Tim Z. Hernandez is an award winning author and performance artist. His debut collection of poetry, Skin Tax (Heyday Books, 2004) received the 2006 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation, and the Zora Neal Hurston Award for writers of color dedicated to their communities.
Dr.Tim Z. Hernandez in his own words.
“Growing up I wasn’t one of those well-read literary types, not in high school, and not in those liminal years after, when I found myself in a void, a space of total possibility. I was not well read at all, but well read-to. My first encounters with literature were through voice, expression, and embodiment. It was my mother, Lydia Hernandez, a self-made woman and product of the harsh New Mexico landscapes, who believed in the transformative magic of language and narrative. And she would read to me during those long migrant road trips, field to field, across state lines and shifting landscapes. The whole way my father, Felix Hernandez, a sarcastic Tejano, spun these tales, these written words, off in new and strange directions. He was a consummate jokester, a stand-up comedian of the fields, and of family barbecues. But always, stories were at the heart of our family. This was my beginning.” source
Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve
in the twitching leg of a dog
three hours after being smashed
beneath the retread wheel
of a tomato truck en route to
a packing house that was raided
by the feds just days before the harvest,
in which tractors were employed
to make do where the vacancy
of bodies could not, as they ran out
into the oncoming traffic of Highway 99,
arms up in dead heat, shouting
the names of their children,
who were huddled nearby,
in an elementary school, reciting
out loud, The House That Jack Built.
The following is from an interview by Dini Karasik and appeared on the blog “on writers and writing” earlier this month. Click here to read the entire interview
DK: Speaking of limitations, young writers are often told that they should write what they know. Do you agree with this instruction? What is a writer’s obligation to himself, the craft, the reader?
TH: I think each writer has to come to these terms on his or her own, it’s different for each. In our process, if we stick with it long enough, we build our own philosophies about why we write and who we write for. Around 1997, the late poet Andres Montoya and I were having a conversation one day, and he asked me about a poem I had written. I was trying to articulate to him what it was about and when I was done he leaned his head to one side and sort of chuckled, then said, “What’s your purpose, bro?”
I think this is the question we ultimately end up confronting. What is our purpose? As to the question of “writing what we know/don’t know,” that’s a one dimensional way of looking at it. Things aren’t merely black or white. Right or wrong. True or false. Know and don’t know. And this is precisely why we write, to work through the complex layers toward some sense of an understanding.
If we look honestly at our own lives, we know this is true. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who the hell that is staring back at me. On the one hand, I know that guy. On the other hand, there are things taking place inside me, tiny exchanges, unjust compromises, molecular wars going on, things I’ll never know about within me. But again, this comes down to personal philosophy. If I was forced to choose a side I would have to say I only write about what I don’t know. I have experiences and impressions about things, and maybe some informed opinions, but I truly, simply, do not know.
So for me, I write to explore the possibilities, and am perfectly okay with not knowing. But it’s because of this not knowing that I’m free to write about whatever I want. This is what dictates my approach to subject, form, obligation, audience—the investigations. I suspect every writer wants the freedom to write about whatever piques their interest.