From dropping out to award-winning novelist: the identity journey of Kali Fajardo-Anstine


Earlier this month, the Loyola Writers at Work series hosted award-winning writer Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Fajardo-Anstine is an American novelist and short story writer from Denver. She studied English Literature and Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State University and received her MFA from the University of Wyoming. Her award-winning short story collection, “Sabrina & Corina: Stories,” was released in October 2019. She is known for incorporating her indigenous Latin origins into her characters and stories.

Fajardo-Anstine began his speech with an aloud reading of “Sugar Babies”, a section of “Sabrina & Corina”, then gave the audience a glimpse of his childhood. She is one of seven children from a Spanish, Filipino, Jewish and Métis family. Growing up, Fajardo-Anstine was often asked about her ethnicity. Fajardo-Anstine remembers thinking, “I don’t really know how to answer that question. People would say to her mother, “Your children are so unique. What are they?”

She found solace in reading and even dropped out of high school to read in the park. All young Fajardo-Anstine wanted was to feel safe, in control and powerful. The lack of character diversity in literature bothered Fajardo a lot. She decided that she wanted to become a writer in high school so that she could tell the stories of her ancestors.

A pivotal moment in Fajardo-Anstine’s writing career was when she decided that she “wanted to become a novelist and [she] wanted to become a writer. She set out to document and tell the stories of people who shared their experiences and culture with her.

Life has taken a different course for her though. His best and last option was to drop out of high school after failing so many classes. While on the outside, dropping out of high school may seem like her dreams are shattered, this last resort has led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State University.

Through her major in Chicano Studies, she gained insight into the literature that was part of her heritage. The characters in the stories she would read in class “weren’t as mixed up as I was,” Fajardo-Anstine said. But, “there were stories of people working in the fields like my ancestors did. There were stories of people migrating, walking and moving. And there were stories about a lot of oppression that people in my background had suffered. ”

During the event’s question-and-answer session, a member of the audience asked Fajardo-Anstine if his Indigenous background influenced the themes of violence against women in “Sabrina and Corina”.

The murdered Indigenous women are “something that has personally affected my family, and there has been a lot of violence against women in my family for generations. It’s not just, you know, not just my immediate generation or my mother’s generation; it’s here. It goes back a very long time. And when I was a little girl, and growing up, I would hear stories from my great-grandmother. And my great aunts, and they was talking about the women in my family that had been attacked or shot or blinded all kinds of terrible things that happened to them. And even in my own community when I was growing up in Denver, this stuff happened to women and girls, ”Fajardo-Anstine replied.

She asked why no one was talking about the violence, why there was no media coverage and why people were not looking for the missing women.

“[I remember feeling] frustrated and upset and angry and sad that these kinds of cycles of violence perpetuate our communities. And so unfortunately there is a lot of influence from my own family and my own community in the types of violence you see against women in ‘Sabrina & Corina.’ And if you haven’t read the story “Sisters”, this story is set in the 50s. And one of the reasons it’s right after “Sabrina & Corina” in the order of the book, c It’s because I want readers to understand that this is not a generational issue. It’s a cyclical thing that women have faced for generations. Says Fajardo-Anstine.

Fajardo-Anstine hopes that raising awareness of the violence indigenous women face can “change the way we raise our children.” And we don’t perpetuate more violence in the world.

Image courtesy of Tom Hermans via Unsplash


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