Renowned Southwestern author Dagoberto Gilb remembers passing through Flagstaff when he was young.
He was driving from Albuquerque, N.M. to Los Angeles, and he had just been to Chinle on the Navajo Nation. He noticed a crew on the highway. He needed a job, so he asked for work.
“I dreamed I’d been living in Flagstaff for a time,” he stated in an email correspondence, adding that while he was in college, he hung around with three guys, two of whom were Navajo and one of whom was Pima.
Gilb returns to Flagstaff on Oct. 14 to give a night of reading from his extensive body of work at the Lone Tree Campus at Coconino Community College during the Northern Arizona Book Festival.
Along with this event, acclaimed singer-songwriter Jerry Riopelle of the Actual Musicians Band will head down to the Gopher Hole at the Weatherford Hotel downtown for a performance. Proceeds from the $20 requested donation will benefit the Paul Riopelle Medical Fund.
Gilb was born in Los Angeles, and he is the son of a Mexican mother and a father of German descent. His journey to being a critically acclaimed author took him through the blue-collar world of construction, and his writing overflows with experiences from his life, experiences necessarily that are Mexican American.
“I don’t believe there’s anything else,” Gilb said. “By that, I don’t mean that I write only stories that are my life. What I mean is that they are stories I’ve heard or learned in my life.”
CCC English Instructor Sandra Dihlmann Lunday said the idea of inviting Gilb to the college came from a discussion she had one semester with some of her students.
“The students had questions about one of Gilb’s characters in a short story we were reading,” Dihlmann Lunday said. “And I said, ‘Rather than believe what literary critics say about the protagonist, let’s talk to Gilb.’”
She found out how to contact him and began a correspondence. During the back and forth, Dihlmann Lunday asked what it would take to get him to Flagstaff to talk to her students.
“His response, with true Gilb candor, was, ‘You can’t afford me,’” she said. “From that point on, it was this English Department’s mission to get him to CCC.”
With the assistance of the CCC administration, the mission was accomplished, Dihlmann Lunday added.
“What impresses me most about Gilb is his integrity as a writer and the work he has done to earn success as a major literary figure,” Dihlmann Lunday said. “At 13-years-old, Gilb entered the workforce as a sheet shaker, and after high school, he attended several community colleges before earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working full time.”
MEDITATION & EXERCISE
For Gilb, writing fiction is “both a meditation and an athletic exercise for the brain.”
“When I think I have a story, I don’t think it’s ‘mine,’ but it’s out there, as a myth story is,” Gilb stated. “I happen to hear and see it, and – as a sort-of psychic journalist – I try to get the images and conversations between them down in words as best I can.”
He added, “People often think my fiction is ‘realism.’ Never to me. That understood, I do employ ‘realism’ to describe the dream I am trying to contain into what I think of as a ‘mythic’ structure and tale.”
Dihlmann Lunday said, “Gilb’s life reflects the lives of many of our community college students, and his writing speaks to our students and our community, which is comprised of many cultures and ethnicities.”
She added, “His tone is unpretentious, funny, and ironic as he speaks – unapologetically – his truth in his work. As a teacher and a reader, I am most drawn to this truth.”
To aspiring writers, Gilb advises for them never to stop writing, no matter what. Love reading books and stories, and deeply care about the craft and beauty of writing.
“Writing is a lot about the writing – the many hours, word by word, like a rock mason, like a mosaic tile setter,” Gilb stated.
And remember, he added, to “go outside and live a life and listen and pay attention and take notes.”