Behind the Stars, More
Stars: The Tagus/Disquiet Collection of New Luso-American Writing is an essential
new collection of contemporary American writers of Lusophone-country descent
edited by Christopher Larkosh, Associate Professor at the University of
Massachusetts Dartmouth and Oona Patrick of the Disquiet International Literary
Program in Lisbon. Tagus Press describes their new publication as presenting
"experimental and boundary-breaking prose especially from women, people of
color, and LGBTQ writers," and imagining "a more diverse and inclusive
Luso-American and Portuguese-American literary scene, which has traditionally
been dominated by male voices." The writers were all participants of the
"Writing the Luso Experience" workshops at the Disquiet International
Literary Program in Lisbon, which is going into its ninth year. Behind the
Stars, More Stars includes Disquiet faculty Katherine Vaz and Frank X.
Gaspar, alongside writers from the workshops such as Traci Brimhall, Jarita
Davis, Hugo Dos Santos, and previously unpublished women writers.
Elaine Avila, Disquiet
Faculty/Fulbright Scholar to Portugal (2019), interviews editors Oona Patrick
and Christopher Larkosh, to celebrate the publication of this formally
experimental, exuberantly funny, exaltedly detailed, delightfully
contradictory, gut wrenching and poignant anthology.
love this anthology is that it exemplifies your vision for the Portuguese in
the Americas Series at Tagus Press. Can you tell PAJ readers about the new
directions you are taking?
Thanks for saying so, Elaine.
When I began my two-year stint at Director of Tagus Press in 2015 I was in
Lisbon at Disquiet with then-Managing Editor Mário Pereira. In our discussions
with Oona and program participants, our interactions only underscored what we
had had in mind for some time: to place more emphasis on those narratives that
hadn’t yet been told or explored in as much depth as others. Our most recent
publications, most notably the 2016 collection of poetry titled Return
Flights, by the Cape Verdean-American writer and Disquiet alumna Jarita
Davis, is a reflection of this shared desire to open up the discussion of who
we are as a community to a wider range of perspectives.
These perspectives, however,
are not limited merely to those shaped by race and racialization, ethnicity,
gender identity and sexuality. Equally important are those understandings of
identity that depart from more critical interpretations of the experience of
life under the Salazar dictatorship and its intrinsic components of colonial
rule, emigration and political exile. The Portuguese-American diaspora, as well
as other "Lusodiasporic" communities as I call them, are irreversibly shaped by
these historical processes, so I guess I simply wanted what we publish and
offer for a more inclusive discussion In the community to reflect that.
Hopefully with this heightened historical consciousness as an intrinsic part of
our cultural identity, we might even be able to challenge and counter more
effectively those authoritarian rumblings we might notice in our everyday
culture and political life on this side of the Atlantic as well.
You mention that perhaps the
great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector’s "literary and existential
sensibility has been the most inseparable" from your own. Please tell us more.
Thank you for picking up on
this and asking me about it. When I began this journey into transnational
Lusophone studies, the first work I ever read in Portuguese was the novel A
maça no escuro by Clarice Lispector. It was the summer of 1984; I can
remember sitting on a bench on the edge of Oak Bluffs Harbor with this book in
my hand as the ferryboats sailed in and out on their way to and from Woods
Hole, Falmouth and Hyannis. At the time the migration of Brazilians to Martha’s
Vineyard had not yet begun in earnest, but in a few short years the Island
would once again have a year-round population of Portuguese speakers, albeit
from a different place that most of my childhood classmates and neighbors; i.
e., the Azorean island of Faial. It is this openness to a broader understanding
of identification with the Portuguese language that I wish to share with my
students of Portuguese, and I always find myself overjoyed when one of my
Portuguese-American students finds a new favorite author among the wide range
of Brazilian authors I assign in both undergraduate and graduate seminars.
As for me, what I appreciate
most in Clarice’s work in particular is her connection with a broad expanse of
space and time while still aware of the challenges of describing even the most limited of physical spaces or a single moment in one’s own subjective emotional
experience, a challenge both impossible and necessary at the same time. I am
about to teach her novel A paixão Segundo G.H. again to my advanced
students next week; the ways it continues to spur discussions among all my
students about the limits of one’s literary world, not to mention the fleeting
nature of existential certainty, is one that I always look forward to, even 28
years after the first time I taught it as a graduate student at Berkeley back
in the spring of 1991.
How has your relationship to
the Portuguese-American community in America influenced this anthology?
My relationship to the
Portuguese-American community in my home region is a multifaceted one, as well
as one that naturally continues to shift and change over time. When I was a
child, it meant my relationship with the people in my hometown, my classmates
at school, or that with my afterschool piano teacher Mrs. Coutinho who lived
next door to what was then the public library in my hometown. It meant the
Portuguese Feast held at the Holy Ghost Society grounds down the street from my
house, or my mother’s friends and colleagues at Tisbury School, the recipes for
Portuguese soup and sweet bread they shared with her, the same ones that I
continue to share with others to this day. When we tell these stories of those
we knew and cared about, we recognize how much there is to share.
Of course there was also the
occasional television show on WTEV Channel 6 that chronicled the lives and
experiences of the much larger Portuguese diaspora communities on the mainland,
but aside from the occasional appearance of a Portuguese-American television
actress like Karen Valentine on the show Room 222, or the hits of the New Bedford-based
Cape Verdean musical group Tavares as they became part of mainstream popular
culture, we still lived a relatively insular cultural existence when it came to
the role of Portuguese-American culture in everyday life. I grew up in this
community, and always considered myself a part of it as so many others did,
regardless of ethnicity. In college and graduate school, my interests may have
broadened to the Portuguese language alongside other world languages and
literatures, as well as literary and cultural theory, but it was my continuing
interest in Portuguese-American literature and culture that would eventually be
what brought me back to southeastern Massachusetts after being hired to teach
at UMass Dartmouth in 2007.
Nowadays, that I find myself
once again settling in here, I might also mention grateful I am to have found a
new home in East Providence, Rhode Island, in a solidly Azorean-American
neighbourhood, something that, while a point of departure for many in our
academic field, is not always part of their everyday lived experience. I feel
lucky to live in a completely bilingual environment both at home and at work,
whether with my neighbors, at local businesses, or with my advanced students,
who also teach and play important roles in their local communities. This fully
bilingual environment of culture, education and community is one that I hope
all Portuguese-Americans will be able to enjoy as we continue current projects
of cultural agency such as those at Tagus Press and the Disquiet program.
Why did your trip to the
Azores, when you and Tagus Press received a grant from FLAD to take your PhD
students to the Azores, become vital to Behind the Stars, More Stars?
You mention you went to São Miguel (including the University of the Azores),
Faial and Pico….
Spending time with graduate
and undergraduate students is always an important part of my work, but it would
be difficult if not impossible to ignore the symbolic importance of the Azores
as a cultural point of origin for my Portuguese-American students and
colleagues, and maybe even for myself to some extent. I was especially moved by
my visit to the site of the Capelinhos volcanic eruption, a geological event
that ended up having much significant political and cultural consequences for
us here in southeastern New England, especially after the passing of the
Pastore-Kennedy Act, also known as the Azorean Refugee Act of 1958, which
allowed countless thousands of Azoreans and Portuguese to immigrate to the
region, changing its cultural landscape for years to come, including the one I
was born into and grew up in.
Having dinner in Horta at
the house of the cousin of one of my students was another unforgettable
experience, one that underscored the importance of food and hospitality to this
transatlantic culinary culture we share. Equally important, however, were the
readings from Portuguese-American literature that students completed before the
start of the trip, which allowed them to interpret the landscape and culture
from a distinct but no less valid diasporic perspective and which gave a more
nuanced frame of reference to our cultural discussions.
After this shared experience
of reconnecting to a broad set of cultural commonplaces, signs and symbols, it
was all the more gratifying to visit our counterparts at the University of the
Azores, where I gave a lecture on Portuguese-American literature assisted by my
doctoral student Maggie Felisberto before Prof. Vamberto Freitas and a room
full of Azorean students interested in Portuguese-American culture. The
administrators we met were pleasantly surprised that our students were unlike
most from the US, as ours were already fluent in Portuguese, with no need for
our hosts to speak English. Ultimately, promoting this kind of effective
cultural diplomacy, whether by way of greater functional bilingualism or
cultural literacy, as this
transnational cultural dialogue continues to evolve, is a commitment that I now
know these students are committed to carrying forward, be it as educators,
researchers, translators, and yes, published authors.
Do you find Azorean
literature has a different sensibility than the mainland? How does this play
out in Portuguese American literature?
Sometimes it does, but
traces of what some might consider insular mindset can be found in continental
authors, just as certain commonplaces from one corner of the Lusophone world
resurface elsewhere. So while some might make a case for Azorean literature
being separate and distinct from continental Portuguese literature, much as
many cultural critics may highlight the differences between, say,
Portuguese-American and Luso-Canadian cultural production, I am more interested
in how these different points of departure criss-cross, interact and dialogue
with one another, exploring the commonalities that allow us to imagine
ourselves in ever- greater community with one another.
You expand our understanding
of the diaspora by publishing Goan and Cabo Verdean, female and LGBTQ+ writers,
with this anthology and your work at the press. How did this become part of
Like so many of my
colleagues at UMass Dartmouth, we have always placed a high value on creating
an educational experience that is sensitive to the needs and academic interests
of a wide range of students, both inside and outside of the local
Portuguese-American community. My own PhD students have written on women in
Azorean literature and domestic violence towards women in Portuguese literature
and culture. My MA students have done excellent work on local Portuguese-American
culture, but also on Cape Verdean diasporic culture as well. I am fortunate to
have the unique opportunity to work in a department and program that prizes and
encourages recognition of the specific cultural milieu that makes our teaching
and research possible.
My research over the last
twenty-odd years has always been concerned with questions of transcultural
understandings of gender and sexuality, both in the Portuguese-speaking world,
particularly Brazil, but also in a wide range of other global cultural and
linguistic contexts, from Quebec to Argentina and from Central Europe to India
and the Far East. I want to encourage this kind of transcultural discussion and
research on gender and sexual diversity, both in local Portuguese-American
culture and in a broader transnational and Lusodiasporic framework.
Around the time I began work
in Portuguese at UMass Dartmouth, a new set of research opportunities had
already begun opening up for me that took all over the world, to places where
Portuguese culture came into contact with others. At the same time that I
returned to places like Portugal, Brazil and Macau, I had the chance to add new
experiences in Mozambique (2006), Cape Verde (2008), Goa (2009), Melaka (2010)
and finally the Azores for the first time on a quick stopover in 2011, right
before beginning FLAD-funded research on Goa in Lisbon and attending the
Disquiet program. So all of these experiences, while they may seem separate and
perhaps even irreconcilably different to others, still seem intertwined, and in
from one another to me, and
I can only hope that this collection of new writing will encourage others in
the community to draw these same connections, boht in their intellectual life,
their travels and intercultural contacts and in their everyday lived experience
of cultural and ethnic identity as something beautifully complex and always
subject to some measure of reconfiguration.
This anthology represents
the relationship you have forged between Tagus Press and Disquiet International
Literary Program in Lisbon. What excites you the most?
What excites me most in any
literary project I have been part of is encouraging new voices to emerge and
develop over time. What excites me the most long-term is awaiting new work by
both well-established and newer authors: Frank X. Gaspar’s latest book, due to
be out with Tagus sometime this year, for example, as well as other featured
authors who are currently debuting full-length literary works. I also remain
passionate about contributing to and sharing some of the latest academic
research on this community as reflected in its literature and culture,
esepecially that scholarship edited and published at UMass Dartmouth in the
latest issue of our academic journal due out this spring. As Lead Editor of
this issue, this is without a doubt another exciting development for me (PLCS
No 32, Luso-American Literatures and Cultures Today). For the time
being, however, especially as this volume of new Luso-American writing goes to
press, one sure to be a new point of contact and discussion with participants
and alumni of the Disquiet program, I feel I already have more than enough to
be excited about.
Interview with Oona Patrick
You’ve written essential
surveys of Portuguese literature, incisively about Lisbon, exquisitely about
Provincetown from the Portuguese point of view. Behind the Stars, More Stars
is yet another touchstone of this calibre. Why did you decide to edit this
anthology at this point in your career?
As Doris Lessing said, "Do
it now. The conditions are always impossible." Taking this on in 2015 when
Chris Larkosh (co-editor) approached me with the idea was like the leap into
beginning the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon in 2010- I
couldn’t pass it up. Having the support of Tagus Press behind the collection,
especially from executive editor Mario Pereira, made it all worthwhile.
At Disquiet, I love to
introduce writers to each other, and this collection is about making
introductions. It’s a small sample from only the first five years of the
program. We wanted to create a snapshot of a particular time, not an
all-encompassing anthology (hence the deliberate use of "collection" in the
subtitle). There are so many more writers I would have liked to include. I hope
emerging writers, especially, will see that there’s a place for them in this
crowd, even if they aren’t able to attend Disquiet.
There are many voices in
this collection we have not heard from before.
I don’t think I’ll ever
forget one moment during a joint event at FLAD held by Disquiet and the
University of Lisbon’s "Neither Here Nor There" conference in 2013. A group of
Lusa alums and participants, who’d been noticing how the conference program
referenced what felt like an overwhelming number of older male writers, huddled
in an aisle to talk. We collaborated on a question about this for the panel of
prominent Luso-American and Luso-Canadian writers scheduled to speak next. We
decided to ask them to address the "disparity between the make- up of the
majority of the emerging Luso-American writers coming through the Disquiet
program and the preponderance of white, hetero, male writers currently being
published, reviewed, and studied in the Luso-American literary world," and to
press them on whether they at least thought more women will be published in the
As a shy person who has to
prepare for about a week to do a three-minute introduction, asking that
question on behalf of our group was one of the scariest moments of my life. I
barely got through it, though honestly it was nothing compared to a
Provincetown Town Meeting. The question received flippant or incomplete
answers, and no one could seem to find any satisfying answer for why publishing
had been so skewed.
What happened next is what
shocked me: late the next morning, I heard that my question had dominated
discussion across nearly every workshop at our program. The problems of the
American world had
unexpectedly been taken up by a sample of the larger literary community. I’d
never seen that happen before, and I wondered if this had been what we needed
to do, to risk sharing these problems. Maybe this is what a place at the table
for Luso-Americans in the literary world would actually look like in the
future. I like to think that this book becoming a reality has made good on this
uncomfortable and disquieting moment. To my mind, Behind the Stars is
also for everybody who was there that year, to whom I just want to say obrigada.
As I say in the acknowledgments to the book, the vision of our alumni
organizers and activists was a huge part of the inspiration for the collection,
which is again only a small step toward a truly representative Luso-American
Do you mind sharing a bit
about the Luso Workshop for PAJ Readers who may not be familiar with it?
The Writing the Luso
Experience Workshop came about because Jeff Parker, co-founder and Director of
Disquiet, requested funding from the Luso-American Development Foundation
(FLAD) specifically for fellowships for Luso-American writers to form a
workshop of their own at the first Disquiet in 2011. These FLAD fellowships,
along with partial scholarships for runners-up, have helped make it possible
for many of our 80 Luso-descendant alumni (which includes those with ties to
any Lusophone country), to take part in Disquiet. So far the workshop has been
taught by two of the leading Portuguese American writers: Frank X. Gaspar and
Katherine Vaz. This year, which will be its ninth, it will be taught by Chris
Arnold, the Brazilian American author of The Third Bank of the River: Power
and Survival in the Twenty-First- Century Amazon, with a visit from Cape
Verdean American poet and Tagus author Jarita Davis. Both are Disquiet alums.
The Luso workshop was among
the first of its kind for North American writers with Lusophone-country
heritage. It’s also been special because it’s not part of an exclusively Luso-
American academic conference or event-there’s cross-pollination with writers,
editors, translators, and publishers from all backgrounds.
The majority of the non-Luso
participants at Disquiet are new to Portugal, and may not have had previous
interest in Lusophone literature, but we find that Lisbon works its magic fast
and has changed that for good for many of our 700 alumni.
How has inspiring an
emergent voice affected your own writing?
Meeting all those other
Luso-descendant writers at Disquiet broadened my perspective on Luso-American
communities like the one I grew up in. It gave me a big-picture view of what I
was writing about in my memoir of my hometown, a community that has undergone
painful changes recently-changes that threatened to pit one minority group
against another in conflict over the many meanings of a tiny place.
I’ve also been inspired by a
lot of activist spirits like yourself who’ve pushed me to do more with my
writing than I would have dared without this backing, especially when it comes
to writing about class and various kinds of discrimination. I still sit in on
the workshop at Disquiet whenever I can; it reconnects me to a kind of
collective Luso-American voice, and to voices beyond that definition. I know of
no other space like it and I have learned an incredible amount from everyone
who’s come through it.
What changes have you seen
since Disquiet began?
More people are pursuing
writing and not giving up, and this is crucial. The Luso workshop has gifted
many of us the colleagues we need to help us persevere in the long
haul-countering that pernicious myth that writers work only in isolation. Frank
X. Gaspar encouraged us to try to publish outside the niche we thought we were
confined to, which made us more ambitious, and Katherine Vaz has shown us the
importance of giving back via teaching and mentorship. By reaching across
borders in the Lusophone world, we’ve had extraordinary opportunities to
compare experiences, to sense the vastness of our history. We may continue writing
own small corners of this
world, but not without some understanding of the reach of the Portuguese
empire, and how horrific it could be.
I vividly remember Anthony
de Sa remarking at a talk that he hadn’t felt the support of his local Portuguese
community at all when he started out, and that’s something we have seen change.
The heartfelt community response to readings our alumni have put together
across North America makes me believe that there was already a hunger for our
work. We’ve had audiences of family and friends who’d never been to a literary
reading before, or who’d never heard someone read a story with them or their
community represented in it. These moments have made everything worth it.
You mention how your own
writing experiments with genre, form, and upends taboos, and how this has
influenced your sensibility as an editor.
Such experiments have often
had a strong association with underrepresented voices forging new tools to talk
about their lives and approach supressed topics. I love looking at the shape
of prose on the page, and this makes me seek out stories told via the
juxtaposition of fragments and incorporation of found forms. I can also enjoy a
good bout of alternative punctuation as found in Saramago; all of this, I think,
has origins in my love of poetry.
My childhood in
Provincetown, with its layers of communities interacting, influenced me deeply.
Our own community could be stifling, but we lived among so much joy and freedom
and activism that sensibilities mingled. Also, I didn’t grow up Catholic, because
of rebellions and drama in 1910s Provincetown, and I felt separate because of
that for a long time. All this is to give fair warning: readers should know
before they pick up this book that it is not intended for children or those
with a delicate sensibility. I joke that we’re going to get banned in New
Disquiet has begun a new
residency in the Azores. Do you find that Azorean literature is distinct?
The Azores are at the heart
of my experience of Portugal, both because that’s where my family roots are,
and because I believe what Vamberto Freitas (an essential Azorean literary
critic and scholar) pointed out to me: that you could see the Azores everywhere
in Provincetown. I’d grown up in a kind of antique mirror of island life in a
mostly Portuguese American town that was quite isolated for most of the year.
When I first saw the Azores, I felt like I finally understood Provincetown.
Azorean literature does seem
to have distinct concerns, which have special appeal to Americans (immigration,
rebellion, independence, insularity, discrimination). The islands are tied to
some of our greatest literature, Melville’s work, among others. They’re also
the site of America’s oldest continuously-operating consulate, because Portugal
was among the very first countries in the world to recognize the U.S. after the
American Revolution. Americans traveling to Portugal for the first time always
ask me if they should go to Lisbon or Porto-I tell them to stop in the Azores.
There’s something poignant
to me about a place that periodically comes on the world stage, usually because
of its strategic location, and then drops from view, so much so that until
recently many Americans didn’t know the archipelago’s name. Voices persisting
in an overlooked geography are so interesting to me. There’s also the
astounding natural beauty- though I know from Cape Cod that behind every
extreme or mythologized landscape there’s some tough living, too: start with
João de Melo’s novels if you want to learn more.
Do you have advice for people
advocating for their own literary communities? For those of us breaking
It begins with building
numbers and growing the internal connections, so that there’s a group
amplifying one another from many directions, not one person. At least from my
experience of Luso-American communities, this requires a shift from a very
natural focus on small, exclusive groups of close friends and family, or
so-called strong ties, to opening oneself to also having "loose ties" in
larger, more inclusive communities, including social media networks. It also
takes keeping in mind that other people’s successes do not detract from your
own-they can help an entire community: others have paved the way for all of us.
As for the courage to break
silence, there’s nothing like a look back at the past, at the Three Marias, for
example, or at the sound-proofed typewriter you told me about in Lisbon’s
Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom.
I picture the rooms where we
hold Disquiet workshops in Lisbon’s historic Centro Nacional de Cultura, where
the number 28 streetcar rumbles and screeches on the street below every fifteen
minutes or so, making it difficult to hear people speak. As most Disquieters
learn in their first few days, the artists and writers who met in those same
rooms before the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1974 famously took advantage
of these moments when the secret police couldn’t eavesdrop to switch from
innocuous artistic discussions to whispered plans for revolution.
When the tram passed during
the Luso workshop we’d pause and joke about conspiring too, in our own ways.
Poetry, prose, critique-Let’s change this world! Burn it all down! Pass it
on!– poetry, prose, critique. There’s an alternate story just out of
earshot that’s someday going to become louder.
For me, that rhythm is like
writing essays: you listen for the whispered story you’re telling yourself in
secret, inlaid in odd details and inexplicable metaphors and rooms you keep
That clandestine Lisbon
rhythm is something we carry home in our bones, a growing resonance.