Deep questions about culture and race lie at the heart of Kristen Millares Young’s debut novel, Subduction. The book follows Claudia, a cultural anthropologist doing fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest, in a coastal community of indigenous people known as the Makah. The half-Mexican, half-White American protagonist invites readers to grapple with the country’s history of coloniality and deciding who gets to tell the story of ethnic peoples.
As part of the Institute for Latino Studies’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration (Sept. 15 to Oct 15th), Millares Young will be performing a reading of her new novel on Wednesday, October 14th. The event will be streamed simultaneously on Red Hen Press' YouTube and Facebook Live pages. On the following day, she will be giving a lecture to Notre Dame’s MFA students on doing research for creative projects.
Subduction is a finalist for two International Latino Book Awards for best novel and best first book for 2020. The Washington Post called Subduction “whip-smart”, The Seattle Times termed it a “brilliant debut”, while Ms. Magazine said it was a “utterly unique and important first novel.” And it was a staff pick at the Paris Review.
Millares Young served as Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House from 2018 to 2020. She continues to freelance as an essayist, journalist and book critic, in addition to fulfilling teaching duties at various institutions. Her visit to Notre Dame was organized by a partnership between ILS, the Creative Writing Program and AdelanteND.
Though she hasn’t worked as an anthropologist like the novel’s protagonist, Millares Young, who lives in the Seattle-Area, spent years working in investigative journalism before dedicating herself to fiction. In fact, she was a researcher for the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times multimedia feature, “Snow Fall”, published in 2013.
For Subduction, Millares Young traveled to Makah Nation land in Neah Bay, Washington. She wrote about the experience in a Lithub essay titled “ The Long Fight to Decolonize Book Research.”
“Growing up in a house run by Cuban exiles, I have long been fascinated by how people attempt to exercise personal agency over coerced assimilation into an oppressive structure,” she says.“...Every immigrant to this nation becomes a settler upon arrival. I’m drawn to the lies we believe and are told to hasten or counteract our loss of cultural identity.”
In Subduction, Notre Dame MFA student Rebecca Gearhart noted a “great sensitivity” to issues of race and agency. The novel was so compelling she read it in a day.
“Subduction has a vicious lyric quality to it,” says Gearhart. “The writing sucked me in--it is sharp and unforgiving but also seriously beautiful and haunting. The fusion of landscape, plot, and lyric in this work is unlike anything I've read.”
The research skills talk will be much welcome, she says, as all the MFA students she’s heard from are doing research in one way or another: they’ll respond well to Millares Young, she adds. On the evening of Oct 14th, Gearhart will be co-hosting the public reading along with poet and professor Francisco Aragón of ILS’s Letras Latinas, which organized the event
“I had the pleasure of first meeting Kristen a couple of years ago in Portland, OR for a group reading,” says Aragón. “I immediately felt drawn to Subduction's lush lyric qualities, and her rendering of Pacific Northwest landscapes were so sensuous. And I admired how she's unflinching in taking on subject matter that some might deem transgressive.”
“Since ILS's mission is to illuminate the U.S. Latinx experience, bringing Kristen to our community was not only an easy fit, but also gestured towards complicating the conversation surrounding Latinidad in the U.S."