Wyoming Arts Council

Lunch with Manuel Munoz at UW

Manuel Munoz has had two books of short stories published. Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003) and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin, 2007). Manuel shies away from being compartmentalized as how publishers and book stores want to market him. Often dark and depressing, his stories are products of what he says was a very dangerous environment. Someone at the reading that night said his literature has a patience to it, and during lunch and the reading Manuel was gracious and very sharing with his literary process.

Students were invited to eat lunch with him and ask questions. He told about his life growing up in a small town in central California. When he left that town and came back, he realized how dangerous life was there when he was growing up. Just like the big city, everyone in his small town had a story.

Munoz had worked at a large publishing company and talked about writing behind the scenes, what happens at publishing houses, and how little emphasis there is on the writing, but on how the book is going to sell. Well known authors are always given preferential treatment. He also remembers the kindnesses shown to him by one or two reviewers who sent him personal notes saying they liked his work.

There was also some discussion about the national literary narrative, and how National Book Award winners are chosen, who’s nominated and why, and the discourse that goes on. He was referring to 2004, when there were 5 women authors nominated, and how the discourse turned really kind of ugly. He was asked about what he wants to hear from the people who read his first drafts. Most importantly, he said, he wants to know if they had an emotional response to it. He teaches at Cornell, and his students there consider having an emotional response a weakness (the young students in my classes echo this same sentiment) in themselves and in the work, and that it isn’t intellectual to have an emotional response. I do find that an interesting observation.

He also said to turn off the TV, that it’s a distraction that none of us can afford, although we found out that many of us like to watch Judge Judy, as does Edward P. Jones. Manuel was amazed that he’d be getting to have dinner that evening with Joy Williams, UW’s Eminent Writer in Residence this academic year, and he was really impressed by the level of talent that UW is able to bring in every year.

–Linda Coatney

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