The first event of the 2015-16 USpeak Flash Fiction & Poetry Performance Series took place on Monday evening at Books & Books in downtown Coral Gables. The event was hosted by the University of Miami Creative Writing Program and the student-run Mangrove literary journal.
The featured guest of Monday’s open mic reading was new creative writing faculty member and UM alumna Chantel Acevedo. Acevedo has previously taught at Auburn University in Alabama, where she founded the university’s creative writing program. She is currently an Associate Professor of English in the MFA Creative Writing Program and is teaching two undergraduate creative writing workshops this semester. Acevedo has authored four novels, “Love and Ghost Letters,” “Song of the Red Cloak,” “A Falling Star,” and “The Distant Marvels.” She is the recipient of the Latino International Book Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award National Bronze Medal. Her other work has appeared in literary publications such as the American Poetry Review, North American Review and the Chattahoochee Review and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for small press publications.
Acevedo started off with an excerpt from her most recent novel, “The Distant Marvels,” which was reviewed earlier this summer by the New York Times and NPR. The vignette Acevedo read featured a woman telling stories of her family to others who were taking shelter with her during a hurricane.
“Since we couldn’t get a huracan in real life,” Acevedo joked, “We’ll get one in here.”
Her writing touched upon Cuban history, class and family heritage, and was laced with a bit of humor.
Acevedo also read four poems from her upcoming chapbook, “En Otro Oz.” The collection’s title, which translates to “Another Oz” in English, refers to the comparison Acevedo makes between Cuba and Dorothy Gale’s journey through Oz.
“It’s the Wizard of Oz, but not L. Frank Baum’s Oz,” Acevedo explained. “I thought about what happens to Dorothy when she goes to Oz, and it’s so pretty, so pretty until that witch shows up, and suddenly it’s a very dark story. So I thought about that, how Cuba also has its layers of beauty – this Technicolor notion of looking at Cuba – and its layers of darkness, and I sort of fused the two.”
In addition to Acevedo, several students shared their poetry, flash fiction and experimental pieces: senior Adrian Alonso read a series of his most esoteric tweets from his Twitter account.
The next USpeak event will be on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Students are welcome to read their pieces at USpeak events; no prior sign-up is required.
Correction, 12:05 p.m., Sept. 3, 2015: A previous version of this article stated that Acevedo’s upcoming chapbook was called “Un Otra Oz,” which was incorrect. The correct name of the upcoming chapbook is “En Otro Oz.”