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Denise Chavez ’74

Writing on the Border

By Donna Parker

Denise Chavez, who received her master of fine arts degree in drama from Trinity in 1974, is a writer with many stories to tell.  She’s well on her way to preparing a mouth-watering feast for the reader.  She has written a number of books such as  A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture – a book about her own family;  The Last of the Menu Girls – about a young girl growing up in southern New Mexico; and Face of an Angel – praised by the New York Times Book Review as a “spicy Southwestern stew.”  And still, the words keep coming.

“Right now, I’m finishing a novel called The King and Queen of Comezón – literally about an itch and it’s set in Itch, New Mexico!” says this busy author and playwright.

“I love my work. Just this year, I wrote two children’s books, but my primary energy is going to my novel.”

Life offers so many possibilities to Denise, who in addition to her writing, just coordinated the 15th annual (Quinceañera) Border Book Festival (www.borderbookfestival.org) in Old Mesilla, N.M., which has featured such luminaries as acclaimed authors Sandra Cisneros and Barbara Kingsolver.

“We’re also filming a documentary in Las Cruces schools with three Los Angeles film makers.  Our festival work was originally school outreach and from that has sprung the multi-cultural aspect in the town of Mesilla – a multi-cultural book store and resource center for our young authors.  Who would have thought that two women getting together 15 years ago with an idea for a festival would grow into an event such as this?”

Denise actually went through the program at the Dallas Professional Theatre with Paul Baker, department of speech and drama.

“It took me more than two years to finish the program.  It was intense and we studied all aspects of drama, including lighting and sound.  It was jam-packed with physical body movement as we worked lights, props, costumes, and makeup.”

“Trinity has been such a major proponent of my work and art and has been instrumental in everything I’ve ever done in my life.  Paul and his training helped me as a playwright, actor, and director and even as a human being. Gene McKinney, department of speech and drama, who was my playwright professor, was the first person that deigned to give me powerful advice.  He was the strong, silent type who really steered a young, naïve playwright into the realms of world theater.”

Denise went on to teach at the University of Houston in the 1980s, sharing an office with Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and would have stayed on, but she returned home to Las Cruces where she taught English at New Mexico State University while caring for her father who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

“It was my privilege to be his caretaker up until his death.  There’s a book there – about taking care of my dad. Those 14 years were beautiful years.”

“My life now is public because I work at the cultural center, but really I lead a very quiet, simple life. My husband and I have two cats - Noci and Kuki - and they are my children, as well as my books.  My home is sacred to me.  It’s a place to write, which I do every single day and so I continue working in the place I love so much.  I am a real person of the Southwest – born and raised here in Texas and New Mexico, which are equal homes to me.”

“My writing and the success of the Border Book Festival is exciting for me because it’s a confirmation that one can impact the world by holding onto your dreams.”

You may contact Denise at bbf@zianet.com.