Beth Alvarado obtained her bachelor's degree in creative writing from the UA in 1983 before earning a master's degree in literature from Stanford University. She became a lecturer in the UA English department in 1990. She has a book of short stories, ""Not a Matter of Love,"" which is available at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave. The Daily Wildcat's Michelle Cohen sat down with Alvarado to discuss her work on an essay to be included in a new book centered on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
You wrote an essay that was recently published in a book (""Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk, and Hope"") to raise awareness about Darfur. Can you tell me about your essay and the book?
The essay I wrote is about drawing on life by observing people and listening to them — getting details about their lives or the way they gesture or talk in order to create a character. You might borrow speech patterns of one person and the speech of another, for instance.
For instance, now I'm working on something with an actual murder. I did a lot of research and decided I wanted to write one chapter from the point of view of a person who is in her 20s and is suddenly widowed with kids. So in order to kind of understand her, I kept thinking about my mother, who had been widowed in her 20s and had children. My mother couldn't talk about her first husband. That was really the greatest tragedy of her life. I don't know if it's true of her (the character's) life, but it helped me understand the character when I would have her do something I would say, ""Is that realistic?"" and I would think about my mom.
It's a book of essays. It would be a great book to read if you're someone who wants to write, because the essays are about writing, and also if you're just someone interested in kind of the struggles people go through as they're either trying to write or speak up about things difficult to write or speak up about. It seems a lot of the essays are really inspirational to think about why writing matters in the world and what a difference it can make because I think most of us think what we have to say or write can't make any difference, but this book shows that it really can.
How were you chosen to write for the book?
What happened was the editors asked people they knew or people whose writing they admired to write an essay about risks they take when they write something. For some of the people living in Africa or other kinds of oppressive regimes, the risks are to their lives; then others, like my essay, are just every kind of ordinary, quiet risks, like, ""Is someone going to get mad at me?"" People talked about other things like depression and the things that happen in everyone's lives, and how writing helps you through that.
I was looking on my computer the other day and I think I did at least 10 or 11 drafts of that essay. It was really a hard essay to write because it was personal, and I was writing it right after my mother died and part of it was about her death. So it was just really difficult to write, emotionally.
I was really excited to have my writing contributed to something important. I was really happy about that because it just seemed like such a worthy cause. Usually you write something and maybe it gets published, maybe you make money, but to think of it doing some good in the world is wonderful — the most you can hope for in a way. Then it was kind of nerve-wracking because so many of the other writers in the book are famous and you're like, ""Is my writing good enough to be in that book?""
Which authors are you referring to?
Nadine Gordimer. I think she won the Nobel Prize. I had read her work for 20 or 30 years and always admired her writing. She's in that book so I would say her in particular. She's a writer from Africa.