Emilly Prado is a writer, DJ, and educator living in Portland, Oregon. She is a first-and-a-half generation Chicana, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a first-generation Mexican American and a Mexican immigrant from Michoacán. Funeral for Flaca is her first book. You can find a playlist for her book at tinyurl.com/flaca-playlist.
Funeral for Flaca is a testimony of experience exploring subjects of identity, bodies, family, and love. I first became interested in reading Emilly’s essay collection when I put a call out on Twitter to find writers who were publishing books from small presses in 2021. When Emilly replied with a blurb about her book, I knew I wanted to read and support the book. Emilly’s book is an honest, gorgeous, and important collection of coming-of-age essays on identity, sexual assault, trauma, and healing.
I was delighted to talk with Emilly Prado over Zoom about writing, memory, the voice of experience and innocence, and trauma, among other subjects.
The Rumpus: I’d love to start by talking about the writing process for the book. How did you get started in writing the essays, and how did you know you had a book-length collection?
Emilly Prado: I didn’t set out with the intention to write a book, so I think that was really helpful. I first started by taking generative workshops. In those workshops, I was essentially writing little snippets, what I call seeds. Then I enrolled in a year-long prose certificate and bookmaking program in Portland through the Independent Publishing Resource Center. During that time, I knew we were going to be working toward an end product. Because we had so many materials available to us, I knew I had a chance to do something as big as I wanted to. I started flushing out the seeds into fuller essays. My instructor, Margaret Malone, thought they could become linked essays. Through that process, I was able to come up with a first draft, an iteration about half as long as the current book.
As well, during that time, it was very helpful to have people reading it who asked questions about the essays and pointed out things I was avoiding. I ended up making it into a chapbook. I pitched Powell’s Books to carry it in their Small Press section, which they were open to doing. Kevin Sampsell runs that department and is also the editor of Future Tense Books. I knew I wanted to pitch it as a full manuscript, but some publishers weren’t interested because it had been self-published, so that was a little bit of a barrier I wasn’t anticipating. Kevin put out a new call for submissions and I submitted the book and they were interested. The next half of the book was written in quarantine, during the pandemic, which gave me another chance to flesh out the topics I was afraid of delving into previously and also, because some time had passed, I ended up changing big portions of the existing essays. I created new landing points since the first iteration of Funeral for Flaca.
Rumpus: What I noticed and really appreciated about the book was the strong narrative voice and how it gained momentum throughout the progression of the essays. I could feel and witness the maturity and empowerment that evolved in the voice toward the end. You could really follow the linear movement of the narrative voice; I think it became a testament to your experience. Can you elaborate on the development of your voice in the writing process?
Prado: Part of what I wanted to do with the narrative voice was to get closest to the perspective of where I was at the particular age. I did that because I didn’t want the tone to be a reflection of how much I’ve learned all tied up with a neatly wrapped bow. I wanted some of the experiences to speak for themselves. To let the reader draw conclusions. I alluded to some things, but I wanted to hold off as much as I could on conclusions with each essay. I wanted the voice to progress so that the reading experience felt immersive. I hoped that feeling so close to the narrative voice, a reader could get a sense of what it felt like to be a part of the lived experience. I wrote the book for thirteen-year-old me, but I wanted to include the ways I spoke when I was younger because how I speak now is not as accessible to thirteen-year-old me. I think it’s really important to paint a breadth of my lived experience through my voice. My first language is Spanish, so I didn’t have the fluency in English until later. That’s why you see so much more Spanish in the earlier chapters because I was trying to be reflective of what is most authentic to the age I am now. Hopefully, the narrative voice comes through and is immersive for the reader.
Rumpus: How did you decide to structure the book with the song titles and the photos included? What was your intention with the book structured as a kind of “mixtape,” as you suggest in the intro?
Prado: The collection progresses chronologically as much as possible. When I was drafting the first iteration of the book, I had “Keep Your Head Up” as one of the titles. There was another essay that had a song title as a placeholder. I was having trouble with titles and was thinking that nothing sums up everything as much as that phrase: Keep your head up. It’s important to me and actually, I will write about tattooing it on my body in my next book. My mentor asked whether I could just interweave the titles of the songs as essay titles since music is an important part of the book. That was exciting to me because then I could think about the songs that were reflective about where I was in time and place.
The photographs were a suggestion from my editor. I was working with my sister in California. Some of them I knew I wanted. For example, a photograph of thirteen-year-old me. Also, the punk photo. The one that was most exciting was the photograph of my mom and my grandma. That was really cool to find because I thought we only had one picture of my mother because when my family immigrated, they didn’t have a lot of photos. That one feels special.
Rumpus: I love the addition of the collage and mixed media to a personal essay collection, as well as the playlist that goes along with the book. It adds to the reading experience.
Prado: The playlist tells its own story because you get a sense of what my musical sensibilities are. They range quite a bit.
Rumpus: What early experience can you reference in which you knew that language had power?
Prado: When I was thirteen, my sister gifted me my own diary. That was one of the most important moments for me. I had no idea that writing would be so important to me and even though I was in and out of therapy when I was younger, I never felt very comfortable with my therapist. My therapists were white and very old and didn’t share similar lived experience, but my diary is where I would turn to make sense of the world, vent, or feel like I had a space to speak uninterrupted—essentially, a space where I was being listened to. It was a space where I was processing. I fell out of writing in my journals in high school because I had an emotionally abusive partner who found the journal. It took me a long time to come back to journaling and find how important it was to me, but I did when I was twenty. I like how journaling gives me the freedom to write whatever I need to write. Before I identified as a writer and before I could think about crafting stories, journaling remained an important part of my writing to make space for clear thinking.
Rumpus: Can you speak a little bit about your experience with Bitch Media and whether that had an impact on the development of your voice and writing?
Prado: I took a journalism class in middle school and I didn’t have a great experience in that class. It’s something I still think about. I wrote about the life of Tupac Shakur and when it was published, I didn’t have a byline; it just said “paraphrased” because I had used similar language, though I had used my correct sources. Even in a space in which I knew that I was good at writing, it wasn’t being received, and it shut me out of writing for public audiences. I didn’t try to continue in high school or college. It wasn’t working out to enter journalism in an institutional setting. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I liked writing, and that’s when I had the internship at Bitch Media. It was super helpful in that it helped me transition from academic writing to writing for a public audience. It was a great bridge. I didn’t really identify as a feminist at the time, but it was a great learning opportunity. I still write for Bitch Media.
Rumpus: What challenges did you encounter in writing Funeral for Flaca?
Prado: I think one of the hardest things about writing about trauma is keeping yourself safe while doing so. I think that there was a lot of pressure for me to write toward and at the trauma. But I’ve also realized that essays about trauma aren’t really about trauma, but what happened before and after the trauma, and how they affected us. It’s hard to write about trauma. It’s hard to receive edits because sometimes it can feel personal. Again, I felt it was important to take a break when I received feedback so I could think about it. Because the topics are so personal, being able to zoom out as a writer is important to the crafting process. That’s your job as a writer. It’s a challenge to do that. You have to know there is an emotional tie there. It’s important also to be comfortable in pushing back against edits in writing about trauma. Sometimes, there can be curiosity of the reader to know more, but I like having the autonomy as a writer to delve into things further if I want to. It’s really empowering, but also challenging to know when to assert myself. Not that the editorial process was overbearing, but in general, it’s a challenge for any writer writing about personal experience.
Rumpus: What about writing about family or self?
Prado: Another challenge was that in writing my story, it meant I was also writing my family’s story. It also feels like I’m partly writing my mom’s story. Luckily, she has been open and supportive, and we’ve talked about the process. There is still a fear of revealing something she isn’t comfortable with. Or, I’m not sure what ripple effects the book will have on my family. I’m bracing myself because my book does reveal family secrets, so the craft challenge then, I think, is the unreliability of memory, in general. What I found was that some of the memories were not corroborated. I had to check in with my sister and mother. It remains a constant challenge with memoir. There is a pressure to get it right.
Rumpus: Such important points. How do you think your book fits into the larger conversation about the subjects of sexual assault, bodies, and identity?
Prado: I hope my book can fit into different spaces that it needs to be in. It covers a lot of different themes, but it was important to me to write the breadth of my lived experience. In memoir, you are zooming in on one theme, but I felt I couldn’t do that in this book. It would be disingenuous to turn the volume down on parts of myself. They have all shaped me, so I didn’t want to cut anything out. It’s a testament to the fact that you can write a book about many subjects. I like to distinguish between being a writer and being an author. They are different things. You can get a lot of pressure if you want to sell a lot of books, but I didn’t want to bend on my commitment to covering my life the way I wanted to.
Rumpus: You’ve alluded to skirting around some issues in your book. Was it difficult to write the subjects you were avoiding?
Prado: Sometimes I could see where I was avoiding the writing, but sometimes I needed help in pointing out where I wasn’t going. My relationship with my dad was a big one. Very specifically, it was hard to write about my eating disorder in high school. I didn’t want to write something that was instructional or that glorified it. For me, numbers are triggering, so I didn’t want to include specific numbers. I had rules I was creating for myself in order to feel comfortable writing about the topics.
Rumpus: Can you talk about the title of the book and its relationship to the essays?
Prado: I wanted to write an essay about my nickname Flaca, but more so, essentially, the idea that the nickname was no longer used. Folks didn’t call me Flaca anymore. I wanted to write about how hard and complex that was. I didn’t know what my entry point was, but I started to write about this tree in my grandparents’ house, and that it had been chopped down, and in that, I was thinking about changes and cycles, death and rebirth. It’s very obvious—it was a living thing that was then chopped down. But then, in writing about it, I was able to put myself in the space of Mexico and imagine what it was like to be there because being in Aguililla, I felt really comfortable in my skin. Flaca felt intertwined with that place because as much as it is about my nickname, it is also about my relationship with my dad and the very few constants that I had with him. The nickname was one of those things. The essay discovers that the nickname was another point of shedding in that relationship, a part of my identity. I wanted to close the chapter on Flaca and what better way to do this than to imagine a funeral for the name. The funeral part felt important because you are laying something to rest, so that something else can be born out of that. When I think about death, I don’t think about the end, but what is going to bloom in its space.
Photograph of Emilly Prado by Josue Rivas.