Writing About Family

Denise Chavez One of the major highlights of the 2009 Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, July 12-19, will be the presence of novelist, nonfiction writer, and playwright Denise Chávez, widely regarded as one of the leading Chicana writers in the United States. 

Chávez’s fiction includes “The Last of the Menu Girls,” a short-story collection about an adolescent girl’s passage into womanhood, and “Face of an Angel,” an exploration of a woman’s life in a small New Mexico town, with which Chávez gained a national readership for her portraits of Chicanos living in the Mexican-American borderlands.

During the Conference, Denise Chávez will lead participants in an exploration of the meaning of family. She’ll encourage participants to ask several questions of themselves, including: Who is your tribe? What contracts do we have with them? And how do these contracts—implicit, unspoken, spoken—impact our lives?

“In a word, this workshop is about truth,” Chávez says. Who is your least favorite relative? What are your family mythologies? What are the major events in your family’s life? ¿Quién te parió? Who gave you birth? And where have you gone from there? As Novalis, the French writer and philospher said, “Where are we going…always home…”

Register for this workshop online or call Centrum at 360.385.3102, x114.

Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Chávez was reared in a family that particularly valued education and self-improvement. The divorce of her father, an attorney, and her mother, a teacher, when Chávez was ten was a painful experience. She spent the rest of her childhood in a household of women that included her mother, a sister, and a half-sister, and has acknowledged that the dominant influences in her life–as well as in her work–have been female. From an early age Chávez was an avid reader and writer. She kept a diary in which she recorded her observations on life and the personal fluctuations in her own life. During high school she became interested in drama and performed in productions. Chávez recalled her discovery of the theater to Journal North interviewer Jim Sagel as a revelation: “I can extend myself, be more than myself.” She wrote her first play while a senior in college at New Mexico State University.

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