Anika Fajardo, author of What if a Fish
Middle Grade Literature category, sponsored by Education Minnesota
Each week leading up to the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.
In a year defined by a pandemic and its fallout, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. How has COVID-19 impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past year influenced your writing output in any ways that you can pinpoint?
I’ve been lucky in that I have deadlines for future projects, so that has kept me writing. On the other hand, my writing space has been severely compromised. My spouse is now working from home with lots of meetings and has taken over my office, so I don’t have a room with a door. My daughter is also doing school from home, so she’s a constant (welcome) distraction. I’m used to escaping to coffeeshops to write and I really miss them!
Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? (Sure, it may feel a bit un-Minnesotan to say so, but it’s not boasting if we ask!)
I wrote What If a Fish for myself as a kid and for boys I know now like my nephew and friends’ children. I wanted to tell a story about a Minnesota kid dealing with a dual identity (half-Colombian) as I did. I also wanted to highlight two places I love: Minneapolis and its lakes and Colombia.
What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?
I want readers to think about where they belong and how they might claim their own identity. I also hope readers see themselves reflected in one or more characters. For any reader who’s experienced the loss of a loved one, I hope they find something recognizable in the story.
Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conductive place for writers?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t pursue it seriously until I moved back to Minnesota after living in California for several years. I knew that the state and its cultural resources like the Loft Literary Center and the libraries would be conducive to writing. I’ve also been incredibly grateful to the Minnesota State Arts Board and the state’s generous and vital support of emerging artists.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category?
Aspiring writers receive lots of advice from all corners, so I don’t want to pile on more. Because some of it will be true and will work, while other advice just won’t seem helpful. What I will say is that anyone who wants to write should do it. No matter how old or young you are, you should write for yourself. Do it for the passion of putting words on paper and for the love of communicating.
Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known! (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.)
I love being in nature and spending time in or near Minnesota’s lakes, but I don’t like to fish. I don’t like putting worms on the hook or taking the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
Anika Fajardo is the author of Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family, a Minnesota Book Award finalist, and has earned awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Loft Literary Center, and the Jerome Foundation.