Interview with Bon Noname

Bon Noname is a Guatemalan born, turned world traveler, who’s lived in Los Angeles for more than 25 years. Her extraordinary journey from poor-stricken, civil war-torn country to poor stricken, American ghetto, has shaped her storytelling, earning her a Mundio Natrez Award and a Canee Fellowship in 2014. She is currently writing a collection of sonnets and working in the Los Angeles fashion district. She has two old dogs (the same age), and writes dream reviews of various Narco-novelas. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Bon Noname’s new collective, BRJ, hits the shelves today. Meanwhile, whispers from literary critics applauding Bon’s humor, empathy, and poignancy can already be heard publicly filling bookstores, clubs, and cafes. Writers, as well, give weight to the collections’ simple but nuanced vulnerability in Noname’s ability to give a voice to pain and resilience. Those who are rejected in wanting to belong find it difficult to find a place of their own.

She sat down with Ugly Duckling Songbook‘s Luna Violet, to discuss her inspiration, experience and sentiments at the release of her new book.

Me: Many of these stories are stark and gritty in their depiction of poverty, but then you have instances when the fantastical amplifies this grittiness. How do you reconcile both of these two apparent contradictions to give your story a truer grasp of reality?

Bon: I think this speaks to our Central American culture. There is a kind of inability to explain some of the horrendous acts that happen in the daily lives of regular folks here. Hollywood likes to use these stark, over the top stories and sell them as movies, but what we have here is not fictional. And, it tends to happen in poor countries, where we tend to grasp to some religious explanation, you know. That God has made it so and will save us from all this craziness.

The truth is that seeing horror repeated in cycles leaves us confused. We start to have these notion of fantastical occurrences, which puts us face to face with the evil that we are confused or scared by and it helps us cope. In a way, one informs the other. It’s a way for us not to yell, but tell these stories.

Me: Yes, I think this well of mysticism or the fantastical is inherent in our culture. Some will call it magic realism.

Bon: Sure. It’s a way for us not to exploit our culture, but share it.

Me: Leaving a country that did not provide any kindness, would you ever consider going back? Now that you are a successful adult, more confident of yourself?

Bon: Well, I wouldn’t say I am successful. Saying it like that feels like I’ve already reached the finish line, and I know I still have a long way to go! (Laughs)

But you’re right. I am not the same person I was back then.

Honestly, I don’t know. I have not returned since I left. All these stories you read have been gathered since I was a child, collecting and pooling when I was an adolescent, and now, as an adult.

Me: Do you think actually stepping back into that old ground would change the way you see your stories now? Do you think you would rewrite them?

Bon: No. I don’t think so. These stories are more part of who I am than part of Guatemala. Although not a memoir completely, they are very self-reflective, meaning it parallels my state of mind, who I am, right now. I can’t fly back and then think, “Hmm, well, this is not where this was before. And what happened to the school? I have to write that in now because I wouldn’t have the character act this certain way now that it’s gone.” I wrote it with memory and desire in mind, too.

Me: What is the difficulty of writing yourself into a story as if it were a memoir, but not being able to give in completely?

Bon: Actually, it felt quite liberating! (Snickers) And, in a way it lends to being faithful to my identity and not being worried to sticking to facts at a specific time, not that memoirists write like that. For me, it works that way, though.  

Me: Yeah, so would you say you tend to think more poetically?

Bon: I think naturally, the way I write, I tend to go with gut feelings too. And, this is what came out. (points to the book on shelf)

Me: What other projects are you currently working now?

Bon: I am actually very interested in Spanish ballads now. The popular ones you hear on the radio, I mean. So, I am taking the experience of them, how normal people in our culture, interact with these love stories and writing them into Shakespearean sonnets.

Me: I love that! Taking the way music feels and how we use it to describe love into another poetic form!

Bon: Yeah! And, to be honest. the format can change any given day between now and the publishing deadline (laughs).

Me: Thank you for sitting and chatting with me!

Bon: Glad to do it. Thanks!

To know more about her book and her work, follow Bon Noname on Instagram and Facebook. Her books are being sold at local bookstores. 

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