Jennine Capo Crucet
Published: July 17th, 2015
Jennine Capo Crucet is an acclaimed Cuban-American poet who has worked with many established writers and taught as well. She has earned many prizes and is considered an emerging face in the American poetry scene.
Howl: How did living in Miami influence you to be a writer?
Capo Crucet: Miami is kind of a loud city (I love it, but let’s be real: it’s loud), and I think that finds its way into my prose and in the way my characters talk. It’s also a very bright and boisterous city, and that’s something I’d say is a quality of my work (for better or worse). Also, Miami is wild and a little nuts, and I like to think my work emulates that spirit.
Howl: You often use humor in your writing. How do you know where and when to use humor in a story?
Capo Crucet: I started off writing sketch comedy before I ever really tried to seriously write any fiction, so I think the humor comes up naturally and out of habit – humor was where my training as a writer really began. I can’t say for certain that I “know” where or when to use it – in fact, sometimes I’m surprised, at readings, when people in the audience laugh at certain things that I think are actually really sad. Maybe they are laughing out of discomfort? (I mean, that’s usually why I laugh at anything.) The one thing I do know that I try to make happen when it comes to humor is that I’ve found it’s effective to get the reader laughing right before something really, really awful is about to happen in a story. That way, the emotional drop is even more steep. This is admittedly a little mean of me, but what can you do? If the story demands it, I must obey.
Howl: How has being a first generation college student affected your life?
Capo Crucet: It’s probably up there in the top five things that have impacted the way I look at the world – it’s up there with being born female and Cuban. One big way it’s impacted me is that it pushed me to work at a nonprofit that helped other first-generation college students adjust to the huge shifts that come with taking on that role, and that led me to write another book, a novel called Make Your Home Among Strangers that’s coming out early this August. That book is just one angle of vision that attempts to answer this question for myself.
Howl: What is your writing process like?
Capo Crucet: It’s messy and involves a lot of talking to myself. It’s nothing any other human should have to witness. This is why my writing buddy for years was my dog, Clarke. Dogs don’t judge. Dogs also give you an excuse to talk to yourself, because you can lie to yourself and pretend you are talking to the dog.
Howl: What is your editing process like?
Capo Crucet: See the answer to the previous question. (It's like that, but even harder.)
Howl: Any advice for some budding writers?
Capo Crucet: Read all the books. ALL OF THEM. I am tempted to say that being a strong, careful reader will take your further as a writer than writing every day will – though Ideally, you’re doing both. Oh! Also: challenge yourself with your reading choices. If there’s something that’s been deemed “important” by literary types, you don’t have to like it, but it *is* your responsibility to figure out why that piece of writing has endured and to steal everything you can from it. I am a big advocate of stealing, in general.
Howl: Given that your parents are Cuban-Americans and you grew up in South Florida, what are your thoughts on the current debate over working relations with Cuba?
Capo Crucet: No comment? Whatever my opinion, someone (or someone’s parents – probably mine) will get mad. My new novel tackles some political themes, so that’s probably the best place to try to suss out my politics.
Howl: Spanish is your first language. Do you feel that there are some emotions or ideas that are best expressed in one language over another?
Capo Crucet: Totally. Like, maybe even the answer to this question.
Howl: What do you look for in good writing?
Capo Crucet: A voice that is unrelenting and urgent, images that surprise and disturb me in the best way. A strong sense of place. Most of all, I look for characters that feel like real people in that they are complex and flawed and probably not detectives.
Howl: Any recommended required readings for young adults these days?
Capo Crucet: Like I said, ALL THE BOOKS. The novel Their Eyes Were Watching God changed my life. As did the novels Under the Feet of Jesus and So Long, See You Tomorrow and The Optimist’s Daughter. Maybe start there?