Daniel Alarcón's Internal Migrations

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 loggernaut Daniel Alarcón is undoubtedly one of the finest Peruvian-born, Alabama-raised, Ivy League-educated short fiction writers under the age of thirty with whom I am personally acquainted. The week we met (in August 2002, both of us having just arrived at the University of Iowa for graduate school) I wrote in my journal, "Daniel is interesting for his ability to exude the kind of quiet confidence one imagines famous writers exuding even prior to their fame." This kind of perceptiveness is extremely rare for me but I was right on the money; the pieces he put up for workshop demonstrated that Daniel had a few things figured out. His prose had a forceful precision that obviated flashiness. His stories never cut corners despite their considerable ambition. Daniel's work was unabashedly earnest and possessed of a bare emotional honesty that I know caused many of us to hear the hollow ring of cleverness and irony in our own stories. For three years now Daniel has been a writer who has made me want to write better. The full range of his talents is on display in his remarkable collection of short stories, War by Candlelight, released by HarperCollins this past spring. -Vinnie Wilhelm

Loggernaut Reading Series: I'd like to begin with oral sex. In "City of Clowns," the second story in your collection, you provide one of the most compelling instances in recent literature of a man performing cunnilingus on a woman who is wearing stilts. I think we'd all love to hear whatever you feel comfortable sharing about the genesis of this scene.

Daniel Alarcón: In Lima I briefly dated a girl who owned a pair of stilts. I can't really say much more about it, except to add that I write fiction and have an active imagination.

LRS: Speaking of oral sex, you've just completed your first book tour. One imagines these glamorous junkets as a blurry montage of decimated mini-bars and erotic encounters in bookstore restrooms. Is that about right? Can you tell us the best and worst moments from your travels?

Alarcón: I like readings. I like meeting people, and generally it works this way: folks that don't like your book or don't like you as a person stay at home. The folks who are likely to enjoy it are the ones who show up. So of course it's very gratifying to have ten or fifteen or however many people buy your book and tell you they think you're very smart, write well, smell good, etc. Still, I can't say that I really enjoy traveling, though these days I seem to do a lot of it. When I started the tour I'd been traveling already for three months in Latin America, didn't really have a place to live in the US, and still had books and clothes scattered in the apartments of various friends, my parents' place in Oakland, my sister's house, and elsewhere. I felt incredibly un-tethered to anything, which is exactly the wrong time to be spending nights in hotels, airports, and shopping malls: the trifecta of sad American non-destinations. They bring out the very bleakest in people who are prone to be depressed from time to time.

The best readings were in places I've lived before—New York, Iowa City, the Bay Area, Birmingham—where friends showed up and brought their friends, or where peruanos showed up just to say they were proud of me and whatnot. Chicago was also excellent, lots of fun. In Boulder I started my reading with two people in the audience. I introduced myself to both of them and shook their hands. The reading was fine, I think they both enjoyed it, and actually a few more people showed up by the time the story had ended. They asked me to read another story and I did. Then afterwards some dude wanted me to sign a galley, an advance reader copy, the one that says very clearly "not for sale, uncorrected proof" on the cover. He told me with an innocent smile that he'd bought it used on Amazon. I was like, Are you fucking kidding me? I think he expected me to congratulate him on having found such a bargain. But he was so earnest and excited to meet me that he even had his two daughters pose for a picture with me. Maybe he'll buy my next book. Or not. I don't even know why I was mad; it's not like I don't buy used books.

LRS: So your family came to Alabama from Peru when you were a child, and there's a lot of stuff in your book about Peruvians—and people from other parts of the developing world—immigrating to America. But just as much attention is paid to characters who have migrated to Lima from the Peruvian countryside. Can you talk a little about migration within Peru and why it figures so heavily in your collection?

Alarcón: That internal migration is what defines Lima. It gives the city this strange quality, this movement, where people are constantly coming and going. People have come to Lima for the same reasons they try to leave it for the U.S. or elsewhere: of course the war (the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru insurgencies, which lasted from 1980 to 1997) was the primary engine of displacement at one point, but the main motivation now is economic. As difficult a place as Lima is to live, the Peruvian economy is so hopelessly centralized that it's better than living in, say, Andahuaylas or Corongo. Every time I go back I notice hillsides that were once empty now dotted with housing. The neighborhood where I was living and working, San Juan de Lurigancho, is one of those places that



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purchase selected works by Daniel Alarcón:

Fiction:

War by Candlelight

Lost City Radio

Nonfiction:

The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook



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