I have a handy little alert from Google that lets me know anytime someone has written anything about me that appears in a major publication. Today, it chimed for a book review in the Washington Post newspaper, for the wonderful young adult novel Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden. In the article, reviewer Valerie Strauss, a reporter for the Post, writes the following:
My own favorite novels have always been by authors like Zadie Smith, Tom Wolfe and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. These writers capture their worlds using multiple points of view, a satirical eye, and a believable cast of colliding characters.
I’m heartened to be compared to Smith and Wolfe, who are also two of my own personal favorites. If you haven’t read their work, you must – especially if you enjoy mine. We are three peas in a snarky lil pod.
Memories of Tom
Reading the Post review brought back the moment I got the call from Tom Wolfe himself, about ten years ago, telling me he had chosen me as Artist in Residence at his alma mater, Washington & Lee University. I was a new novelist at the time, and almost could not believe my ears. I’d been a fan of his work for decades. He told me that of all the new young (I was, then – ha!) writers he’d read, I was the one who most reminded him of himself. He said he enjoyed my social commentary and humor, my wordplay. It was truly a dream come true.
I spent an unforgettable week at Washington & Lee with Tom, as he introduced me around to students, faculty and alumni. I gave a talk one evening, beneath an enormous portrait of Robert E. Lee, which was surreal of several levels. It was such a Tom Wolfe thing to do, putting a young, outspoken Latina author there, on that stage, to address a group of aging alumni, many of whom still longed for the days of the confederacy. He knew the nation was changing, and he embraced those changes with delight. He was a great ally, mentor, supporter and friend to me, and enough of a free-thinker to recognize my raw American talent in a way many at that time could or would not.
How lovely it was today to get this Google alert on my phone, and to see that another reader out there saw a similarity between me and Tom.
Tom Wolfe passed away in May of this year, and I miss him a lot. I do wonder what he’d make of all the crazy things doing the boogie-down at this, the apparent end of the world.