Fiction Writer Joins English Faculty – UofSC News & Events
Growing up in a Puerto Rican family in Staten Island and Brooklyn, New York, storytelling and books have always been a part of Claire Jiménez’s life.
“The women in my family were telling stories and making these brilliant jokes. And my dad introduced me to a lot of fine writers,” she says. “When I was growing up, he was going to college, and he’d bring his college books home and be like, ‘Oh, look at that. It’s James Baldwin or it’s Eugene O’Neill or it’s Tennessee Williams. And obviously, these things are far too difficult for a fifth grader. But just seeing him bring those books home created that appreciation for the books.
But although she always enjoyed reading and writing, making a living as a writer and college professor was hard to imagine.
“Really, I was just a nerdy girl who liked to read.”
Fast forward a few decades and Jiménez is now a new assistant professor of English language and literature at the University of South Carolina, and his first novel will be published this spring by Grand Central Publishing.
It’s a writing journey that began when she was selected as a Posse Scholar and moved from Staten Island to Colby College in Maine. The Posse Foundation identifies and recruits underserved students with leadership potential, and scholars receive full scholarships from the foundation’s partner colleges and universities. Jiménez was part of the first Posse cohort to attend Colby, where she majored in English.
She graduated from the Great Recession, returned home to New York, and found a job at the mall. But she kept thinking about the writing classes she’d taken in college and her love for telling stories.
So, on some kind of lark, she applied to Vanderbilt’s MFA program, thinking she wouldn’t get into the selective program that accepts only a handful of students each year. But it was free to apply.
“And then when I walked in, I was so surprised. It changed my life,” she says. “I ended up going to Nashville, Tennessee, and those years were a gift. I had three years to write and I had teachers who spent time with me to help me develop my stories and become a better writer.
While there she wrote a short story called “Catfight”, a tale that would eventually become the novel. What happened to Ruthy Ramirezwhich will be published in the spring.
The story follows a Puerto Rican family on Staten Island when a 13-year-old goes missing in the 1990s. Eight years later, the girl’s sisters think they’ll see her on a reality show.
“It’s really an examination of loss and trauma, how black and brown women’s bodies are portrayed on television, and how black and brown girls disappeared, especially in the 90s, n ‘have not received much attention,’ she said. said. “That’s basically the premise of the novel.
This attention to highlighting the Puerto Rican experience is part of her research as well as her personal writing. She studies and writes about the lack of Puerto Rican authors published by mainstream presses. In 2020, she co-founded The Puerto Rican Literature Project, a free digital archive, with a team of Puerto Rican writers and scholars in partnership with the US Latino Digital Humanities Program at the University of Houston. In 2021, the team received a $1.3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to further develop the archive.
“I never thought I would become a professor even before I got my MFA. And then I didn’t think I would go for a PhD. I wasn’t sure that was in the cards for me,” Jiménez said, “It took a lot of hard work and a lot of years of writing and struggling as a writer. You see all your friends who have these jobs with 401Ks and you’re like, ‘Why is this? am I doing this?” And then finally it’s like, ‘Oh, it paid off.’ But it took many, many years.”
Now, she is thrilled to be a part of the university’s English and African-American studies departments. She will be teaching the fiction workshop next year, and she hopes to create a course around ethnic literature.
“There are so many great writers here. I mean, Nikky Finney teaches here. It’s just a dream. It’s just extraordinary. I love that it’s on the East Coast, close to New York for my research. I like the diversity of the city. The creative writing program is growing and there are plenty of opportunities here. It’s exciting for me.”