Twice a month, The Rumpus brings your favorite writers directly to your IRL mailbox via our Letters in the Mail program.
January 1 LITM Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones
Our next letter in the mail comes from author Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones. Claudia’s letter explores how we can expand our worlds through friendships and books, and how the smallest things in life—like onions (!)—can be the seeds for writing that holds the world within it.
Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones is a writer from Puerto Rico whose poems and short fiction have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, wildness, Ambit Magazine, Radar Poetry, and other publications. Her chapbook, Bedroom Pop, was published by dancing girl press in 2021. Her full-length debut, The Hurricane Book, was published by Rose Metal Press in October 2023. Claudia lives in Brooklyn, New York.
The Rumpus: How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones: One of my favorite things to do as a child was to lock myself in my room and read books, plays, magazines, liner notes, anything, in bed. I’d make dresses and togas out of sheets and toilet paper and act out scenes. I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, A Wrinkle in Time, Puerto Rican legends, and Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and wanting to hold on to those images forever. I wanted to live inside them, and writing made it so I didn’t have to leave that state. It felt like magic, or astral projection. I now look to be in communion with others more, but there is still a magical element to translating what’s in front of me.
Rumpus: What’s a piece of good advice or insight you received in a letter or note?
Acevedo-Quiñones: A friend wrote me a note after I had a minor meltdown over the publication of a very personal essay. I had been agonizing over the reception, the potential distortion—or what I thought to be a distortion—of what I had written. She said. “So what? That is not your problem.” It was blunt. But I think she meant that just because I had tried to write from a place of generosity and responsibility, it didn’t mean that I got to control other people’s perception. It is not useful (or generous) to take opinions about one’s work personally. You’re adding to a sea of information, and it’s now out of your hands. You can engage with the conversation, but not direct it.
Rumpus: What is your best/worst/most interesting story that involves the mail/post office/mailbox?
Acevedo-Quiñones: Soon after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I tried to mail my mother several gallons of Diet Coke from New York (she has an addiction to Diet Coke, and the stores near her in PR had none left). They never got to her. The disastrous US aid response during the aftermath of the hurricane made it clear they would never arrive. Basic supplies for people in need didn’t make it in. What’s a soda. But we sent them anyway. I still think about where those bottles ended up.
January 15 LITM Julia Fine
Our second letter in the mail comes from writer Julia Fine. Julia Fine is the author of The Upstairs House, winner of the Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction, and What Should Be Wild, which was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior First Novel. Her third novel, Maddalena and the Dark, came out with Flatiron last June. She teaches writing in Chicago, where she lives with her family.
The Rumpus: What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?
Julia Fine: The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney. I haven’t read this in at least twenty-five years, and my guess is that it doesn’t hold up next to contemporary children’s literature (or even most books published after 1880). But I remember this as my first real understanding that other people’s lives were unlike mine, and so despite the schmaltz it has a place in my heart. Recent favorites I’d recommend include The Night Parade by Jami Nakamura Lin, White Cat Black Dog by Kelly Link, and Mercury by Amy Jo Burns.
Rumpus: How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Fine: As a kid what I really wanted was to be an actor, but I was not especially talented. Writing was my way of getting to live other lives, look inside other minds, study humanity. I also read so much from such an early age that it seemed natural to try to emulate what I loved.
Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book. How do you hope it resonates with readers?
Fine: My most recent book is a novel called Maddalena and the Dark, which came out last June. It’s the story of two teenage girls who study music under the tutelage of Antonio Vivaldi in eighteenth-century Venice, one a poor orphan and the other a wealthy girl marked by a family scandal—their ambitions and jealousies and desires and a Faustian bargain that they make with something living in the Venetian lagoon. I was interested in the pressures placed on teenage girls, the balance between self and society, and how the desperation born of societal expectation can be ruinous for everyone. I hope readers come away with sympathy for both girls, despite some impetuous and altogether bad decision-making on their parts.