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AN INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS SANCHEZ Thomas Sanchez Thomas Sanchez has written three novels, MiZe Zero, Rabbit Boss, and Zoot-Suit Murders, and the non-fiction Native Notes from the Land of Earthquake and Fire. He has received fellowships from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim foundation. This interview was conducted by Kay Bonetti, Director of the American Audio Prose Library. The Prose Library offers tapes of American authors reading and discussing their work. For information contact AAPL at P.O. Box 842, Columbia, MO 65205. An Interview with Thomas Sanchez IKay Bonetti Interviewer: Mr. Sanchez, you've described your life as being somewhat Dickensian. Certainly your books deal with extremes— extremes of behavior, extremes of circumstance. Does your work reflect the extremes of your life? Sanchez: It probably has, but I never thought that my life was extreme. You feel that the way you are living is the way everyone lives, especially when you're a child. My father died in World War II on an aircraft carrier that went down in the Pacific three months before I was born. My earliest memories are of having nightmares of being on fire and drowning. Interviewer: And eventually your mother became so ill that you ended up in the St. Francis School for Boys. Can you tell us about that? Sanchez: It was kind of a combination orphanage and boarding school and reform school. Most of the children there were either very poor children or orphans. There were Chicano children, there were American Indians, there were black children. It was a true American melting pot. It seems rather simplistic, but I really did live in a kind of "Family of Man" situation. A very tough one at times and a very dangerous one at times. But one which gave me a concept of what life could be outside the confines of that particular school. Interviewer: Where was the school located? Sanchez: It was in Watsonville, California, which is on the edge of the Monterey Bay in Northern California. Interviewer: Is that near the Cannery Row of Steinbeck's novel? The Missouri Review · 77 Sanchez: Yes. Cannery Row is also on Monterey Bay. I spent some time living on the edge of Cannery Row when I was a kid, in particular as a teenager. When I was there, the Cannery Row that Steinbeck had written about, that ghostly presence, was still there. It had not yet been turned into chic boutiques and restaurants. Interviewer: Did your mother work in the canning factories there? Sanchez: No, but she did work in cannery factories on the east Bay of San Francisco, as did my grandmother. Interviewer: To what do you attribute your early love of learning and literature, your attraction to writing? Sanchez: It's difficult to find that moment of illumination, but, looking back, I think it goes to my grandmother. She was taken out of school at a very early age and for various reasons she didn't learn to read or write. She was ashamed of that, and I bring it up because it's important. She developed a sense of the oral; she developed a sense of storytelling. She could take the language, in particular the American language, and make something of it. She invented words and she had a real mastery of telling a story. She'd throw some verbs up in the air like they were a pizza pie and they would come down as a cherry pie. The postman and the neighbors would come along to have a cup of coffee in my grandmother's kitchen and stay for hours upon end. She gave me a great gift without knowing it. She kept her very few precious objects in a little cedar box. Two of them were her favorite rosary and a very carefully folded and yellowing advertisement and review for my first novel, Rabbit Boss. When I discovered this after she died, I realized that for her the mystery 78 - The Missouri Review Thomas Sanchez "The magic of words was equal with the spiritual world." and the power that were held within that rosary also were held within the review of Rabbit Boss...


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