Author shares childhood short stories at USpeak

Jaquira Diaz reads her work at a USpeak event Friday. Haley Walker // Contributing Photographer

Award-winning essayist, fiction writer and Miami native Jaquira Diaz shook the Wesley House with spoken word Friday night.

This event was part of the USpeak Flash Fiction & Poetry Performance Series. These bimonthly events held by the College of Arts and Sciences, the English Department’s Creative Writing Program and the undergraduate Mangrove Literary Journal are a chance for aspiring or established writers to read, perform, or sing their pieces at the open mic.

As the event’s featured speaker, Diaz boasts a host of writing accolades. She is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and an NEA Fellowship to the Hambidge Center for the Arts.

Diaz read two pieces from her current project, a book of short stories inspired by her childhood.

“It’s like a book of really, really, short stories, except they’re all true,” Diaz said.

The first piece, “El Casarillo,” depicted growing up in the projects as a young girl and finding her place amongst the rough-and-tumble neighborhood boys. Though it ended with a morbid murder scene, Diaz quipped, “That was the funny one.”

The second piece, “Ordinary Girls,” followed an adolescent girl as she contemplated and attempted suicide, abused drugs and alcohol, and won and lost love. Despite the somber topics, this piece earned thunderous applause.

Student works ranged in topics from heartbreak to cello lessons to milk allergies. Some read solemnly, some with foot-stamping passion, and some sang their pieces.

The Wesley House was filled to the brim, chair-less attendees spilling out into the hallway with some even leaning against the front door. The complimentary cookies were gone before anyone spoke a stanza.

Some of those faces were first-time visitors to the USpeak series, whether they were writers themselves or just appreciators.

“I thought, for it being my first time at an open mic night, that it was really intense, but it also was a very supportive environment for people to showcase their work,” said freshman Sissi Chinea, a creative writing major.

The Mangrove will host two more USpeak series events this semester in the CAS Gallery in the Wesley Foundation Building. The last guest speaker event will take place on March 19 at 7 p.m. and feature Miami poet Denise Duhamel.