Not too many years before Kirstin Valdez Quade’s writing began appearing in the The New Yorker or the annual collection The Best American Short Stories or before she was selected as a Wallace Stegner Fellow and Truman Capote Fellow at Stanford, she was a kid bouncing around the desert Southwest with her geologist father, living in trailers and tents, soaking up material for stories like “Mojave Rats,” included in her first collection of short fiction, titled Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton & Company). Although she attended 13 schools in four states, New Mexico, where she was born, and Santa Fe, where her grandparents lived, “remain the landscape that most fuels my imagination.” The region is the magnetic north for most of her stories as her characters struggle with the demands of family, custom, and religion in a land where tradition both beckons and repels, and where the most important decisions can involve honoring the past or breaking with it, staying or leaving. Quade currently teaches fiction as the Delbanco Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Pasatiempo: Several of the 10 stories in Night at the Fiestas take place in or around Santa Fe and Albuquerque. How did that background influence your writing?
Kirsten Valdez Quade: My family’s presence in New Mexico can be traced to Cristóbal de Arellano. I was born in Albuquerque, and when I was small, I spent days with my great-grandmother while my mother worked. As the oldest grandchild, I’ve been really close to my grandparents and older relatives, and have pestered them with questions about their lives: about growing up in the little towns of Torreon and Miami and Springer, about Santa Fe in the ’30s and ’40s. My grandmother accuses me of being an entrometida — a busybody.