Cecelia Fernandez was working as a pharmaceutical rep when she took my class in the Graduate Writing Program at Florida International University. She was a single mother supporting a daughter (who was on the way to Princeton) and twin sons in high school. She wrote a story called “The Button Box, conjuring up a childhood memory of her last visit to her beloved Cuba before her family fled to the U.S. from the revolution they did not support. The story had power, evoked a lost time and the love of a lost homeland. Her story held the promise of a writing career – but such promises are seldom fulfilled.
Cecelia was committed. She left the pharmaceutical world and pieced together a teaching life, working as a part-time instructor at five different schools and colleges around the Miami area. And she kept writing. She wrote and published a memoir of her time growing up in Miami’s Cuban exile community, Leaving Little Havana, that won First Place for Most Inspirational Book in The International Latino Book Awards. She kept writing. She wrote short stories, and compiled enough good ones to have a book of stories that has just been published.
When I go to Miami two or three times a year to visit my God Daughter, I always check in with Cecelia, to hear of her latest accomplishments, the trials and obstacles she overcomes. She told me she couldn’t think of a title for her collection of stories. I read with fascination this book that told of the Cuban exiles’ longing for their lost island, the sights and sounds and tastes of La Habana, that city that becomes more richly mythical as it recedes into memory. I realized that the spirit of her work could be evoked by the memory of a favorite Cuban food. I suggested she call her book Grieving for Guava. Cecelia liked it, and so did her publisher. Now it is out and available on Amazon.
Many people have Cecelia’s dream of becoming a writer; few reach the goal. All it takes is blood, sweat and tears. Red Smith, the legendary sports writer of the New York Times, was asked once if it was difficult to write a daily sports column. “No,” he said “All you have to do is sit down and open a vein.”
So it is with all good writing, so it is with creating a book. Cecelia has written a book of stories that dramatically tells of the love and the perils, the pathos and courage of those who have come to a new country to make a new life with a new language, new rules and customs, new obstacles and challenges. This is real life drama, told with verve and spirit. This is what is called “a good read.”