Behind the Scenes: Gina Fuchs Talks About Elegy for My Grandmother’s Rice

Latinx Lit Interview Gina Fuchs_mixdown

SPEAKERS

Gina Fuchs, Teresa Douglas

Teresa Douglas  00:10

Welcome listeners to this week’s behind the scenes episode of Latinx. Lit audio mag. I’m your host Teresa Douglas, and today we’re going to be talking with Gina Fuchs, who is the author of Elegy For My Grandmother’s Rice. Gina is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park at Maryland. She received her BA in Communication Studies and a minor in creative writing with a concentration in poetry. Gina’s poetry has appeared in the University of Maryland’s literary magazine Stylus, Northern University’s literary magazine, Polaris, as well as the online publication Palette Poetry. Her writing primarily explores the function of memory in our lives, how memories shape relationships, experience, the ways we view our families, and of course, the ways in which we pass down stories. Gina is a Puerto Rican New Yorker, aka Nuyorican who is still working on her Spanish. She loves coffee, ribs and the color yellow. Welcome, Gina. 

Gina Fuchs  01:15

Hi, Teresa. I am so excited to chat today.

Teresa Douglas  01:20

Well, I’m glad to have you here. A question I’ve been asking people on this podcast is a food related question because truly, truly, as it shows in your piece, food is important. What is your favorite comfort food?

Gina Fuchs  01:35

That is a great question. I think I would have to say my favorite comfort food is ribs. Like barbecue spareribs. There’s just something to me really comforting about finger foods. And I have always loved ribs growing up. There’s just something so primal about sitting down and eating–

Teresa Douglas  01:58

Just biting to the bone!

Gina Fuchs  01:59

Yes! So yeah, I would say ribs.

Teresa Douglas  02:07

Lots of sauce? No sauce? We need we need all the details.

Gina Fuchs  02:10

I love sauce. I love a good like, very saucy rib. I like dry rub. But I think I prefer a saucy barbecue rib.

Teresa Douglas  02:21

Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s going to offend anybody in the South, where the ribs are almost a religion. But there you go. Shots fired. She says sauce people. It’s sauce.

Gina Fuchs  02:33

I’m given a dry rub, I’ll be very happy with the dry rub.

Teresa Douglas  02:38

There you go. So just very accepting of all rib methodologies. But really, it’s sauce, just so you know. So that is truly an important question. But we should probably talk about you since this is a behind the scenes about you. How long have you been writing?

Gina Fuchs  03:04

It is very funny that you ask this. I want to say like two weekends ago, I was home at my mom’s apartment. And my brother and I were going through boxes of old things. And I found some report cards that I had from elementary school. And I found this one from fourth grade which I don’t have in front of me. But my teacher had written like a note as part of I don’t know whatever you call it. But as part of her like review, at that point about how I had really taken an interest in poetry, which was just sweet to see. And it’s sort of the thing that I remember more than most things from elementary school, like I remember seeing fractions and being like, that’s never gonna stick. Yeah, that did not stick but we had a poetry unit in fourth grade and I was like, This is incredible and really became like attached to it then as a practice. Which of course at that age, it was like the writing was really bad, but I think she mentioned I was kind of good at rhyming.

Teresa Douglas  04:22

Hey, it’s important. to build that skill! Wow. It’s funny to hear when people come to it because of course, you can write and be successful no matter when you start, whether that’s 8 or 82. And it’s amazing to think of all the little triggers that get people interested in something. And for you, it was that teacher having a poetry unit and who even knew that was going to lead to you going to college and studying  this stuff, right?

Gina Fuchs  04:54

Yeah, it is really weird how things work and it’s funny because it’s just like the least taught thing in school. I feel like there’s like some times a week dedicated to poetry. 

Teresa Douglas  05:16

It’s a funny thing. You never know. I also got an MFA. And it was for fiction. But when I went, they had readings where you go, and you listen to people. And there were a lot of poets. And it just sort of struck me how economical and beautiful, even if it’s not always talking about beautiful subjects, how beautiful poetry is, and how just concentrated in its power it is to talk about anything you want to talk about.

Gina Fuchs  05:47

It’s so true. Yeah, I think that’s part of what like drew me to it. And to be honest, I can’t remember what we were reading when I was younger. But I think as I got older, it really was sort of, l mean, sometimes poetry is not brief, but in the places that it was brief, feeling so seen. Even in like pieces of work that weren’t specifically related to something that I’d gone through. I think as like a medium it has such a specific way of allowing readers to feel seen in moments that aren’t necessarily their own. That always super special.

Teresa Douglas  06:40

And it’s surprising. I am usually really bad about recalling names of authors that I’ve loved like I read something and two days later, it’s like “who was that person again?” but there was this particular poet that I read, it was Thomas Lux, and he was reading a piece about ice worms on an iceberg or something. It just kind of blew my mind that somebody would write it that. That just changed my idea of what’s possible in poetry, okay. And I can’t remember all the poem but I’m just like, wow, glaciers and worms, okay. But we should talk more about your work actually. So first off though, it sounds like poetry is definitely a first love. Do you stick with poetry exclusively? Do you write other things or is this just really where you you find your your heart leads you?

Gina Fuchs  07:41

I always come back to poetry. I think that’s the one medium that I can I’ll stick with, but I have taken some satire writing classes. So I do like like to dabble in comedy writing as a as a hobby.

Teresa Douglas  08:03

Yeah, it’s funny just a little while ago, I recorded an episode which will be out soon with somebody who teaches satire at The Second City and it it’s really fun just to see how your brain can work in different ways. And it’s almost like when you’re working out and you do weights one day and then you do some kind of cardio the next day it exercises different things and it’s fun when you can have something that makes you think in a different way. At least I think so.

Gina Fuchs  08:36

It’s so funny that you say that. I took my first Satire writing class at Second City so I’m really excited to listen to that episode. But it’s true. I feel like in my like poetry writing I have a hard time like making a joke but um I love satire.

Teresa Douglas  09:04

Yeah. Let’s let’s talk about your piece because it’s definitely not comedy or satire. We have this grief. We have memory. (If anyone’s hearing kind of rustling in the background, I’ve just pulled out my iPad so I can read through the piece.) When you’re talking about that rice it’s almost the safest thing to have grief over. And yet it’s not. I don’t know I’m not putting this right. But I The reason I love this piece. Let me get back to that. It’s because you’re already talking about about death and losing this perfect burnt rice caked into the soul of your pot and to me that is such a lovely visceral image. As someone who has burned the bottom of rice quite a few times and not actually meant to do that. I can almost feel that detail. Is that a detail that you came into this piece with? Maybe we can we can just have you walk us through how you started this piece? How you you came to the idea of it?

Gina Fuchs  10:27

Yeah. So I actually wrote this piece a few years ago, and have been just like, as one does workshopping it and workshopping it. And honestly, it’s quite a literal piece. And of course, I think all writers take some creative freedom. But most of this one is drawn from life. And I think with this specifically, I lost like, all of my grandparents at a really young age. And my grandmother, who this [poem] was sort of drawn from, my mom’s mom, was my third grandparent to pass away. I should have mentioned my grandmother’s Puerto Rican, my mother’s Puerto Rican. And so I think food was always a really big part of like, obviously going to my grandmother’s house, never denying eating her food. But I was like–it’s funny, and the thing I regret more than anything to this day–the world’s pickiest child. So like, of her rice and beans, and chicken and pork, and platanos I ate plain white. I was the one going over and eating and leaving her home with a huge plastic yellowing tubs of plain white rice.

Teresa Douglas  12:00

You know, we’re all like that. Nobody’s kids comes out and says, You know what, I need some more than habanero sauce.

Gina Fuchs  12:14

I mean, my little brother is like five years younger than me. And he was always just eating anything. It made me look so bad. They were always like, This food is really good. And I was like, No, but you guys don’t understand this plain white, it’s better. But I remember being, young and having the thought of, I don’t, I’m not going to have it. When my grandmother passes away, this is not going to be–my mom has tried to make the plain rice and I’ve had the option of white rice at a number of Puerto Rican restaurants. But it’s not the same. It’s like that hidden ingredient in what any grandmother cooks that they make it so you can’t recreate it. So I think that was sort of the moment for me, that was the catalyst of this piece. And she passed away when I was young. And I think the other thing that I was really reflecting on in this poem was the way that we memorialize people who we don’t remember very well. And I think, for me, that came up. I remember trying to remember her cooking, what I did eat of her cooking, and also just trying to hold on to that culture after she had passed, because my mother’s Puerto Rican, but my dad’s Irish, so there was definitely like a huge loss of culture after she passed away. And so I think that felt really complex for me, especially in that I was not eating all of the cuisine that I could have been eating.

Teresa Douglas  14:12

And it’s just there’s that point where you talk about a grandmother, as the receptacle of other people’s memories. And now by the end of the piece, you are the receptacle of those memories now, and whatever they are, if it’s that rice, if it’s the relationship, whatever it is. It’s an interesting and beautiful sort of embodiment, even though there’s grief in this poem. And also, I have to say, four bowls of rice for two people sounds like a normal amount of rice to me.

Gina Fuchs  14:53

But maybe not enough!

Teresa Douglas  14:55

Maybe not enough because you never know you could be extra hungry, especially if you’re not eating anything but the rice. So the other question I would have, because you talk about in your bio, that you’re you look at the way people pass down stories and memories, and this piece is very much about that. We don’t often get to tell the writer or excuse me, as writers tell their reader, here’s what I really hope that you take from this. And of course, they’ll take what they they take from it and we can’t stop that, and that’s good. But what would you like a listener of this piece to leave with?

Gina Fuchs  15:38

That’s an amazing question. I guess you’re kind of always wondering like, what they’ll take of your personal story. And like, how they’ll interpret that. But I think in terms of, like more broad message, I, I don’t know if I would want someone or if I would hope that someone walks away from this piece with like, any sort of answer, but maybe a question for themself. So like, my mom’s family was always very big. And it’s weird. Like, over the years, it’s kind of pared down to just like her sister and my cousins, and we lost our grandparents. And there’s also just so many people that I remember meeting as a child who I’m like, who were they? And where did they go? Where’s that man and his child? I had a great grandma who didn’t speak any English. And like, I don’t remember getting notice that she passed away. But I haven’t seen her in 10 years. I feel like there is also just familial trauma passed down. And that’s not something that we like to talk about as a family. And now someone, I guess, specifically my grandma passing away, and the way that we reflect on who she was, and what our entire familial unit is like, it’s very positive, even though it may not necessarily have been that way in reality. And so I guess I in growing up and continuing to write have been really curious about how I can delicately uncover what feels like more of a holistic truth about who my grandparents were, what my mom’s relationship to her mother was or like, without having such rose colored rose tinted glasses on.

Teresa Douglas  17:49

You are getting to a central question, because for those of us who have in living memory, or living familial memory, people who either have gone through traumatic events, or immigrated, which in itself can be a traumatic event, depending on when and where and how. There’s always the question of, how much truth do you give the next generation? How much can they bear? And what is your responsibility? As a person who’s supposed to transmit knowledge and family stories? What’s your responsibility for uncovering that trauma is, especially if it’s your trauma, because I wonder about this. I had a grandfather who passed 10 plus years ago, who never spoke really about his past. But because I had a school assignment in high school as a sophomore, to ask about his past, he gave it to me. And he ended up weeping while he was doing it. And even as a callow 13 year old, I decided that my teacher didn’t need that truth. And so I i shined it up a bit. I didn’t say anything untrue. But I removed his pain because he was a living person who had to deal with that. And I feel like that’s an interesting place to be in. To say, here, here’s what happened. But how much of it do I tell you? And how do I tell you? As storytellers, as people who, who try to find that truth, we’re even more responsible, in my mind for what we choose to do.

Gina Fuchs  19:53

Absolutely, and I feel like it’s I mean, as a 13 year old that’s such a big decision to me. And I think also just like such a, like a sweet for lack of a better word, decision on your part as a storyteller to navigate that in the way that felt the most dignifying.

Teresa Douglas  20:19

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what I would have done as an adult, but that’s what I did as a kid.

Gina Fuchs  20:24

Yeah, and I think to that point, it’s not necessarily like nice that you get to carry that weight. But I think without understanding our own histories, whether they’re like, literally our own personal histories or familial histories, we don’t really have the opportunity to work through what is possibly being like passed down to us. So to that point, it feels important to me for people to be able to feel seen. Wanting to understand maybe that greater story about their family when the pieces aren’t always there. I don’t know that I’ll ever get all of the pieces that I’m trying to remember or dig up or understand and unpack. I hope other people with a cultural gap that they’re trying to fill can feel more seen.

Teresa Douglas  22:03

Yeah. It’s an experience. They’re not alone. That’s why we tell our stories. We’re not alone. They’re not alone. We share that moment even if it’s something that you know is there but you don’t have the information for.

Gina Fuchs  22:24

Absolutely. But I’m also like, I love my grandma. I’m like, mom don’t listen!

Teresa Douglas  22:34

But that’s the thing though. It’s when you don’t want your family or anybody who knows you to hear stuff, you know you’ve hit something right? I’m just gonna not tell anybody. It’s all good. Didn’t happen didn’t happen. For anybody who is not related to you that wants to hear more of your work, how would those people get in touch with you? Do you have a website or social handles that people who would like to read more from you can can find out that information?

Gina Fuchs  23:13

I have a and Instagram and a Twitter that I’m pretty active on. The Instagram is just at Gina by Gina. And the Twitter is just Geno’s opinion 24 7

Teresa Douglas  23:29

I love that. Don’t flip out people. It’s just an opinion.Don’t flip out. So thank you Gina, this has been so much fun to have you on the show and to learn more about you and this piece. I’m just very happy that that you came by.

Gina Fuchs  23:50

Thank you so much for having me and I am excited to hear the other episodes. I’m a big fan of the podcast so I’m excited to hear more.

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