Un(Belonging): A Conversation with Alejandro Heredia
Alejandro Heredia discusses sustaining a writer’s career and what he has learned about the process of finding an agent.
A queer Afro-Dominican writer and community organizer from The Bronx, Alejandro Heredia shares how his immigration experience shaped his writing, how he sustains his career, and his hopes for expanding narrative possibilities.
New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): Tell us about your new short story “Harrisburg Station,”published by Apogee Journal, and your process of creating the story. What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Alejandro Heredia (AH): That story was a long time coming. I started it a little over three years ago, after a series of conversations with friends about dating across racial-ethnic differences. In this specific story, there’s a young Afro-Dominican man who’s contesting with why he only dates white boys, and how that might be connected to his distorted visions of progress and success. I didn’t want to shame him for liking who he likes. But I wanted to explore how our environments shape how and who we desire, and how our desire to be in proximity to whiteness often comes at a cost to our sense of self.
I wrote about six versions of the story, all with different endings. I think endings are particularly difficult for me. On a craft level, I want to write an ending that feels satisfactory for the reader, like some of the questions of the piece have been thoroughly explored. But I also like endings that feel like beginnings, that leave the reader curious about where the characters will go next. I think I accomplished that with “Harrisburg Station,” but it took quite some time haha.
NYFA: How do you sustain your career as a writer? What advice would you give to immigrant writers who are looking to build a writing career in the U.S.?
AH: I sustain my writing career by treating writing as my work in the world. I think we romanticize what it means to be a writer, to be an artist in general. Like the idea that one must wait for inspiration in order to write. Those trite ideas are distracting. Most good art comes from a practice of discipline, with attention to our daily habits and how that informs the craft. Being very disciplined is what keeps me going. Even on the bad days (and there are many) when writing goes terribly wrong. The point is to move forward. The point is to try.
I think it also helps to have a community that sustains me. Friends who text me to ask how the writing is going, and vice versa. Folks who I can send drafts to. And mentors who will give me advice on how to navigate tricky situations, in and outside the page. Writing does require a lot of alone time. But it need not be lonely. Outside of what happens on the page, community is everything.
I think we romanticize what it means to be a writer, to be an artist in general. Like the idea that one must wait for inspiration in order to write. Those trite ideas are distracting. Most good art comes from a practice of discipline.-Alejandro Heredia
NYFA: How does your experience as an immigrant shape your writing, if at all? How does the history of where you are from affect your identity, and in turn, your writing?
AH: I suppose that’s where it all begins for me, being an immigrant. I migrated to New York from the Dominican Republic when I was seven, so I had to learn a new language at a young age, and moreso, learn how to translate myself into a new set of words and linguistic patterns. And it wasn’t all easy and pretty. I didn’t have a choice but to learn English to survive the classroom, doctor visits with my mom, run-ins with authority figures. In that way and in so many others, being an immigrant, a Dominican immigrant to be exact, informs so much of what I write about and how I write about it.
For example, when I was growing up, I was surrounded by kids from all over the African diaspora—kids from the Caribbean, West Africa, and Black American kids whose lineage in the United States goes back half a dozen generations. There’s so much richness there. This place where all these ethnic groups were forced to share schools, apartment buildings, supermarkets, etc. I’m endlessly curious about the connections we made, the stories we created together and about each other across differences. There’s an endless pool of inspiration there, in those cities and barrios I come from.
I don’t pretend to represent anyone else. I can barely represent myself entirely. But through my work, I do hope to expand the narrative possibilities for people like me who come from The Bronx and Santo Domingo.
NYFA: Congratulations on being signed on with a great literary agent! Can you please share anything you learnt about the process of finding an agent?
AH: I’m incredibly grateful to be working with my agent, Meredith Kaffel Simonoff. I had a very quick process, which I think is atypical. For many, finding an agent takes months, sometimes years. I think the best thing I learned through my own experience is that it helps to know how to speak about your work.
I also started my search for an agent after years of publishing and working on the project that I pitched. All of which is to say, it’s okay to take your time developing your craft, and working on that novel/collection to make it the best it can be before starting the search for an agent.
About Alejandro Heredia:
Alejandro Heredia is a queer Afro-Dominican writer and community organizer from The Bronx. He has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA, the Dreamyard Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium, and the Dominican Studies Institute. In 2019, he was selected by Myriam Gurba as the winner of the Gold Line Press Fiction Chapbook Contest. His book of short stories, You’re the Only Friend I Need (Gold Line Press 2021), explores themes of queer transnationalism, friendship, and (un)belonging in the African Diaspora. Heredia’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Lambda Literary Review, Tasteful Rude Magazine, and elsewhere.
–Ya Yun Teng, Program Officer, Immigrant Artist Resource Center (NYC)
This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #155. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.