5 Questions for Xochitl Gonzalez

A photograph of Xochitl Gonzalez juxtaposed with the cover to her book Olga Dies Dreaming

In Olga Dies Dreaming (2022), Xochitl Gonzalez’s best-selling debut novel, Hurricane Maria reunites a long-absent mother with her two adult children, a New York City wedding planner and her brother, a congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx Brooklyn neighborhood.

Q

Gentrification is a key concern in Olga Dies Dreaming, as it is in two other excellent NYC-placed books I’ve recently read, Cleyvis Natera’s Neruda on the Park and Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching. Can you suggest other literature that shares this theme?

A

Cleyvis’s book is amazing! Yes, of course—for a classic, there’s no better book than The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem. As for something new, Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, by James Hannaham, where gentrification is not the primary focus but is a major component of the story.

Q

There’s a great playlist running throughout Olga Dies Dreaming. I began writing musical notes in the margins, beginning on page 17, when Olga plays Syreeta’s “Keep Him Like He Is” on a bar’s jukebox. What’s on your playlist right now?

A

I’m alternating between two at the moment as I’m working on my next novel. There’s one inspiring a late-’70s/early-’80s timeline: “Fever” by La Lupe, “Santa Bárbara” by Celina & Reutilio, “Graceland” by Paul Simon, “Rapture” by Blondie, “Red Red Wine” by UB40, to name a few. And then a more extensive ’90s playlist: songs like “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction, “Charlie Don’t Surf” by the Clash, “Age of Consent” by New Order, “Body Rock” by Mos Def feat. Q-tip, “Still Not a Player” by Big Pun feat. Joe, “Bring It All to Me” by Blaque feat. NSYNC, “Yemaya” by Celia Cruz, “Hyperballad” by Björk, “Peligroso Amor” by Brenda K. Starr, “Dile a ella” by Victor Manuelle, “Amor Prohibido” by Selena, “Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah, and “Father of Mine” by Everclear.

Q

You live in Brooklyn. Can you share a few favorite spots?

A

Yes! I have a few spots in my neighborhood of Clinton Hill that I’ve shared before: the bodega around my corner, Food Center Grocery; the Mexican coffee shop on Franklin, For All Things Good; Blick Art Materials on Myrtle Ave; the vintage store Su’juk; the Pratt Sculpture Garden; Gardel’s Garden; the houses on Irving Place; the local bar Baby Jane; my favorite restaurant, Dino; and the crystal store 21 Tara.

Q

I saw @marckeepper tweeting that your book, along with Lizzo’s new album and strawberries, were “simple delights . . . in the midst of so much horrible news.” What simple delights are getting you through these days?

I really just love being with my dog outside. Also having time to do leisurely things with my friends. Un verano sin ti, by Bad Bunny, is such a simple delight these days too. And really, not posting much about my actual day-to-day life on social media reminds me about what’s real life and what’s not.

Q

What is your next project?

A

I am currently working on my second novel, which is a fictionalized retelling based on the life, death, and afterdeath of a Latina artist from the 1980s. It’s braided with a campus novel that explores themes about erasure, belonging, power dynamics, artistic relationships, and creativity.

Xochitl Gonzalez has an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Prize in Fiction. She was the winner of the 2019 Disquiet Literary Prize, and her work has been published on Bustle, Vogue, and The Cut. She is a contributor to The Atlantic, where her weekly newsletter, “Brooklyn, Everywhere,” explores gentrification of people and places.

 

 

Michelle Johnson is WLT's managing and culture editor.

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