A self-described ‘cubano de Nueva Jersey via Nuevo Mexico,’ Robert Arellano is the author of six novels, including the 2010 Edgar Award finalist, Havana Lunar. Along with his wife and two children, he relocated to Talent in 2010 to teach at Southern Oregon University, where he is continuing his twenty-year teaching career. Arellano is a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellow. As part of his tenure, he is a volunteer teacher at youth writing workshops, including the César E. Chavez Leadership Conference in March. The conference brings together Latino student leaders from nine regional high schools from Grants Pass to Klamath Falls.
photo by Ezra Marcos
Congratulations on receiving a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship. What’s in the cards for you this year?
Thank you. Besides keeping up an invigorating job at SOU, I will teach and deliver the keynote address at Ashland’s Claim Your Story 2 conference in April, as well as at several other intensive writing conferences. But most of all, I would like to work with Oregon groups on ways to best engage in some uncommon conversations with readers and writers around the state. I’m looking forward to meeting people of all ages in their communities and in innovative forums: evening or weekend programs that combine reading, discussion and writing to spark Oregonians’ passion for books. Perhaps this will inspire a future Oregon Literary Fellow.
photo by Ezra Marcos
How has moving to Oregon inspired your writing?
Each of my earlier novels is an unreal distortion of a real time and place, but I usually don’t set a whole book somewhere until I’ve lived there for four or five years. In the meantime, I hang out in cafés, chronicling snippets of what I see, recording snatches of what I hear, familiarizing myself with the behaviors and dialects of a place, the cultures—which in Oregon are as rich as New Mexico’s Hispano-hippie hybrids or the Northeast’s Italian-American enclaves, both of which I’ve written books about. Now, beginning this winter, I find myself in the middle of writing an Oregon novel. It’s a noir detective story with lots of regional atmosphere. It takes place in the south, in the summer, in the smoke.
Tell us about your creative process.
I get up at 3 a.m. and sit down to write at a window looking out on the lights of Medford burning in the night.