Plascencia Published in McSweeney’s 61September 23, 2020
Harvey Mudd College creative writing professor Salvador Plascencia joins comedians, cultural critics and writers in the latest issue of the award-winning quarterly McSweeney’s.
McSweeney’s 61 features Plascencia’s story “El Paraiso” about “rural Mexican towns, soccer in the San Gabriel Valley and the sadness of the diaspora.” Plascencia, an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts, has had three previous stories in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern: “The Enduring Nature of the Bromidic” (#32), “Returned” (#22) and “The People of Paper” (#12).
The latter story, published in book form by McSweeney’s in 2005, became a cult favorite. The People of Paper was named a best book of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Financial Times. The book has been translated into a dozen languages and been widely anthologized and adopted in Chicanx, postmodern, creative writing and design courses throughout the country. In addition to McSweeney’s, Plascencia’s writing has appeared in Lucky Peach, Tin House and Los Angeles Times.
“When it comes down to it, all of my work is about the political, physical and psychic line between Mexico and the United States,” says Plascencia. “My fiction explores how the border presses and shapes the lives of people on both sides of that fence. For ‘El Paraiso,’ I was interested in how soccer and pueblo clubs cross over to El Norte and reconstitute the relationships and rivalries of their little farm towns. The piece is also about a feckless graduate student who spends all his time playing soccer instead of reading Le Morte d’Arthur, which, if you’re wondering, is not at all autobiographical.”
Plascencia’s literature courses at Harvey Mudd include fabulist and weird texts, and he leads fiction workshops. “I have the tremendous privilege of reading the fresh creations of Mudders and students from the other colleges,” he says. “In my Forking Paths workshop, a class exploring the interplay between prose and visual elements, students make fiction they stain with Rorschach inkblots, twist into labyrinthine layouts, and that lure you into playing unexpected and frightening games of M.A.S.H. and Mad Libs. Sometimes, it’s a very thin line between my excitement as a teacher and reader and my envy as an artist.”
He adds that a student in one of his workshops, Claire Boyle PZ ’15, is now an editor at McSweeney’s. “I had the humiliating and very proud experience of having one of my former undergrads correct my ‘whos’ into ‘whoms’ and tell me that some of my paragraphs were not making any sense.”
Plascencia is the recipient of the Bard Fiction Prize and a Moseley Fellowship. In 2001, he was awarded the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, becoming its first fellow in fiction.