Culturephile: Spellbound with Marytza K. Rubio

Santa Ana writer and arts activist Marytza K. Rubio makes her literary debut with a wickedly funny, lushly evocative short-story collection, “Maria, Maria.”
Marytza K. Rubio Culturephile Orange Coast Magazine
Marytza K. Rubio.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Whether the setting is as exotic as the jungles of Brazil or as familiar as a Santa Ana apartment or community college classroom, Rubio catapults readers into oddly skewed worlds where magic spells, witches, and transformations are commonplace. Founder of the Makara Center for the Arts, a now-virtual nonprofit library and arts center, she honed her fiction as a PEN America Emerging Voices fellow and as an MFA student with residences in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro; and Santiago, Chile.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was in high school, I started going to open mic readings in downtown Santa Ana at a cafe called Neutral Grounds. That’s when the Artists Village was pretty vibrant. The energy was super bonkers. This was probably 1998 to 2000. I spent time there and really expanded what I was reading and (found) that writing was another way to express myself.

Did your time studying in Latin America influence your writing?

That just really nourished me, especially because that’s where my imagination gravitates toward, with the animals, the wildlife, the vegetation. I like being out
of my comfort zone. I speak Spanish, so I was able to navigate pretty easily. It was
all the unexpected things. I remember that we went to this cemetery in Buenos Aires called La Recoleta. I was with friends, and we were walking home after a very late night. This bat, this giant brown bat, swooped over and you could see its face, this little piggy face. I just love those unexpected things. That experience fed my imagination.

Your stories are filled with flora and fauna. What research did you do?

I worked for the Friends of Santa Ana Zoo around 2010. I’ve always loved animals, and jaguars, in particular, are a fascination. I don’t think the big cat was there when I was working there, but the woman I worked for, the executive director, she volunteered for cat organizations. It was what people talked about. People were so into animals, whether it was a gerbil or a pet cat—just that energy of appreciating wildlife. I loved working there.

Your writing style is wildly imaginative, not naturalistic. Are others using this style?

Yes. In terms of speculative fiction, I think a lot about Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado. One of the writers I really admire, Fernando Flores—he wrote “Tears of the Trufflepig”—he kind of slips in and out of reality and has these speculative elements. I think that allows us to tell the story in a way that is limitless and unbound by rules that aren’t necessary. When I go to L.A., I love to take the train. I love looking out and there’s the L.A. River, which is always dry, but I think how cool it would be to see alligators out there or wild cats. I’m able to entertain myself thinking about that. It is possible. Like the bat in Rio de Janeiro or a toucan trying to break into someone’s house. I think when I’m writing, that’s the world I want to live in.

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