Vol. 112 (2021)

 Five Questions for Novelist Kirstin Valdez Quade




Kirstin Valdez Quade’s short story collection, Night at the Fiestas, won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. She was also the recipient of a "5 Under 35" award from the National Book Foundation, the John Guare Writer’s Fund Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Best American Short StoriesThe O. Henry Prize Stories and the New York Times. Her latest book, The Five Wounds, has been called "a brilliant meditation on love and redemption."


Kirstin Valdez Quade is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton's Lewis Center where Stay Thirsty Magazine visited with her for these Five Questions about her new book.


STAY THIRSTY: In your debut novel, The Five Wounds, you chronicle, in exquisite, deeply moving detail five generations of a poor New Mexican Latino family. Since your personal economic and educational background is so far from that of the people in your novel, how did you make the leap of authenticity so that your story would ring true?


KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of opportunities, and I’m very aware that they were not inevitable. Within the Padilla family, as in many families, there are a range of fortunes. Amadeo graduated high school, but did not attend college, whereas his sister earned her master’s degree. Valerie’s daughters are very clear from a very young age that they will go to college, whereas for Angel it is an open question. Opportunity begets opportunity, and financial hardship begets more hardship.  



STAY THIRSTY: Why do your characters depend so heavily on religious ritual for their salvation and redemption? Must faith include forgiveness in order for people to survive? Why did the Catholic Church play such a central role?


KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: Historically the Catholic Church played a big part in daily life in the villages of northern New Mexico, and the rituals of the penitentes are still practiced today.


Amadeo does look to these rituals for redemption—he hopes that by giving the best possible performance of Jesus in the Good Friday procession, he’ll turn his life around. But it’s a misguided effort; the way to redemption is through incremental, constant changes in how he interacts with his mother and daughter.


Yolanda and Angel don’t look to the church for much at all—as she navigates her illness, Yolanda learns to listen to herself and her own needs, and Angel looks to the community at the teen parenting program she attends.


I do think that having faith in one another and finding ways to forgive and seek forgiveness are all important parts of being in a community.



STAY THIRSTY: Does the strength portrayed across the generations by grandmother, Yolanda, and pregnant teenager, Angel, signify a matriarchal dominance that has held and will continue to hold the Latino community together? Do you see Latino men as weak beings unable to overcome their own histories?


KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: I’m not making any kind of global declarations about the characters of Latino men—or women or families or communities—there are, of course, all kinds of people who identify as Latino. (Tío Tíve and Al Martinez offer very different versions of masculinity within the novel.) And codependent relationships can exist between people of all ethnic identities. I also don’t see Amadeo as a weak being—I see him as a man struggling with addiction and depression, who, over the course of the novel, does, in fact, change his life.


Certainly, in the Padilla family, the women have taken on a great deal of responsibility for the care of the family—Yolanda, and, later, Angel do a great deal to hold the family together. But their willingness to shoulder responsibility and pick of the slack for Amadeo also allows him to shirk responsibility. It’s only when Amadeo sees that his mother and daughter need him that he begins to step up to the plate.

Kirstin Valdez Quade

STAY THIRSTY: How have you personally dealt with the consequences of choices you have made in your life vs. how the characters in your novel faced their challenges? How do compassion and humanity guide you in your writing and in your life?


KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: Empathy is a central to the reading and writing of fiction—a willingness to engage deeply with another person’s perspective. If I choose to write from the perspective of a character I might be inclined to pass judgment on, over the course of embodying that character, I have come to a more compassionate understanding of what they might be going through. This isn’t always easy—and it sometimes takes many drafts for me to truly set aside judgment. I hope that writing is a kind of practice for empathy in real life, because I want to continue to learn and grow and be more empathetic.



STAY THIRSTY: When creating characters and weaving their life stories together in such a nuanced way, did some of the characters ever get away from you and take over the narrative? Of all of the characters in your novel, which one has made the greatest and most lasting impression on you?


KIRSTIN VALDEZ QUADE: Certainly as I’m drafting and as the characters become realer to me, they can exert a kind of force on the storyline, and sometimes really surprising developments come out of that. But I am always aware that I am the writer and in charge of the course of the book, and if a character’s arc threatens to take over in an unproductive way, then it’s my job to reel it in!


All of the characters in The Five Wounds feel like family to me, but Angel is the character I’d most like to spend time with. She’s funny and determined and vivacious, and I like seeing the world through her eyes. I think she’d be a good hang!

(Photo of Kirstin Valdez Quade - credit: Holly Andres)




Kirstin Valdez Quade     

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.