Interview with Cuban Writer Teresa Bevin
Teresa Bevin is an educator, author and psychotherapist. Born in Cuba, she emigrated to the United Statesfollowing several interim years in Spain. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland and George Washington University. Ms. Bevin resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico and works with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence at Esperanza Shelter for Abused Families. She also offers private counseling. Additionally, Teresa is a popular translator and interpreter in the Santa Fe area.
In addition to teaching and writing, Teresa has counseled immigrant and refugee children and their families through the Children’s National Medical Center and the Washington, DC public schools; worked as a crisis intervention therapist; and continues to lecture and conduct seminars on the implications of cultural diversity for counselors and other public service personnel. Integral to her methods of counseling are play therapy, story telling and bibliotherapy, which have proven to be especially helpful when counseling children or adults with limited verbal skills.
Teresa’s most recent publication (April 2011) is her second novel, “Papaya Suite.” Her bilingual collection of short stories, Dreams and Other Ailments/Sueños y otros achaques was the recipient of several awards, including ForeWord Magazine Bronze Prize for Best Translation, and was a Finalist for Multicultural Fiction by the Independent Publisher Online. Her first publication, the novel Havana Split, is used as part of Latin American studies curriculum throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. Additionally, Teresa is a contributing author to a collective study of women and immigration, An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Women’s Studies, and has contributed to several textbooks for practitioners of psychotherapy.
Her bilingual children’s book, Tina Springs into Summer/Tina se lanza al verano, received the Writers Notes Magazine Book Notable Award for the Young Adult Literature Category and is listed in the Association of American Publishers Recommended Latino Books for Children.
T. Dovalpage: Where does your inspiration come from?
Teresa Bevin: My inspiration comes from all around me, anything that moves me or makes me pay attention. I draw from memories that don’t necessarily place me in the protagonist spot. I have traveled, met many people, and I think I am a good observer. I rarely write directly from what I have lived or witnessed. I tend to knit together threads of many colors and textures until the original scene is completely lost in the fabric of fiction.
T. Dovalpage: And there lies the art of the writer, in that complex weaving of fiction and reality that creates the fabric of books…. Talking about books, what particular kind do you enjoy reading?
Teresa Bevin: I enjoy biographies for the historical value, but my taste is wide. I don’t read mysteries or fantasy, but books that transport me to another place and time, and especially those that can teach me something. I love humor, quirky characters, journeys into human psychology, but I don’t enjoy philosophical angst.
T. Dovalpage: Well, your novels also transport the readers to another time and place…Reading both Havana Split and papaya Suite, I felt back in Cuba. Now, when did you begin writing? Why?
Teresa Bevin: I began writing long letters to keep my parents informed of my life inSpain. I heard that people came to my parents’ home in Cuba to have my letters read to them. When I heard this, I knew I had something. Then one day, an editor of textbooks for graduate students invited therapists (which I am) to contribute a chapter for a book that had to do with children of war. At that time I was working with children that had been traumatized by the war inEl Salvador. I accepted. This editor encouraged me to write more, because my chapter read like a story, not like a dry case study. And from there, I dared write more academic chapters and began to step into fiction. It seemed that anything I wrote was published with relative ease, so I just kept going. But most of all, I write for the joy of writing.
T. Dovalpage: The joy of writing has allowed you to create a pretty impressive collection of books. Before Papaya Suite, you wrote a novel in English, Havana Split, as well a bilingual novel Tina Springs into Summer/ Tina se lanza al verano and a bilingual collection of short stories, Dreams and Other Ailments / Sueños y otros achaques. Which one is your favorite language to express yourself in fiction writing? Why?
Teresa Bevin: I enjoy each language depending on the kind of story I’m writing. If I write about someone’s childhood or children’s themes, I prefer Spanish because that is my first language and the child in me expresses herself in Spanish. But when I write adult themes it seems that English flows best, with much less of my own censorship. Spanish is also best when I write about life inCuba or inSpain. What I generally do is to write in the language that best fits first, and later I translate if necessary.
T. Dovalpage: There is the whole translation issue. That is another interview in itself. And I understand the self-censoring mode—it is as if our mother were there saying “¡Eso no se dice!” (That should no be said!) in Spanish…Teresa, you wear a variety of hats (counselor, translator, writer, bilingual educator). Does your work as a counselor influence your writing? How?
Teresa Bevin: It is inevitable for me to be influenced in my writing by what I do. Since I have always worked directly with people, I have developed a sharp sense for hidden emotions and ways to cover them. I find the human mind fascinating, as well as the many behaviors that we engage in so that we are not “discovered” in our vulnerabilities. The different guises that we utilize to protect ourselves from being rejected, hurt, or perceived as “less than” are endless. So the material is endless as well.
T. Dovalpage: And your supply of hours every ay must be close to endless to do so many things at the same time. How do you manage your writing schedule?
Teresa Bevin: I don’t. It manages me. Many times I wish I could be writing when I am facilitating a group or completing a long translation. But then, when I put time aside to write and I place myself in the “zone,” I may stay there for days forgetting to eat and sleep.
T. Dovalpage: Ay! How can one forget about eating? That has never happened to me… Are you working on a new literary project?
Teresa Bevin: I’m always working on a project. I have two works in process at this time. One novel in English and a collection of short stories in Spanish. I can go from one to the other. I am still debating whether I will translate the short stories or leave them only in Spanish.
T. Dovalpage: If I am allowed to put my long nose where it doesn’t belong, I’ say translate them. We need more bilingual books! My Spanish-language students loved your collection Dreams and Other Ailments/Sueños y otros achaques. And what advice would you give to beginning writers?
Teresa Bevin: A writer is someone who writes. Get past the point of talking about doing it, and do it. Don’t wait for the inspiration. If you go ahead without it, the inspiration will catch up with you.
T. Dovalpage: Now that you mention inspiration, let’s talk a little about it. What was your inspiration to write Papaya Suite?
Teresa Bevin: My inspiration came from an amalgam of characters and some students I had in the past who confided in me when they knew their parents would not accept their homosexuality. I joined all this with my own journey from adolescence to adulthood in three different countries so as to not have to research the background since I knew it from experience. But the book is not autobiographical except for glimpses of the hitch-hiking adventures therein.
T. Dovalpage: Yet your description of Cuba and the scenes which take place there are so vivid that the reader feels transported to the island. Did you base much of the plot and characters in your own Cuban experience?
Teresa Bevin: I tend to create characters from parts of different characters until I can “see” someone real. Also I can think of someone I knew and then place that person in a new environment and imagine how he or she would have fit. I would recall someone from my life inCuba and transform that person into someone older, younger, of another race or gender, and so on. But I did transport myself to that time inCuba. I smelled the air, heard the sounds, and recalled my own feelings while there at the same age as the main character. I did the same for the chapters that take place inSpain.
T. Dovalpage: And it gives that texture of reality to the novel. Now, lesbian relationships are the main theme in your novel. In that sense, do you consider Papaya Suite “lesbian fiction”?
Teresa Bevin: I believe Papaya Suite can be considered as such, but I consider it a mixture of a romp, a travel log, and an adventure novel. I had a lot of fun writing it, and my hope is to transfer that sense of fun and adventure to the reader.
T. Dovalpage: You certainly did! Thank you so much, Teresa. Muchas gracias for this interview, and here is an excerpt of Papaya Suite. Enjoy!
An Excerpt from Chapter 1
Reluctant to leave the bay to the night’s caress, sunlight frolicked with sea ripples along the horizon, riding each playful crest one last time under a sky that changed from pink to orange to the depths of blue. Beyond the salty spray that splashed the seawall, cloud clusters set themselves ablaze to light the way out into theGulf of Mexico.
The view was marred by two ships silhouetted against the evening sky. The charcoal and red Soviet freighters and tankers that docked inHavanaHarborbrought with them an iridescent trail that slid over the surf and settled by the rocks at the foot of the seawall. There, dozens of small fish struggled against the scum until they gave up and floated on their sides. The toxic fumes clashed against the salty breeze over the city waterfront, echoing the merging between the frigid empire and theCaribbeanisland.
Havana, bringing in her wash of well-worn whites and faint ochres, prepared for another night of lovers’ whispers and soft music that rose above the grim reality of constant suspicion and vigilance. Years earlier, the smoke-filled piano bars had closed their doors to libidinous customers, and ritualistic Afro-Cuban batá drums had fallen silent by order of the new omnipotence. The dazzling neon signs had long become a memory, replaced by drab billboards covered with slogans that warned the enemy across theFlorida Strait against any plans of invasion.
Anyone who attempts to possess our nation, will only gather ashes amidst our blood-soaked soil!