Díaz read from her latest book, “Ordinary Girls,” as part of City of Asylum’s ongoing Memoir Series in Pittsburgh’s Northside.

Photo: Poet Steffan Triplett moderates a Q&A session with writers Jaquira Díaz and Kaveh Akbar on Feb. 6 at City of Asylum in the Northside of Pittsburgh.

Story and photos by Ashlee Green

Jaquira Díaz grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. In those times, she said, people didn’t talk about how to navigate a girlhood like hers. They still don’t.

In her latest book, a memoir called “Ordinary Girls,” Díaz recounts her childhood in an attempt to bring it to light, writing about—and for—the community she grew up in. She said it took her 12 years before she had enough emotional distance from what she was writing to be able to communicate what she wanted to say. One of her goals was to write about American colonialism in Puerto Rico for people who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a history book.

Díaz, reading from her latest book, a memoir called “Ordinary Girls” about growing up in poverty in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. By Ashlee Green

“It felt like this book demanded to be written before I could move on to anything else,” Díaz said at a Q&A session following her joint reading on Feb. 6 with poet Kaveh Akbar, author of “Calling a Wolf a Wolf.” The Q&A, part of the larger, ongoing Memoir Series at City of Asylum, was moderated by poet Steffan Triplett. Click here for the link to a video recording of the full event.

Díaz, who considers herself mainly a novelist, studied music before she became a writer, and said that she views each sentence as a unit of composition, aiming for rhythm in her words.

“I’m trapped in a sentence until that sentence sounds perfect.”

There are three more events coming up as part of the Memoir Series at City of Asylum: T. Fleischmann on Monday, March 2, Anuradha Bhagwati on Monday, April 27, and Nicole Chung on Monday, May 11. View the full calendar of events for City of Asylum here.

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