Cecelia is “Grieving for Guava”

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.”

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My feature on Butler University’s new “Naptown” podcast

I was honored to be a guest on Butler’s new “Naptown” podcast with my good friend Susan Neville. The new podcast series will be 20 episodes featuring stories about Broad Ripple, Indiana, my work as a journalist and writer, and more. The whole season will become available in May.

More from Butler’s release:

The soundbooth only fits two people, but the results are as high-level as anything on Podcast One. Neville and Wakefield mapped out every episode, about an hour in length each. So far, they’ve completed episodes focusing on Vonnegut, novelist James Baldwin, and a trio of Wakefield’s mentors from his undergraduate days at Columbia College: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, literary critic Lionel Trilling, and famed sociologist C. Wright Mills, who Wakefield served as a research assistant.

Neville enlisted the help of Academic Technology Specialist Megan Grady-Rutledge to help edit each episode, which starts with music and short introductions and outros from Neville. The rest is all Wakefield answering Neville’s questions, recalling major career milestones, and reading from his published works.

“Once he gets on a roll, he gets on a roll,” says Neville with a laugh. “I was a journalism major as an undergrad and have written a lot of freelance feature articles, so I’m used to doing interviews. Recording a podcast is a combination of radio and the print journalism I’m used to.”

Neville reveals that Season Two will consist of Vonnegut interviews she conducted in 1989 and 1990. Those conversations currently live on microcassettes, but will be transferred to a digital format after Season One launches.

“Talking with Susan, I’m remembering a lot of things,” Wakefield says. “I feel like there’s a big hole in our history and in Indianapolis, like the great jazz scene we had here. A lot of if isn’t mentioned in a lot of places so I’m glad to be able to talk about that.” 

— Tim Brouk, Butler University

You can read the whole story at Butler’s website here.

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Hooded, or being Black for Dummies

“Hooded, or being Black for Dummies” is a terrific play being staged by the new Fonseca Theatre Company at Indy Convergence, 2611 W. Michigan.

It will be on the next three weekends – Friday 8pm, Saturday 5pm and 8pm, Sunday 2pm. A talented young cast gives a powerful, funny, insightful performance of this remarkable play by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm.

If you’re white and you want to be woke (or think you are, or have one eye open) this will take you further – and entertain you at the same time. If you’re black, and want to be affirmed and entertained, this you will appreciate. Tickets are available at Fonsecatheatre.org.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield