by Madeleine Carr
As a prelude to mating, canaries
and finches make such a racket that visitors to Virgil Suárez garage
look at him askance. At times, the trilling is enough to wake the dead.
The garage, however,
is not the preferred canary mating environment--it serves as an echo chamber
and may even alter the males mating call somewhat. Suárez reduced
its bird population from 300, partly because he realized his hobby was
growing into a second job. The FSU author prefers to make his living in
the classroom, where its ideas he hopes to see take flight and its students
who find a voice.
has been his constant adventure since he was hired as an associate professor
in the universitys Creative Writing Program in 1993. On a personal level,
English is not his native language and he daily accepts the grammatical
challenge his native Spanish evokes, using himself as an example in the
classroom. Pacing up and down aisles, in front of or behind the class,
his teaching style is, well, unusual. Its a mixture of shock therapy,
laughter and discovery, and very often, after one of Suárez readings,
students sit in stunned silence.
a matter of getting across the idea that everybody has a point of view
that is based on ones life. You know, its a knack that Jerry Stern had,
he says, talking about his late mentor in the English Department.
readings of his own material are popular, partly because they reveal a
passion for words and ancestry, but also because his subjects do not paint
a pretty picture, especially in Spared Angola, his latest book, a childhood
memoir. The students give me the opportunity to open up. I tell them about
moments in my life in hopes that it helps them do the same.
than not, Suárez childhood memories are very different from those
of his students, and he admits to being exposed to horrible things growing
up in Cuba. Not many of these things happened to others, Suárez
says, almost matter-of-factly, although in his next sentence he wonders
what his parents would think about his memories if they could read English.
He is not at all convinced that he could stand what his dad went through
before the family left Cuba for Madrid. The move to Spain spared him a
stint in Angola as a Cuban soldier, hence the books title.
electrical blackouts in Havana were frequent, he recalls. My father would
go into rages during the blackouts. We had bottles with wicks to light
when we had no electricity. He was so mad at what was happening, and in
his rage he threw one of the home-made lamps at the wall and there was
a fire. It was eerie. Paradoxically, Suarez says my childhood was wonderful.
has wasted little time translating his experiences into published works,
with four novels (Going Under; Havana Thursdays; Latin Jazz; The Cutter)
and a collection of stories Welcome to the Oasis and Other Stories. He
also is co-editor of three other books. His latest interest, which he shares
with his wife, FSU Spanish teacher Delia M. Poey, and colleague Roberto
G. Fernandez, involves the special collections section at FSUs Strozier
Library. They hope to establish a Cuban-American archives section.
Angola was published earlier this year and is a departure from his
earlier writings. Few likable characters appear in this collection of micro-fictional
short shorts, as he calls the pieces, an association with the short short
stories, which the late Stern had popularized.
his rich treasure trove of memories now, he remembers that birds were the
only pets most Cuban families had. Everything else was kept for food.
My father bred rabbits which he traded with others for food. Recurring
food shortages was a theme of his early years.
is where hes found a kind of peace and tranquillity--when it isnt canary
mating season. Is that connected to the American dream? When I think about
the Cuban community... his thoughts wander off to his birds.
want to go anywhere. Im okay right here where I want to raise my two children.