Ana Emilia Felker is pursuing her PhD at UH’s new Spanish-language creative writing program, the first of its kind in the United States. She’s been to Texas before, spending a year of high school in Katy perfecting her English, but America’s quirks—from open carry gun laws to how “there are barely any people” on the streets of Houston—fascinate her writer’s brain in much the same way her native Mexico City does.
At 32, Felker recently published her first book, Aunque la casa se derrumbe (“Although the House Collapses”), a collection of essays in Spanish that feature a cast of characters living in Mexico’s capital. The essays aren’t quite essays, though; the genre-bending works are, in cases, inspired by Felker’s life, but they incorporate fiction, too.
“You’re rehearsing something, exploring a subject,” she says in defense of the label. “The outcome of that exploration is not defined, at least for me. If it comes out as a short story, oh well. I don’t feel I have to define that really.”
The fiercely observed entries critique the anxieties and contradictions of urban life, exploring the pseudo-privacy of a seedy motel, a homeless man on the streets, and a porn shoot Felker witnessed as a young writer for Mexico City’s Chilango magazine. (“It’s not what you would expect,” she recalls. “The actress was a lady about 50 years old who seemed like the secretary of a government office. Her husband was there.”)
Felker’s time at UH is the latest chapter in an interesting career that’s included covering the voting rights of transgender Mexicans and cartel violence for CNN and a stint in Barcelona getting her master’s in art and politics. In 2015 she chronicled the journey of Juan Villoro, a noted Mexican writer, scattering the ashes of his Zapatista father in the mountains of Chiapas. The resulting story, published in the La Ciudad de Frente newspaper, earned her Mexico’s National Journalism Award for feature writing.
As for her new book’s title, Felker borrowed it from Argentinian writer Ernesto Sabato. The source is in Spanish, but the passage wryly observes the material ironies of life, in which even at the end of the world we would worry about something as frivolous as our possessions. There was a pang of guilt when she chose that title line last fall, right as the catastrophic earthquake tore through central Mexico and thousands of actual houses in her native city came tumbling down.
But then the citizens in the capital—notorious for its social and class divides—abandoned the rubble and rushed to each other’s aid. People flooded the streets to deliver supplies and dig neighbors from rubble. It was a beautiful, if tragic, moment, much like this city’s experience with Harvey, where everyday worries melted away to reveal a foundational humanity.
“It’s sad, yes,” she says, “but the disaster kind of proved my point.”
Ana Emilia Felker reads Aunque la casa se derrumbe in Spanish at Brazos Bookstore, May 5 at 7 p.m. 2421 Bissonnet St. 713-523-0701.