L.A. Libros Fest: Interview With Claudia Castro Luna

Deborah Spector, Librarian, Business & Economics Department,
Author Claudia Castro Luna and her book, Cipota Under the Moon
Claudia will be one of the featured performers at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family

Claudia Castro Luna served as Washington’s State Poet Laureate (2018 – 2021), is an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, and Seattle’s inaugural Civic Poet (2015-2017). She is the author the collections Cipota Under the Moon (Tia Chucha); One River, A Thousand Voices (Chin Music Press); Ki6337035lling Marías (Two Sylvias) finalist for the WA State Book Award 2018, and the chapbook, This City (Floating Bridge). Her most recent non-fiction is in There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis (Vintage). Castro Luna holds an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA, a K-12 teaching certificate, and an MFA in Poetry from Mills College. Born in El Salvador she came to the United States in 1981. Living in English and Spanish, she writes and teaches in Seattle on unceded Duwamish lands where she gardens and keeps chickens with her husband and their three children.

Claudia Castro Luna ejerció el puesto de Poeta Laureada del Estado de Washington (2018-2021), fue elegida como Asociada de la Academia de Poesía de America (Academy of American Poets) por su trabajo como Laureada de un estado, y tuvo el honor de ser la primera Poeta Cívica de la ciudad de Seattle, Estado de Washington (2015-2017). Sus libros de poesía incluyen Cipota Under the Moon (Tia Chucha press); One River, A Thousand Voices (Chin Music Press); Killing Marías (Two Sylvias Press) y This City (Floating Bridge Press). Castro Luna estudió Antropología y Francés en la Universidad de California en Irvine (UCI), posee una Maestría en Planeamiento Urbano de la UCLA, una licenciatura en pedagogía de la Universidad Cal State East Bay, y una Maestría en Artes Finas de Mills College, Oakland. Su prosa más reciente aparece en There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis (Vintage). Ella vive en inglés y en español en territorio que fue robado al grupo indigena Duwamish en lo que ahora es conocido como la ciudad de Seattle.

Claudia Castro Luna will be one of the featured authors at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. L.A. Libros Fest will be streamed live on will be streamed live on YouTube on Friday, September 23, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The Festival will be in-person at Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, September 24, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with select Saturday programs streamed live on YouTube.

Our tagline this year is Read, Dream and Celebrate en dos idiomas. How do you think your books and stories help us accomplish this?

Whatever degree of fluency we might have in a second language is cause for joy and celebration because languages convey both meaning and culture. Reading is transportive—we travel elsewhere when we read, to other landscapes, to other bodies, to other imaginations! My poems work hard to convey my reality as a Salvadoran immigrant in the US. I want folks who read my poems to experience the hardships and challenges of leaving El Salvador during the civil war AND I also want my readers to experience my joys and triumphs, my family’s resilience, the way in which we have fused two languages and two cultures into our experience of being American.

What are some of the things you do to bring to life the world you’ve imagined?

All poetry, all writing, relies on appealing to the reader’s senses to make stories and poems come alive in the readers’ minds. I work on weaving images that are clear and strong so that my readers can see what I see, touch what I feel, hear what delights me and/or scares me. I also use language itself to create a sense of place. For instance, I use Spanish words—Salvadoran infused words—to convey a specific reality in my poems and to make readers who are not familiar with Spanish, or with Salvadoran slang, reach with their imaginations and curiosity into the reality I am portraying.

What stories inspired you as a young reader?

I grew up in El Salvador, my parents were both teachers, and they went out of their way to have child-centered books at home. When I was in the fourth grade my mom signed me up for a book club. This meant that every month I received a new book. This is how I read almost all the adventures penned by Jules Verne. I was also huge fan of the comic The Adventures of Tin Tin. I loved adventure stories and stories that transported me to lands and countries with realities and histories vastly different from my own.

If your book was turned into a movie/series, who would you cast?

My book of poems is set both in El Salvador during the civil war and in the US (Los Angeles and Oakland, CA). A child actor would have to play out the action in El Salvador and an adult actress the parts of myself as an adult living in California—maybe Gina Torres?

"Whatever degree of fluency we might have in a second language is cause for joy and celebration because languages convey both meaning and culture." 

What advice would you give to young writers?

I would say write, write, write. And read, read, read. You cannot be a writer if you do not read! Go to readings at the public library or local bookstore, so much can be learned about story structure or the way a poem unfolds when an author reads from their own work. Take a writing class at a local community college. You’ll learn so much and be in the company of other writers building community.

How did you feel the first time your work was published? How was your publishing journey?

I dreamt for so long to have a book published that when it happened the first time it felt like a dream. It was a powerful moment to see my wish realized. I started writing decades before my first publication. Back then I wrote poems secretly and wished with all my heart to one day be a published author. I think I would have become a writer sooner (my first book was published in my forties) if I had seen or known of a writer who had a similar story to mine—if that writer had been a Central American immigrant writing in English. That would have been a game changer for me. That person would have become a role model for me and fueled my desire to write. 

"Reading is transportive—we travel elsewhere when we read, to other landscapes, to other bodies, to other imaginations!"

What are some challenges you encounter when writing?

Finding quiet time to write is my biggest challenge. I am the mother of 3 and work teaching writing. I relish January after the holidays and the summer months when my teaching load is at minimum—that is when I can string a few days to find solitude and write undisturbed.

What was your experience like getting your book translated into Spanish or English?

Mis libros todavía no han sido traducidos al Español—pero sigo buscando a alguien que los traduzca.

How do you think libraries make our world a better place?

I would say libraries are the best places in the world bar none. Growing up in El Salvador there were no public libraries—a reality that remains for many children in El Salvador. Once in the US, I became an avid library user. Libraries have always been safe and welcoming spaces for me. They offer so many riches, not only with the plethora of book titles, but music, films, and all kinds of adult and children programming! I love libraries because they are community hubs. They promote literacy and love of the written word inspiring us to be more empathetic and more involved citizens.

What are you working on now?

I have several projects that I’m working on! I am finalizing a memoir about my family’s experience escaping the civil war in El Salvador and starting the work on a new book of poems centered on agricultural workers. Above all I am celebrating the publication of Cipota Under the Moon and rejoicing the publication of the second edition of my previous book, One River, A Thousand Voices, which is an accordion book about the Columbia River!

Books by Claudia Castro Luna

Cipota Under the Moon: Poems
Castro Luna, Claudia

Claudia Castro Luna at L.A. Libros Fest

Sep 24, 11:30am
Cipota Under the Moon Book Talk / Conversación con la poeta salvadoreña Claudia Castro Luna