Talking with author Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her debut novel is Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Rojas Contreras' essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, Guernica and Huffington Post, and she has received numerous fellowships and awards. She is also the book columnist for KQED Arts, the Bay Area's NPR affiliate. She'll be at the Portland Book Festival on November 10. We asked her a few questions in anticipation of the festival.

Your book Fruit of the Drunken Tree is about the experiences of two sisters growing up in a gated community in Bogotá, contrasted with the experiences of their live-in maid, a child who grew up in the slums. Why tell the story from the perspective of children?

Children have a naked way of understanding the world. When thinking of the universe of devastating things Colombians have to contend with—war, abuse, betrayal—I was interested in knowing what a naked understanding of those things could be. Is it possible for some Colombians to be mostly unaffected by the civil conflict because they are protected by their class, while others will experience the full brunt of violence also because of their class? That was the reality of Colombia in the 90s, and I wanted to write about what this reality was like for girls. 

One of the perks of being a librarian is recommending books, but sometimes we'd like to be on the receiving end. What's the one book you'd like to suggest for us and why?

How about three? Rita Bullwinkel's Belly Up because it gave me so much joy, Samantha Hunt's The Dark Dark because it reminded me that at any moment we may meet the delicious surreality riding beneath the surface of our lives, and If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim because it's an immigrant saga that packs a lot of heart.

What books are on your nightstand?   

I am reading Freeman's Power issue, and Elaine Castillo's America is Not the HeartBoth are indelible companions to me right now. 

What’s the most exciting part of the work you do?   

The most exciting part is an empty room, an endless supply of matcha, my blue bathrobe, my fingers on the keyboard, the blank page. 

What are you most looking forward to at the Portland Book Festival?

I am really looking forward to This is America: Race and Family. It has a knockout line up with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nicole Chung and Luis Alberto Urrea. I am very excited to hear them speak. Also Lidia Yuknavitch (!) who is speaking with Aminder Dhaliwal, Ling Ma and Leni Zumas on the subject of women at the end of the world.

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