Finding Joy at a Reading with Isabel Quintero
Admittedly, I was nervous when I stepped into Taylor Banquet Hall for the reading by Isabel Quintero only 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start. After originally standing awkwardly in front of the large glass windows and door only to read the sign that told me to enter through the Wine Sellers next door, I faltered before entering because I was certain I looked silly to the other patrons. After having convinced myself that I was only person in the room who had never been to reading by a well-established author, I scurried to a seat in the back corner where I could be easily forgotten.
The room was small, especially for what the words “banquet hall” brought to mind and I was surprised not to see more of my classmates. I thought extra credit would have provided more incentive. I immediately recognized only two of the small handful seated. I distracted myself and my overly anxious mind with simple games on my phone and soon others started pouring in. In fact, the hosts were forced to find another five chairs and, even then, there were five or six others left standing. As my professor eagerly tallied all my peers in attendance, I tripled-checked that my phone was on silent and waited impatiently.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect out of the reading. I was caught off-guard by the epic of awards both the author and her novel had received. Macomb is a small town and WIU is a small university; I don’t expect to meet highly awarded people here and certainly not at free events.
I was encouraged to attend this reading by the professor for my poetry class and assumed I was to hear a poetry reading. When Quintero began her novel A Girl in Pieces, which is written in a diary style, I was surprised and intrigued. As the reading continued, I found myself beginning to quickly love the diverse characters and laughing in spite of myself at the natural humor. Quintero brought Gabby, her family, and her friends to life. Gabby is a Mexican American girl in her senior year of high school in California. She struggles with her self-esteem, navigating the waters of romance, and a father addicted to methamphetamines. In only 40 minutes, I found a new friend in Gabby.
The experience served as a gentle reminder of the joys of language and reading and its power to connect our imaginations. After hearing a bit from the beginning middle and near end of the story, the reading was over and Quintero answered questions. She explained that her characters are a “mash-up” of a variety of people and experiences she has heard and known over the years. The point she made about how much of a struggle it can be to work as full-time author and maintain intimate social relationships was a different side contrasted against the usual glamour that is associated with being a published author. As the questions came to an end and the guests moved towards the food for the reception, I made a quick escape to go to work.