For our October Reading into History Book Club, we are celebrating National Latinx Heritage Month and discussing the book Esperanza Rising. We caught up with author Pam Muñoz Ryan to chat about her writing process, historical research, and personal connections to Esperanza Ortega’s story. Read on to learn more about Muñoz Ryan’s own history and her favorite part of the novel! Join us online to discuss Esperanza Rising, chat with the author, and see related collection objects on Sunday, October 17 at 2pm!
What primary sources did you find most useful as you conducted research for the book?
First, I had my grandmother’s story about her life in Mexico and at DiGiorgio Farms. I also searched and found other first person accounts. I was able to hear many personal stories of what the work camps were like, and I was able to visit the now abandoned packing sheds from that time. I relied on the local history room at the Beale Library in Bakersfield, CA, for photos, as well as articles about strikes and camp life. After the manuscript was written, consultants and academic experts were valuable. For instance, after Esperanza Rising had gone to copy edit, but before it was published, it was examined by two consultants: one, an expert on Mexico and the Spanish language to corroborate my written Spanish and my research, and the other, an academic expert on the Great Depression. Then, my editor and I gratefully considered, discussed, and sometimes adjusted text according to their recommendations. For any of my historical fiction books, I rely heavily on historical societies, local history archives, newspaper archives, and sometimes museums.
What was your writing process for Esperanza Rising? Do you have a similar process for each book you write or does it change from book to book?
I’m a recursive writer. I begin a novel in an opening scene. The next time I sit down to work, I read what I had written previously, rewriting a bit as I go along, and then I continue writing to build the story. The next day, I start at the beginning again, reading and rewriting, and inching the story forward. There does come a point in the writing where I don’t go all the way back to the beginning, but start, for example, in the middle to begin my re-reading and re-writing. For me, writing is ALL revision. That is my way. It’s not formulaic, or a tidy process. For me, writing is a messy evolution. If I am working on a novel or a book, I write every single day. I tend to be a morning person. I’ll get up early and start early and work till the afternoon, but that’s just my personal habit.
Why did you name the chapters in Esperanza Rising after fruits and vegetables?
Most people think that I employed this organization from the very beginning of my writing of this story. In fact, I didn’t use this method until the book was quite developed and had been rewritten many times. I never intended to name the chapters. They were simply labeled Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. I was in the middle of yet another rewrite and my editor and I were discussing the pacing of the book. My editor wanted me to name the chapters, just temporarily, so that during the rewrite I would stay focused on the events that should occur in each chapter. So I began to name the chapters things like, El Rancho de las Rosas, The Fire, The Escape…things like that. But as I read through my story, I began to feel a parallel between the harvest and what was happening in Esperanza’s life. I called my editor and told her my inclinations and my idea of naming the chapters with the harvest. She encouraged me to try it. Sometimes these ideas work out. Sometimes they don’t. As I went through and began naming the chapters, the harvests began to take on the feel of metaphors. For example, the smashed figs for her smashed life and the resentment she felt. Their lives were dictated by the rhythm of the harvest seasons, so in a way, the story just lent itself to this organization.
What is your favorite part of Esperanza Rising?
One of my favorite scenes is when Esperanza gives Isabel the doll. It’s a turning point for her. The doll represents the last piece of her previous life and she relinquishes it.
Thank you, Pam!