Since 2018, Ecuadorian-American writer and translator Victoria Buitron has tried her hand at many genres of writing, publishing dozens of stand-alone pieces in literary magazines. This year, she made a splash in the industry at large with her debut memoir, A Body Across Two Hemispheres, which won the Fairfield Book Prize a year before its publication. The collection explores her life as a child of two countries and many borders, and where she plans to go next.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How would you describe yourself as a writer?
VICTORIA BUITRON: For a long time, I solely saw myself as an essayist and a nonfiction writer. It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve made a transition to poetry and fiction. So there are two sides of me: the very flowery side because I read and write in Spanish and this flash [fiction] side in both English and Spanish that takes away all the unnecessary meat in a piece. With time, I’ve had to grow, look at these two very different types of writing, figure out what I want to do with them, and act on them. It’s important for all writers to accept that their work will evolve and that their wants will evolve as well.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How do you normally approach the writing process?
VICTORIA BUITRON: I love generative workshops and prompts. Sometimes I sign up for generative classes when I don’t have any new work. Sometimes a first draft comes from a lived experience—something from the past that keeps popping up in my head. A lived experience may stay as nonfiction or evolve into a story. There are instances when I think I’m going to write a nonfiction piece and as I’m writing it, I think: “No, this needs line breaks.” It’s going to take shape the way it wants to and it’s best not to edit it in the moment. This allows me the freedom to venture into fiction, nonfiction, flash, or poetry.
It’s going to take shape the way it wants to and it’s best not to edit it in the moment. This allows me the freedom to venture into fiction, nonfiction, flash, or poetry.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What has been one important lesson you’ve learned from submitting work to literary magazines and journals?
VICTORIA BUITRON: Recently, I submitted a flash piece, it got accepted, and there was an editing process. They sent back some edits that I agreed with, some I did not. I mentioned quarters because the piece is based in Ecuador where they use U.S. currency, and the editors were worried that people would think it was set in the U.S. Even though I understood, I had to stand up for myself and say, “I don’t want to add this detail. One, this is a flash piece; two, from the beginning, you can understand it’s not in the U.S., and three, Ecuador has been using U.S. currency since 2000. It’s been 22 years.” In 2018, when I first started submitting work, I might have agreed. Learning how to stand your ground as the person who controls how it will appear in print is important, and it’s something that comes from experience. The editor and writer relationship is valuable, and both sides need to feel comfortable and content with the final result.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice would you give to someone who is submitting their work for the first time?
VICTORIA BUITRON: Even if you’re submitting something for the first time, it’s your work. You have the power to say, “Yes, I agree with this. No, I don’t think this helps this piece.” Which is hard when you’re starting out because you want so much for somebody to read your work that you start determining what can be sacrificed. If a literary magazine says yes to a piece, and then they proceed to change the essence of the piece, you can say, “I hope we can see eye to eye in the future, but it’s best to withdraw this piece. I appreciate the opportunity.” It’s your work, no matter what.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Your debut memoir A Body Across Two Hemispheres is a collection of flash and longer nonfiction essays. Did you know it would be in this format when you began or did it slowly build up into a collection over time?
VICTORIA BUITRON: It naturally built up over time. In the beginning, I wanted to write the book like any other memoir with chronological chapters. But it didn’t work because something was missing. I got the idea by asking myself: “I have so many flash pieces. Instead of focusing on chronological form, why don’t I focus on location?” Since I have crisscrossed between the U.S. and Ecuador so many times, I was able to bring that back and forth into book form. That’s why it starts out with the Southern Hemisphere, continues to Between Borders, and ends with the Northern Hemisphere. I’m glad that the book was naturally calling for that shift and that I listened to it.
Learning how to stand your ground as the person who controls how it will appear in print is important, and it’s something that comes from experience… It’s your work, no matter what.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did the book’s cover art come about?
VICTORIA BUITRON: I was someone who grew up with two passports, who later fell in love with a man who was undocumented. Once we got married we had to undergo a marriage interview that felt more like an interrogation, and I wrote an essay about it that is included in my memoir. One of my professors in my MFA program, Adriana Páramo, said, “You have pieces in your book about marrying your husband and how that’s affected your understanding of immigration. He’s a very big part of your book and he’s also a designer and photographer. Why don’t you ask him if he can do a cover?” He said yes, and then Woodhall Press said yes once they saw a draft. I knew there had to be a cut or rip, something that clearly lets the reader know there is some type of rupture. My husband mentioned that the mango is very important, especially in the beginning with Ecuador and my family. Then I suggested cutting the mango in half. I’m very proud of it and happy that I got to work on it with someone so close to me.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What excites you about the book?
VICTORIA BUITRON: When I was younger, it was very hard for me to find work by Ecuadorian-American writers. I’d find books in the library by writers who were Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, etc. And I loved that. I needed that. To see myself represented in their work was important as a teenager, but I still wanted to read about my country. I couldn’t find that, and when I did, it was written by a white man. So I wrote this book for who I was when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. [I want] an Ecuadorian girl who lives in Connecticut picks up my book to reads it and say, “Wow, she grew up here in Connecticut like me!” It shows them that they can write a book if they want to, as well.