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Author Spotlight: Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Publisher: FlowerSong Press

Release Date: May 2024 

How did you get into writing? Can you pinpoint a memory where it all began for you?


When I was about five, I wrote a picture book called Pig Girl. I illustrated it too. It’s about a girl who turns into a pig because she’s so messy; it was a gift to my mother who often said I didn’t clean my room enough. Definitely probably passive aggressive. Still, it was the messy, loving work of a 5-year-old. My mother was actually delighted and said “Write more books, Jennifer!” I remember the feeling that maybe I could write another book after she expressed such excitement at my writing. I was always thinking of stories and poems ever since I can remember. Even in preschool I didn’t have the language for stories but I was dreaming them up with toys and my imagination. I’d go around as a kid cajoling my brother to act in plays I’d written. My mother would also read poems to me and I’d write my own response poems. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller, a poet and a writer.


What was the impetus for this body of work?


Kinds of Grace started after I finished my first book, a cross-genre poetry & prose collection called SCAR ON/SCAR OFF, which was published back in 2017. Shortly afterward, I wrote a poem called “Apagón” about Hurricane Maria after just coming back from PR and finding out about the blackout, and a few other poems about loss. I put the poems aside, not ready for another collection and I wasn’t aware of a throughline yet. After I experienced a mental break in 2020, I had to dig my way out of recovery and I chronicled some of that journey in poetry. I also wrote about love, pain, Puerto Rico, being a Black woman in America, living in Fort Pierce, moving to Houston, finding personhood. I realized I had enough poems for a collection in the summer of 2022 and I sent the book out a year later after going through several revisions and deciding I wanted to publish it. I was so happy FlowerSong, and Edward Viduarre saw my heart. But it started with “Apagón” before I knew there would be a collection coming together.


How did writing this book transform you?


I learned how to forgive myself, give myself grace, come into community with those similar to and dissimilar to me. I wasn’t the same person as I was beginning the book, I was wholly changed. After it was done, I felt as if I inhabited myself more, understood myself a bit more, understood those I loved around me more.

Did another artform influence this work? Painting, music, dancing, etc.


Live music definitely informed this book. I would go to coffee shops in Houston and work on Kinds of Grace while listening to Spanish music. I definitely wanted the piece to have a certain musicality so listening to live music helped. I love dancing so I spent a great deal of time in my office, dancing out the jitters.

You can often tell a lot about a book by how it begins and how it ends. What is the first line and last line of your book?


The first line of the book is “I swallow the past, steadying myself against the back of a young birch tree” and the last line is But I know no matter what,/The next moment comes.” I think these speak to each other. The first poem “The Past” is about letting go of that which binds you, of those who you loved and are no longer in your life, of the self you used to be. After the journey the speaker(s) undergo throughout this book with mental health, self and loss, the conclusion is that there is comfort in knowing that we won’t remain in any fixed state, the next moment will always come. There is always hope.


William Carlos Williams is synonymous with plums. If you had to choose one fruit and one animal/plant/celestial body that would forever remind people of you, what would you choose and why?


An apple. I have an attachment to them. They’re something soothing about the shape and texture. I also love the color red so Red Delicious are my jam. I had an apple tree outside of my house when I was a child and I would pluck apples and think of the individual fruits as memories. If I took a bite, I’d indulge in a memory. Plus, I practically gorge on apples. So definitely an apple.  


What are you currently reading?


I have my TBR ready to go for the spring. I bought Annell Lopez’s I’ll Give You a Reason, Jose Hernandez Diaz’s Bad Mexican, Bad American, Marcos Carlos Griffin’s American Daughter, Phillip B. Williams' Ours, Michael B. Wang’s Lost in the Long March, Gabriel Bump’s The New Naturals, January O’Neill’s Glitter Road, Luis Alberto Urrea’s Piedra, Dustin Pearson’s A Season in Hell with Rimbaud and Jen Fawkes’s Tales the Devil Told Me.


Jennifer Maritza McCauley is the author of SCAR ON/SCAR OFF, When Trying to Return Home and Kinds of Grace. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kimbilio and CantoMundo and her work has been a New York Times Editors’ Choice, Best Fiction Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and a Must-Read by Elle, Latinx in Publishing, Ms. Magazine and Southern Review of Books. She is fiction editor at Pleiades and an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.


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