On the Shelf: New Mexico author shares ‘the power of a story’ with refugees


LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Performance writer, novelist, teacher and activist Denise Chávez has been writing about New Mexico since she was eight years old. The Las Cruces author writes fiction, nonfiction and plays.

In addition to writing, Chávez has been busy with her project, Libros para el Viaje, or Books for the Journey. It is a book drive program run out of her bookstore in Las Cruces that provides bilingual titles to children and adults awaiting their immigration cases on the U.S.-Mexico border. “Books are vital to people. They give us hope, they give us ánimo, a will to live. They give us aspirations, and so when I am able to give a book to a child who has been in detention, or an elderly man whose Bible has been thrown away in the ICE garbage can, I realize the power of a story,” Chávez said.

Chávez said she is always collecting books, primarily in Spanish, to share with refugees at her bookstore Casa Camino Real in Las Cruces.

The New Mexico author also credits reading as something that made her appreciate the craft of writing, so much so that her mother gifted her a thesaurus at 10 years old. She said her mother helped instill that love of reading from a young age, and her father showed her what a hard worker looked like; all things she remains grateful for to this day. Chávez’s entire family encouraged an appreciation of education, and a deep love of their Mexican heritage. “They were lovers of literature. My mother studied in Mexico for 13 summers, she was a Spanish major and was a student of Diego Rivera. She loved Mexico, our culture, our traditions, our language,” Chávez said.

It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision to center her stories on Mexican characters in order to provide representation for other Latino readers, but Chávez says she realizes the importance of sharing those stories nonetheless. “We never had those role models. We never studied Chicano literature in school, we didn’t have those short stories in those books. There were a few, but those were few and far between. We are in the forefront of a great movement to educate people about the talent, energy and beauty of our culture,” Chávez said.

She attended New Mexico State University where she majored in drama and earned an M.F.A. in theatre from Trinity University as well as an M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico in creative writing. She found a mentor in Rudolfo Anaya who wrote Bless Me, Ultima. It was from him that she gained a greater appreciation of writing and sharing about Mexico’s food, culture and traditions.

For more information about Libros para el Viaje, visit the Facebook page at Casa Camino Real Book Store and Art Gallery.

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