Lou Matthews Writes Back

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite stories back in the day was Lou Matthew's "Crazy Life," about a headstrong latina who falls in love with a cholo named Chuey, written with love, tenderness + strength. In fact, I loved this short story so much that I made my students read it in my workshop while I was working on my MFA at Notre Dame, + time + time again, this story was one of their favorites. Not only do I love the story, but I love the conceit of a white dude writing what is essentially a dissolved love story from the point of view of a smart, strong, low-income latina, something that critics/intellectuals would argue he can't/shouldn't do, but in this case, they'd be completely fucking wrong. Anyway, I was chatting with Aimee Bender before classes ended + I told her how important his story had been to me + she was like: Oh, you have to write him + tell him that. He'd really appreciate it.

So, she sent me his email address because Aimee knows practically everyone in the business, + a few days ago, Lou responded. This is what he said:

Hey Jackson,

Your e-mail was a great greeting for me on my return home. Thank you so much for your kind words on “Crazy Life.” That story has pretty much had a life of its own. It’s now been published about eight times and a young San Antonio film maker, Dora Peña made a short movie based on the story about four years back. Gets used a lot in L.A. Unified High Schools. One of my former students from UCLA used it in her Honors class at Long Beach Poly – a class composed of 16 young chicanas. Dorothy mentioned she’d had me as a teacher. They accepted, finally, the possibility that I might not be Chicano, but refused to believe I was a guy. I had to show up and talk to them. Interesting discussion. I describe that story as “involuntarily researched”, a phrase I stole from Carolyn Chute. It was where I grew up and who I grew up with – A place called Toonerville and I didn’t date an anglo girl until I was out of High School - Dulcie is based on a couple girlfriends from that era and Chuey on a whole lot of guys that I knew.

Glad to hear about your own experience writing from a Latina P.O.V. I find it immensely freeing, as I am sure Flaubert did, to put yourself in someone else’s high heels, and if it crosses cultural boundaries as well, so much the better. You can’t worry about identity politics – or as we used to say on my block, “The Fri-jolier than thou.” One of my other favorite stories, “The Garlic Eater”, is the story of a Korean grocer (That one I did have to research. Heavily) and I ended up feeling the same way about Mr. Kim as I did about Dulcie. I liked the time I spent in his head very much. I’m sending you an archive link for that one, from one of my favorite magazines. Failbetter. Love publishing on-line, doesn’t cost your friends anything to read you:

"The Garlic Eater"

Delighted to hear you are working with Aimee. She’s the real deal. You couldn’t be in better hands. Great writer but also an excellent human being. Please give her my love. I’ll be writing to her shortly. One of my former UCLA students is also teaching in your program, Dana Johnson. Introduce yourself if you don’t know her already. And if you see me at some literary gathering – I’ll be the fat guy with a beard older than you are – introduce yourself. I owe you a beer for making my day.

All my best,


The guy you met at the café, was Hafeez Lakhani, my PEN “Mentee” (such a strange word). Great guy, I’m really enjoying working with him. I’ll send you an invite to his final reading for PEN