Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Fajardo-Anstine utilizes her cultural background when writing her stories.
Photo by Estevan Ruiz, 2021

Author Kali Fajardo-Anstine Details Writing Journey

Abby Thatcher

During her visit to Manchester, Kali Fajardo-Anstine was able to discuss her works “Sabrina & Corina” and “Woman in Light” in depth with students. She also talked about her inspirations and the side effects of her writing in her personal life.

For Fajardo-Anstine, writing runs in the family. “My mom wanted to be a writer before I did, and she’s self-published lots of children’s books,” she said. “I think in a way I’m an extension of her dream.”

Her mother has a lot of pride in Fajardo-Anstine, and says that her daughter has taken their family stories from local to global. “She comes from a generation where she didn’t have these opportunities and she had a lot of children very young,” Fajardo-Anstine said. “She grew up in deep poverty in Nebraska in a trailer park and faced a lot of discrimination.”

Fajardo-Anstine is also grateful for the work her mother started by sharing her stories. “I think in your own life you can build up, but sometimes it takes generations,” she said. “Especially if you’ve come from an oppressed group.”

Her mother isn’t her only supporter, though. Her father takes the approach of keeping up with not only Fajardo-Anstine but also all her writer friends since he’s an avid literature fan. Even those in her family who aren’t readers support her work. All of Fajardo-Anstine’s siblings read her books. She doesn’t deny that there’s some healthy sibling jealousy, but no one in her family tries censoring her work. “I don’t necessarily feel lucky, but I do think it would be very hard if my family didn’t support my writing,” she said. “I think it’s because they want to feel heard too.”

Home is an important concept to Fajardo-Anstine, both in family and place. Nearly all her stories take place in Denver, Colorado, where she grew up. While she’s lived elsewhere, she has no intention of writing stories about anywhere else. “It feels like I’m taking from other places if it’s not my place,” she said.

While she gets a lot of her passion from writing from her family, it’s not her only inspiration.

“I’ve been reading Mieko Kawakami and Erika Kobayashi,” she said, both Japanese authors in translation. She’s communicated with these authors and begun to form a friendship with both. “It’s kind of interesting because I’m a Latina mixed writer from Colorado and like now I have all these Japanese women writer friends on the internet,” she said with a laugh.

Fajardo-Anstine also got to interview Kawakami. Due to the language barrier, the two women communicated through an interpreter. Fajardo-Anstine got to listen to Kawakami recite lines from “Sabrina & Corina” in Japanese, and tell her how much the passages meant. “To me that’s one of the most meaningful things about literature is that it can go all the way around the world and you can form friendships around it,” she said. “It’s like my pen-pal dream from childhood.”

As she did more research for her writing, Fajardo-Anstine noticed parts of her identity being forgotten. She represents her own Jewish heritage in “Woman in Light”: the dressmaker is Jewish and so is the boy who works at the market. “My Jewish heritage is sort of interesting because my grandma was put into a Catholic orphanage, so the Jewish side of my family didn’t embrace us,” she said. “We know that we were Jewish but it’s a sad story of abandonment.”

But Fajardo-Anstine isn’t letting any of her history be forgotten. She plans to write more novels in the future that focus in depth on her “mixed-ness.” She also expressed frustration with her own readers forgetting that her characters have mixed identities. “They’ll just see one thing and I think that’s because it’s hard in the American identity to see it,” she said. “Some of us have so many heritages in us.”

Fajardo-Anstine doesn’t stop at remembering her culture when it comes to tackling big issues in her work. A lot of her stories reference topics that might be considered political, But Fajardo-Anstine doesn’t see it that way.

“The way that I think about these issues is multilayered,” she said. "Especially with everything in the news right now, I’m very cautious of how I absorb social media.” She believes that the media tries to make every issue completely black and white. But not every issue has just one side. “What I like about literature is that it allows you to go through different layers of an issue,” she said.

In her story “All Her Names,” the main character, Alicia, depicts the days after getting her second abortion. Alicia is seen as selfish throughout the story after being cruel to both her husband and her lover. But Fajardo-Anstine refuses to judge her character. “I think that’s one of the things that literature allows you to do,” she said. “If you do have a character who is making a ‘political choice,’ it’s no longer just a news headline. It’s her real life. It’s her life’s experience.”

Fajardo-Anstine also knows that “All Her Names” has a deeper meaning. “When her grandma got mad at her because instead of using herbs she went to the doctor, I’m trying to show that this is a very ancient thing that women and people with uteruses are dealing with,” she said. “It’s been since the beginning of time; it’s never not been an issue. People have always been trying to control their reproduction.”

She doesn’t see this as a “new issue” in society. She knows these are historical issues and has the family history to support it. But no matter what side of the issue she’s on, she knows the following: “It’s pretty important to write a story about reproductive rights with all these issues. If someone in the future were to read a story with no issues that just wouldn’t be true.”

For Fajardo-Anstine, these issues don’t just live in her stories. “I’m living in Texas and it’s scary,” she said. “Right before I moved I read a story about a woman who had an ectopic pregnancy in Texas and she almost died. Before we moved, I told my fiance that if that happens to me that we need to get me home immediately. And having to have a plan is very scary. The way I would deal with that wouldn’t be to Tweet, it would be to write a story.”

She also focuses a lot of her stories on gun issues. In “Woman of Light,” the sharp shooter Simodeccia shoots her own husband in the face, and in “Galapago,” Pearla accidentally kills a home intruder while aiming for the legs.

Part of her warnings about guns are because she grew up in Jefferson County, CO, where Columbine happened while she was in the sixth grade. The other half is because “guns are very prevalent in western life,” as she put it. “Where I grew up, everybody had a gun.”

“I think that’s why Simodecea is a character,” she continued. “Even though her gift has helped her, it’s also ruined her whole life.”

Fajardo-Anstine also knows that a lot of people are afraid to talk about guns. She knows that the issue has become very “flat” because of this, and draws it back to how the media makes everything seem so black and white. “For some people it’s how they get food, you know,” she said. “They hunt with guns. And I’m trying to show that it’s just a part of our lives.”

She doesn’t have a sharpshooter grandma like Simodecea, but her own grandma has proven just as capable. “One time my uncle was like a deadhead-hippie, and he got kicked out of all the homes in our family because he was traveling all over for concerts,” she said. “My grandma had to take him in. Once he went out partying until four or five in the morning and she had locked the door, so he was like banging on the door to get into the house. He never did it again because my grandma opened the door and held a gun to him. I just think women are badass. People forget that we do incredible things, even when we’re old.”

Writing hasn’t always been easy for Fajardo-Anstine. She finds it hard to make the time for it, but when she does she writes as much as she can.

She also faced backlash for her story “Sisters.” She was encouraged not to publish the story in the first place because of its dark themes, but felt like she needed to tell this part of her family’s history. “I feel like all of ‘Sabrina & Corina’ is about hiding, but it’s also about putting it out into the world so we can have that connection and healing,” she said.

Fajardo-Anstine’s characters are also often poor. She notes that in “Woman of Light” they are all extremely poor people. “I’m trying to prove that you don’t need to come from a wealthy family to have these great stories,” she said. “You can have a great story to tell no matter how humble you are.

“When I was younger, none of this seemed possible,” she continued. “The growth is incremental and you just put in the work over time, and then it’s like, Wow: I’m living my own dream. There’s still bad days but it’s what I imagined and hoped my life could be like. It means a lot to me because I started these when I was young and it shows that the art you make has an impact and what you do matters. You matter.”