Q+A With Claire Jiménez, Author of ‘What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez’

Claire Jiménez, author of 'What Happened to Ruthy Ramírez'

Previously known for her award-winning short story collection Staten Island Stories, Puerto Rican author Claire Jiménez recently released her debut novel, What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, which follows the Ramirez family still reeling from daughter Ruthy’s disappearance. When her sisters Jessica and Nina believe they see her on TV as a reality show contestant, they embark on a family road trip to bring Ruthy home and repair their family once and for all. 

Sofía Aguilar and Claire Jiménez hopped on the phone to discuss What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, Claire’s writing journey, and women as the main characters of their own lives. 

SOFÍA AGUILAR: Can you talk about the journey that led to the publication of your short story collection Staten Island Stories?

CLAIRE JIMÉNEZ: Ever since I was a little girl, I loved reading books, storytelling, being in libraries. I was moved by writers who made me feel less alone and I want to do that as well. I want to put words on the page that inspire others and have power. In high school, I went to an afterschool program in Manhattan called Youth Speaks where I would write poetry. Then in college, I started taking fiction workshops and learning how to write short stories. Even when I left college and ended up going into youth development and teaching and working retail, I was still writing. Eventually, I figured out that what I wanted to do with my life was to write full-time and go into an MFA program. The first year I applied, I didn’t get in and I was devastated. The second year, I got waitlisted. I remember I talked to my professor who taught me as an undergrad at Colby College in the first Latinx literature class I had ever taken. She said, ‘It happens. There are times when you’re going to get rejected, but you try again.’ The next year, I got into Vanderbilt, which was at that point the most selective MFA program in the United States. Out of hundreds of applicants, they only picked three people. I went there and my manuscript then became my debut collection of short stories. 

I was moved by writers who made me feel less alone and I want to do that as well. I want to put words on the page that inspire others and have power.

Claire Jiménez

SOFÍA AGUILAR: Turning to What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez, why did you want to write this story? 

CLAIRE JIMÉNEZ: I was thinking a lot about working retail, about the nineties, about reality television, about how Black and brown women are portrayed in media. And of course, first and foremost, the epidemic of missing Black, brown, and Indigenous women. In this country, those cases are not given as much attention as the cases of white women who have disappeared. In the book, it is mentioned that there was some work on the side of the police, but largely it just seems to go under the radar the more time that passes with Ruthy. It speaks to the ways in which Black, brown, and Indigenous women are often criminalized. One of the first questions often is, ‘Did they run away? Did they do this?’ And I understand that you have to consider those options but it seems that the assumption is that these girls or women have done something wrong as opposed to asking, ‘Is this woman vulnerable?’ or thinking of her as a victim. 

SOFÍA AGUILAR: What was it like to embody the voices of the various women in the story?

CLAIRE JIMÉNEZ: I loved the play of their voices. I loved putting them in comic situations and pushing them at the end to be honest about some of the things they were experiencing. Because for me, what’s most important to figure out before I write is voice. When I was writing, I wasn’t a mother but I wanted to understand the mother Dolores and what it is to grieve the loss of a child. I wanted to give her point of view the dignity and respect that it deserved. Meaning that I didn’t want to be overly sentimental, because when we sentimentalize things, sometimes they become cheap. I wanted her to have the full range of emotions that a mother might have after their child has disappeared at such a young age. What I realized was that her perspective made the most sense as a prayer, as a conversation with God. With Ruthy’s perspective, it’s tricky because though it reads as third person, what you realize is that Ruthy is talking about herself, trying to understand and tell her story. At one point, it shifts to second person. I wanted to capture the voice of a young girl trying to tell her story so for me, it made sense that she would struggle figuring out the perspective. She would struggle with that representation, which also echoes the larger theme that I was working with, which is the representation of Black, brown, and Indigenous girls in media. That was the purpose of writing this novel. 

When I see another Black or brown writer in the room, it makes me feel less alone.

Claire Jiménez

SOFÍA AGUILAR: What has been an important lesson you’ve learned from your career so far?

CLAIRE JIMÉNEZ: That it’s really about persistence and patience. You always have to keep on writing and putting yourself on the page. You can’t let people gaslight you into thinking that you should stop. Be careful about who you let influence you or stop you from doing your work. Because there are tons of moments when you doubt yourself. You think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m wasting my time.’ As women of color, we face so many more challenges in addition to writing and revision. We face the challenges of a racist white audience and publishing industry, and a million different ways every single day that somebody tries to put us down. So it’s about finding the editors and the agents who understand you and know your work and are willing to advocate and go to bat for you. That takes time, confidence in yourself, and kindness.

SOFÍA AGUILAR: Do you struggle with comparing yourself to your writer colleagues? 

CLAIRE JIMÉNEZ: Never with other Black and brown writers. I always feel inspired by them. In literary spaces, you often see mostly white writers and white audiences. So when I see another Black or brown writer in the room, it makes me feel less alone. Ten years ago, folks might get other opportunities and I would think to myself, ‘Why is my work not getting this attention?’ And of course, one of the things you realize as a woman writer of color is that the opportunities that are available for white writers are much more than what we have. You have to fight for those opportunities. Sometimes there’s resentment but I try to fight that feeling back, too. Because what I’m most interested in is always the work and finding other writers that I love to be in community with.

Order What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez out now and follow Claire on Twitter.

What We're Watching

Discover more from LatinaMedia.Co

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading