Here’s a small-world story: the first time Professor Cathy Day met new faculty member Dr. Lupe Linares, she asked, “So, where are you from?”
“Oh, this little town near Gettysburg you’ve probably never heard of.”
Prof. Day said, “I lived for a few years in this tiny town called Gardners, Pennsylvania.”
There was a pause. “That’s where I’m from,” Dr. Linares said.
They consulted Google Maps and realized they’d once lived a mile from each other.
Linares received her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2013. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century U.S. fiction with a focus in Chicana/o literature.
We asked Linares a few questions about her teaching and her writing projects.
How did you get interested in Chicana/o literature?
I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing until my second year of graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Though I am Chicana and though I’d read some of the big ones (Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, and excerpts from Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera) early on, I didn’t realize the breadth of the field until I took a class on Chicana Literature and Theory the spring semester of my second year in graduate school.
Before then, I wanted to study African American literature because that had been the only place where I saw stories and experiences that resembled something like my own reflected in literature.
I grew up in south central Pennsylvania, but neither of my parents were native Pennsylvanians. My mom was from Georgia, and my dad is from Mexico. Growing up in a mixed Mexican/ southern household is pretty weird in itself, but doing it in the north was even more bizarre. I had a lot of wild stuff happen during those formative years—including being put into an ESL class in the first grade even though I could only speak English.
When I read African American literature for the first time, I felt a kinship with those authors because I also knew what it felt like to be silenced and discounted. I also knew, of course, that their experiences weren’t the same as mine and that it was a totally different thing to be African American than it was to be Mexican American.
But, as one of my favorite theorists, Edén Torres, articulates much more eloquently than I can, my exposure to African American literature allowed “my wounds [to become] visible for the first time” and helped me realize that “I was neither crazy or alone.”
I came to African American literature much sooner than Chicana/o literature for a lot of reasons, one of which is where I got my undergraduate degree. I attended Marlboro College, a tiny liberal arts college in southern Vermont. Marlboro is a special place because it allows students a lot of agency in their studies. By junior year or sooner, students there work with faculty members to design focused, one-on-one tutorials in their areas.
For example, I read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in a class the second semester of my sophomore year. By my senior year, I knew that I wanted to write about Faulkner in my thesis, so I worked with a faculty member to design a tutorial on his work, and in that tutorial, I read nearly all of his novels in one semester. I was interested in Faulkner primarily because of how he talked about race, and it didn’t escape me that there were much more qualified people to speak on the subject. I’d also read plenty of their books during my time at Marlboro.
When I entered grad school, I decided to focus my studies on African American voices, and I did that for my first year. Then I discovered Chicana/o literature. I felt empowered but also angry that this was the first I knew about the field. I’ve tried to channel that anger productively into my research, which often works.
In short, I became both interested and invested in my research when I discovered that it was possible for people from my culture and my socio-economic background to have a voice in academia, and I’ve stuck with it because I don’t want mine to be silenced again.
How would you describe yourself as a teacher? What are you most proud of as a teacher?
I like to think I’m a laid back teacher. I’m not a huge perfectionist, so that helps. In all of my classes, I try to create a comfortable atmosphere that invites everyone in the room to see each other as complex people who have a lot of different interests. I want my students to feel like they can test out ideas and not worry that they’re going to be judged if they aren’t perfectly articulated. I like to see people take risks, and I know that won’t happen if they’re afraid.
I am pretty proud of the rapport I have with my students, but my proudest moments as a teacher usually happen privately—like when a student who has been struggling with an assignment nails it in the final draft or when someone e-mails me over the summer to ask for a book recommendation. I hope that answer doesn’t sound like I’m trying to perform selflessness because I’m not. It’s all narcissism. Like everyone else, I just like to feel like I matter, so my proudest moments happen whenever I know that it matters that I was part of someone’s life.
What are you working on right now?
In terms of my scholarship, I’m working on an article about the acquisition of literacy in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye and Américo Parades’s George Washington Gómez. While learning to read is normally written about as a way to gain power, both of these novels address the violence that learning to read does to children of color during the first half of the twentieth century. I’m in the early stages of this project, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.
Creatively, I’m working on a collection of flash non-fiction tentatively titled The Feeling Wheel. One piece from it, “What My Couch Smells Like,” appears in the latest issue of NANO Fiction.