What You See: A Look at Manuel Muñoz and Creative Writing at the UAPosted on: August 23, 2011 in Creativity & The Arts
Starting in the California desert Manuel Munoz’s journey has taken him from Harvard to Cornell to New York City, and now to the University of Arizona’s prestigious Creative Writing Program. His life’s journey is as intriguing as his first novel, What You See in the Dark, which has received a great deal of positive attention and has been recommended by both National Public Radio and O Magazine.
What You See in the Dark, written as if through a camera, provides close-ups of four women. There is Arlene, lonely and passive. She watches, helplessly, as her town changes, her livelihood diminishes and her son murders. The character identified as “Actress” is based on Janet Leigh from Psycho shower fame. There is the hopeful Teresa, an attractive Latina. We see how impossible her world is -- with its racist overtones and her attraction to a murderer. And there is the unnamed character that bookends the tale. Her cool voice narrates who the winners and losers are of the small town.
Though the novel is written cinematically, Muñoz did not grow up a movie buff. In the small town of Dinuba, where he often worked alongside his parents and brothers and sisters in the agriculture fields, the single screen theatres played only third-runs of violent movies like Death Wish. Muñoz says, “Movies were chaotic, scary, and violent… I always had my mother’s hand over my eyes.” It was reading and writing that sustained him.
His studious nature caught the attention of his teachers, who encouraged him to apply to college. He did and was accepted to Harvard. Though he often felt the class and race divide at Harvard, it did allow Muñoz to fortify himself as a writer -- one motivated by experimentation. As he describes in Library of America blog: “If a novel is episodic and breaks the expectation of a typical narrative, good artists know the first reaction should never be ‘This is a failure.’ It should be ‘Why’?” (http://blog.loa.org/2011/05/nobody-knows-my-name-manuel-munoz-on.html)
Muñoz attended Cornell for his Masters of Fine Arts, worked in publishing in New York City, and joined the faculty of the University of Arizona in 2008. He quickly developed a reputation as a generous and talented teacher.
Former creative writing student Will Pewitt says, “He spends time getting to know his students the same way a professional like himself would get to know his own characters.” It is Muñoz’s “talent and sophistication,” according to Pewitt, that enhances the reputation of the UA Creative Writing Program.
When asked to reflect on his decision to join the faculty, Muñoz does not hesitate as he cites the UA’s strongest draw, the Poetry Center. Established in 1960, the Poetry Center possesses one of the finest and most extensive and fully accessible collections of contemporary English language poetry in the nation.
“Seeing the Center for the first time on my visit, I saw immediately how invested the University of Arizona was to creative writing and how the community of Tucson recognized the value of having a national reputation as an arts center. In my three years here, the readings matched just about everything I ever witnessed in New York. The Poetry Center is indeed one of a kind.”
Muñoz will be reading (with colleague and poet Barbara Cully) at the award winning UA Poetry Center on September 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm.