Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Faculty Member Karlié Rodríguez

Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Faculty Member Karlié Rodríguez

Editor's Note: Ahead of Karlié Rodríguez' upcoming 4-Week: Reading As a Critic class beginning February 7 regarding literary criticism as a way to enrich writing, Lighthouse Intern Natalie Bullock asked Karlié a few questions about their life, their class, and more.

What experience do you have in literary criticism? I fell in love with literary criticism when I worked with a major life writing journal as a translator and editor in college, and went on to get a masters degree in Literary and Cultural studies at Illinois State University (ISU). I was writing my thesis on intersex and trans literature when the American Book Review did a special issue on intersex narratives and I was invited to participate by writing a book review on Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin. During my time at ISU, I also published a peer-reviewed journal article in the Grassroots Writing and Research Journal, which is based in the Writing Program. The paper considered the Our Story option on Snapchat as a collective “vanishing memoir.” I am currently completing my PhD and am invested in the study of time and the culture industry, particularly Puerto Rican cultural production after Hurricane María. I am lucky to be embedded in a network of critics, thinkers, and teachers that are always writing and talking about books and media in nuanced ways. I also have experience teaching in this field. 

What about teaching 4-Week: Reading As a Critic are you most excited for? I’ve been teaching literary criticism for a while, sort of thinking about it and engaging with it, but never really with creative writers. So far, I’ve taught mostly college students, many of whom are in  STEM or have a science background. But even when I teach English majors, I never really get students who are exclusively interested in becoming writers. That is why I am excited to teach this class at Lighthouse, because everyone in it will be a creative writer. I am also excited to problematize the role of the critic. There is this sort of myth or misconception that writers and critics are in tension with each other, like they’re enemies, but I think that it’s actually more of a collaborative process—or at least I think that it should be—so I am interested in offering perspective and hopefully helping some of the writers in the class figure out how criticism can be useful to them. I want to get writers thinking about how reading criticism can enrich their creative process. I would love for that dynamic between writer and critic not to be so tense and for the writer in the class to understand that this can be a positive experience. Developing the skill to critique your own work can really take your writing to the next level.  

What is it about nonfiction that inspires you to work in the field? I have written and published poetry, I’ve written and published fiction as well, so I was really thinking about what draws me to nonfiction right now. When I am writing poetry, I'm trying to obscure the truth. When I write fiction, I am generally trying to transform the truth. When it comes to nonfiction and what inspires me to write it, is that I am trying to learn what the truth is. And because I am trying to understand the truth and to arrive at the truth, fiction or poetry don't make sense, because both would be contingent on me knowing the truth already. I feel that in the past few years I have been through experiences that have obscured reality and writing and working in nonfiction is a way for me to write myself back into cohesion. Criticism really helps me because critics are not translators but we do enact a form of translation. We’re really good readers so we train to really think about the book that we’re reading not only as a story that is being told, but also as a cultural object that is in conversation with the material world and things that are happening. I think that having that structural knowledge of the world and of the text in relation to the world also contributes to a kind of manifestation of what the truth might be.

How have your life experiences shaped you as a writer? This is a complicated question. There are so many things that happen in life that “shape you.” I could talk about the more positive experiences, how I loved books since I was a child, how children's libraries were so important in my upbringing and in my fascination with language, and language as an art and as something that we can shape. But I could also tell you how personally, my writing has been shaped by colonialism and imperial regimes because, as a Puerto Rican writer, language and the erasure of language as a violence of empire has impacted me as well. I struggle a lot in thinking about writing something in English or in Spanish or in Spanglish and what that means, because the language that I choose to write in or the way that I choose to manipulate language says a lot about what I'm trying to do with it or what I'm trying to convey, so I am very intentional with my thinking and my writing because I want the stories that I tell to mean something. Growing up, books saved my life in so many ways. They gave me the tools that I needed to survive very particular things like grief. That for me has been the spark, a guiding light, a purpose. Regardless of all the things in my life that have kept me from writing, they have also kept me coming back to try again. I think a lot about who is going to read my books and why it matters that I write them in such a way that they find the right audience. I want to help my students find their purpose. I want them to really think about why they write, why it matters that they write or how they write and to use that. When you want to be a writer, when you love it, when you know that it is your purpose, you find a way to come back to it and to do it with as many or as little resources as you have. I want to be someone that can not only help writers find their purpose, their “why”, or their reason for writing, but also to help connect them to different opportunities to help them develop themselves as writers and continue growing and doing the work that they are trying to do with the stories they are trying to tell.

Is there anything else you'd like to add? I want to make sure people come into this class ready to engage in dialogue, and I'm hoping to learn from my students too. The most beautiful thing for me as a teacher is how much I grow and change too when I'm in conversation with people that are encountering texts that I’ve been reading for years for the first time. There's beauty and power in discovering text for the first time and for me as a teacher, experiencing someone discovering something for the first time and the new ways that they read it and understand it and grapple with it is amazing. Above all, I want my students to know that I'm excited to meet them!

Karla "Karlié" Rodríguez (she/they/he) is a writer, translator, and scholar from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Her work has appeared in American Book ReviewRogue AgentSábanas Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Studies from Illinois State University and is completing a PhD in English at Emory University. She is at work on a memoir.