New Writer’s Project alumnus Antonio Ruiz-Camacho wins Dobie Paisano Fellowship
Posted: June 28, 2013
Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, photograph by Valentia Ortiz
The New Writer’s Project and the Department of English congratulate Antonio Ruiz-Camacho on winning the Jesse H. Jones Creative Writing Fellowship at the Dobie Paisano Ranch!
Ruiz-Camacho will be spending February through July of 2014 living and writing at the Paisano Ranch, formerly owned by Texas writer J. Frank Dobie. The fellowship, specifically aimed at writers who grew up in, are native to, or wish to write about Texas, includes both a monthly stipend and the opportunity to live amidst the cedars and cattle that populate the ranch. While he is not quite a native Texan, Ruiz-Camacho, in some ways, meets all three fellowship requirements: he has been living in Austin since 2004, his writing often centers on the permeable boundary between Texas and Mexico, and, although he grew up in Toluca, Mexico, his family made frequent trips to San Antonio and Houston during his childhood.
A 2012 graduate of the New Writer’s Project, during his time at UT, Ruiz-Camacho was awarded the Michael Adams Thesis Prize in Fiction for his collection of stories, Barefoot Dogs, which follows the diaspora of an affluent family forced to leave Mexico City after the disappearance of their patriarch. In addition to writing fiction, Ruiz-Camacho has spent sixteen years working as a journalist for a wide range of American and Latin American online and print publications, including Etiqueta Negra and Letras Libres. Interested in teaching creative writing in both Spanish and English—the two languages Ruiz-Camacho works between—he has also worked for Badgerdog, an Austin Public Library Friends Foundation program that works with elementary school children to build writing and reading skills.
You can find about more about Ruiz-Camacho on the Dobie Fellowship website and in the Q & A below:
Q & A
What drew you to the Dobie Paisano Fellowship?
Ever since I learned about the fellowship, the idea of spending time at the Paisano Ranch, and having the opportunity to write in a place so infused with tradition and history, felt irresistible. Some of the Texas writers I admire, like Oscar Cásares, Dagoberto Gilb, or Harryette Mullen, were Paisano fellows early in their own careers, so my applying to the fellowship was more a wishful-thinking, day-dreaming aspiration than a realistic move. I still can’t believe I got it.
The fellowship caters to writers who have lived in or focus in some way on Texas. You grew up in Toluca, Mexico, but have lived in the state for many years. Do you identify yourself as a Texan? Why? What relationship does your writing have to Texas culture?
Texas has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d frequently vacation with my parents in Houston, San Antonio, or McAllen. Years later, in 2004, a job offer brought me and my family to Austin from Madrid, Spain. It was love at first sight, and the honeymoon stage hasn’t waned yet. My two sons were a baby and a toddler when we arrived. Texas is our home.
As for my writing, one of my current interests revolves around the wave of upper-middle class Mexican immigrants who have fled the country as a result of the surge in violence that has raged through Mexico in recent years. Many of those immigrants are moving to Texas and settling in cities like San Antonio, Houston, McAllen, and even Austin. Texas is as present in my writing as Mexico is.
How much can you tell us about what you will be working on during the fellowship? What are you interested in exploring with this piece of writing?
I’ll be working on a novel that takes place in Central Mexico and Central Texas. I wish I could be more specific than that, but the novel is still at an early stage. What I can say is that I’m exploring issues of class and race and politics, all while pondering connections between kin, power, violence, love, and loss, along with the search and heartbreaks of a new homeland.
Will your wife and sons be joining you at the ranch? What do they think of the project?
They will! We are all thrilled to spend time at the ranch. I can’t wait to experience the ranch with my kids. I trust it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the whole family.
You have spent many years writing as a journalist. How has your journalism informed your fiction and vice versa?
I became a journalist in the first place in order to tell the stories of those who don’t have a voice in the public arena, which is something I’m also interesting in doing as a fiction writer. Especially in my early years as a reporter, I had the chance to travel all over Mexico—and later, abroad—covering issues related to poverty, natural disasters, immigration, and socioeconomic tension. Not only have those experiences informed my views as a journalist, but my approach to writing in general—fiction and nonfiction alike. Fiction helps me articulate reality in ways nonfiction doesn’t, but I think my background as a journalist has been crucial in my formation as fiction writer.
What kind of workshops have you taught for Badgerdog? What is the goal of the program? How did you get involved? What has been your favorite moment?
Badgerdog’s goal is “to empower Austinites to develop the skills necessary to communicate effectively and beautifully, to amplify individual voices, and to share in a love of reading and writing.” The program sends professional writers to classrooms in public schools to lead creative writing workshops. One of my aspirations as a writer is to teach creative writing both in English and Spanish—my mother language—and Badgerdog gave me the opportunity of doing just that. I had the fortune to lead a couple of bilingual workshops with second-grade students at Brown Elementary in North Austin, and it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve ever encountered. My favorite moment was when I challenged the kids to revise their own writing, and you could see how they’d struggle and wrestle through revision, but in the end they’d come up with an improved version of their original drafts. You could see the sense of achievement on their faces. It was fantastic.
How did your experiences in the New Writer's Project impact your writing? Were there any classes that you consider formative?
Most of what I now know about fiction writing I learned at the program. It was such a nurturing, generous environment. The support of a writing community is key for your development as a writer, especially when you’re venturing into unknown realms and filled with self-doubt, which was my case. All my professors and fellow writers were incredibly supportive and encouraging. Especially, I’d have to say that my writing wouldn’t be the same without the guidance and support I received from Oscar Cásares, Elizabeth McCracken and Edward Carey—and without Professor Thomas Cable’s English Grammar undergrad class!