

The Book…

I last bought/am currently reading: Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark which is essential reading for any writer. I am teaching it to my MFA students at the University of South Carolina. I also JUST finished R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface which was excellent.

I recommend to everyone: Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino, who is a dear friend. It is a difficult book to read, but one that beautifully asks the question: how do we carry the weight of the dead and imagine a new world without reenacting the same violences of capitalism and colonialism.

That was my favorite to read last year, and why: Chantal V.  Johnson’s Post-traumatic. (Johnson is also another Puerto Rican writer.) I love the way she skillfully crafts interiority.

Whose author I would love to have lunch with: Samantha Irby. She just makes me laugh. I would love to have drinks with her.

That made me realize language had power: Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn

I’d like to see adapted to the screen: I hear that Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling is being adapted. He’s one of my favorite writers, and I love that book. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

That made me laugh out loud—or cry—while reading it: I have cried many times reading Donika Kelly’s collection of poems Bestiary.

That has the most gorgeous cover: The African Book Fund has some of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen, including this one of The New Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set. The artist is the Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh.

With the best opening line: This is a difficult question, but I’ll cheat by limiting it to books from this last year. I loved the opening line(s) of Namwali Serpell’s The Furrows: “I don’t want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how it felt.”

Bookstore that I frequent/is my favorite: When I was in New York, I loved to go to The Strand.