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From high school dropout to award winning novelist: Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s journey through identity

Earlier this month, the Loyola Writers at Work series hosted award-winning writer, Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Fajardo-Anstine is an American novelist and short-story writer from Denver. She studied English literature and Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State University and received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Wyoming.  Her award-winning short story collection, “Sabrina & Corina: Stories,” was published in October 2019. She is known for incorporating her Indigenous Latina background into her characters and stories.  

Fajardo-Anstine began her talk with a read aloud of “Sugar Babies,” a section of “Sabrina & Corina,” and then gave the audience a background of her childhood. She is one of seven children coming from a Spanish, Filipino, Jewish, and mixed-race family. Growing up, Fajardo-Anstine would often be questioned about her ethnicity. Fajardo-Anstine recalled thinking, “I don’t really know how to answer that question.” People would tell her mother, “Your children are so unique looking. What are they?” 

She found solace in reading and would even ditch high school classes to read in the park. All young Fajardo-Anstine longed for was to feel safe, in control, and powerful. The lack of character diversity in literature bothered Fajardo a lot. She decided she wanted to become a writer in high school so she could tell the stories of her ancestors.

A pivotal moment in Fajardo-Anstine’s writing career was when she decided that she “wanted to become a novelist and [she] wanted to become a writer.” She set out to document and tell the stories of people who shared experiences and culture with her. 

Life took a different course for her though. Her best, last option was dropping out of high school after failing so many classes. While, on the outside, dropping out of high school might seem like her dreams were crushed, this last resort led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English literature and Chicano studies at the Metropolitan State University.  

Through her Chicano studies major, she got a glimpse of literature that represented part of her heritage. The characters in the stories she would read for class, “weren’t as mixed as I was,” Fajardo-Anstine said. But, “there were stories of people working in the fields like my ancestors had. There were stories of people migrating and walking and moving.  And there were stories of a lot of the oppression that people from my background had experienced.” 

In the question-and-answer session of the event, an audience member asked Fajardo-Anstine if her indigenous background influenced the themes of violence against women in “Sabrina and Corina.”  

The murdered missing Indigenous women are, “something that has affected my family personally, and there’s been a lot of violence against women in my family for generations. It’s not just, you know, not just my immediate generation or my mom’s generation; it’s there. It goes back for a very long time. And when I was a little girl, and I was growing up I would hear stories from my great grandma. And from my great aunties, and they would talk about the women in my family, who had been attacked or shot or blinded all kinds of terrible things that have happened to them. And even in my own community when I was growing up in Denver, those same kinds of things were happening to women and girls,” Fajardo-Anstine answered. 

She asked why no one was talking about the violence, why there was no news coverage, and why people weren’t looking for the missing women.  

“[I remember feeling] frustrated and upset and angry and sad that these kinds of cycles of violence are perpetuating our communities. And so, unfortunately, there’s a lot of influence from my own family and my own community in the kinds of violence you see against women in ‘Sabrina & Corina.’ And if you haven’t read the story, ‘Sisters,’ that story is set in the 1950s. And one of the reasons why it’s right after ‘Sabrina & Corina’ in the book’s order is because I want readers to understand that this is not a one generational issue. This is a cyclical thing that is facing women for generations upon generations.” Fajardo-Anstine said.

Fajardo-Anstine hopes that bringing awareness to the violence Indigenous women face can “change the way that we raise our children. And we don’t perpetuate more violence in the world.”  

Featured Image courtesy of Tom Hermans via Unsplash

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From high school dropout to award winning novelist: Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s journey through identity