Episode 53: Crossing Boundaries with Tim Hernandez

In Episode 53, we talk to Tim Hernandez about teaching at the University of Texas El Paso in the only bilingual creative writing program in the United States. We also chat about investigative poetics, finding the right shape for a story, and the importance of crossing genres, borders, and other boundaries.

Tim Z. Hernandez is an award winning poet, novelist, research scholar, and performance artist. His debut collection of poetry, Skin Tax (Heyday Books) received the 2006 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation. His debut novel, Breathing, In Dust (Texas Tech University Press) was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and went on to receive the 2010 Premio Aztlan Prize in Fiction. His second collection of poetry, Natural Takeover of Small Things was released in 2013 and received the 2014 Colorado Book Award, and his novel, Mañana Means Heaven, which is based on the life of Bea Franco, also released in 2013, went on the receive the 2014 International Latino Book Award in historical fiction. Both books are with the University of Arizona Press. His latest book, All They Will Call You, was released on January 28, 2017, also with the University of Arizona Press.

Tim holds a B.A. in Writing & Literature from Naropa University, the first accredited Buddhist University in the United States, and an M.F.A. from Bennington College in Vermont. He is currently a full-time Associate Professor in the University of Texas El Paso’s Bilingual M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program. You can learn more about Tim on his website.

This episode was recorded on March 8, 2021. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod

People and Texts Mentioned in the Episode

“It’s always been a challenge for people who code switch, who write in different languages…not just the translation but having to translate one’s culture and the dynamics of that.” -Tim Hernandez

“It’s really a privilege for me to be in a classroom with students who are basically forging their own narratives…who are speaking their own stories.” -Tim Hernandez

“There’s this real geographical experience of being by the two communities, the two countries [the U.S. and Mexico], that’s always playing out in our daily lives here.” -Tim Hernandez

“I’ve always just been curious about things…What I’ve done is just follow those curiosities…And that’s kind of my approach also to teaching…We have a question to be answered….Let’s follow that thread until we run out of questions.” -Tim Hernandez

“You’ll have enough material for a book if you track your journey in writing and you just keep asking questions and following [them].” -Tim Hernandez

“We have everything we need to start where we are.” -Tim Hernandez

“Usually the first point of entry is: talk to an elder in your family.” -Tim Hernandez

“Rather than determining the form, I try and just say let’s look to the subject of what we’re trying to say first and let that determine the form. Let that determine the shape of the writing…Our only job is to tell it in the best way that we can…The subject determines the form.” -Tim Hernandez

“What we’re doing here is I think very much a humanitarian pursuit. It’s about telling stories and it’s about utilizing the power of stories to have and engage in bigger conversations with the communities and the world we inhabit.” -Tim Hernandez

“For me, a book is always a ticket to the conversation.” -Tim Hernandez

“I have a lot of questions, and I’ve just learned that along the way as I’m working and I have questions, write them down and bring those to the class, and we’ll work them out together.” -Tim Hernandez

“I’ve learned over time that there’s a lot of power in sharing one’s own story with students.” -Tim Hernandez

“Poetry…is my playground.” -Tim Hernandez

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