Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. She taught in the New York City School system before becoming a young adult librarian. Her experiences in Puerto Rico and the South Bronx, as well as her African heritage form the basis of her work. Dahlma has won the Bronx Council on the Arts ACE and BRIO Awards, as well as a Literary Arts Fellowship. She still lives in the Bronx. She can be contacted through her web page at http://www.llanosfigueroa.com/.
BPM: Introduce us to your book and the main characters in Daughters of the Stone.
Daughters of the Stone follows the lives of five generations of Afro-Puerto Rican women focusing on the legacy passed from one generation to the next. Fela is an African woman, captured and sold into slavery in Puerto Rico.
Mati, her daughter is a healer who needs to establish a place of safety for herself and her people. Concha has to choose between her mother's tradition and the wider European society. Elena is the first educated in her line. She chooses a different path. Carisa grows up in NYC and has to reconcile her life with the traditions of the past.
BPM: Who are your favorites in Daughters of the Stone?
Each one has strengths that I admire and weaknesses I can learn from. I couldn't pick a favorite any more than a mother could pick a favorite child.
BPM: What makes you powerful as a person and as a writer?
I think one thing that makes me very strong is recognizing that I didn't get where I am by my will alone. I stand on the shoulders of other very strong and creative women. When I stop honoring what they lived and died to give me, that's when I lose my way.
BPM: Who are your mentors?
The female members of my family to whom I dedicated the book are my first and strongest mentors. Artistically, I owe a great deal to Toni Morrison and Isabel Allende. Their work gave me permission to tell my story my way and helped me find my own voice. They also gave me the courage to speak about the unspeakable.
BPM: Finish this sentence: My writing offers the following legacy to future readers...?
Everyone from every culture has important stories to tell--whether in the privacy of their homes or on the page. I encourage everyone to find an elder and listen. Write down the stories, collect them, pass them down to the next generation. These are the only sign posts that we can leave for those who come after us. We all need the lessons of the past so we can build a better future. It is only in forgetting that we grow weaker.
BPM: What specific situation or revelation prompted you to write Daughters of the Stone?
There were many reasons for my book coming about. I'll pick just one. As a child I was sent to live with my grandmother in Puerto Rico. At home in the Bronx I had the television to keep me company in the evenings. But in Puerto Rico, I remember sitting in a corner of my grandmother's porch and listening to the women on the porch telling stories. They sat in their rockers and talked about everything that went on in the town. They told jokes, corrected each other's memories and told and retold family tales. Years, decades later when those women were all gone, I remembered those stories and felt so connected. It occurred to me that those women's voices were never heard in the literature that I read or the media stories that reflected only the stereotypical images of Puerto Rican life. I felt that it was time for those voices to be heard.
BPM: How will reading your book shape the reader's lives?
Hopefully, my book will motivate them to look at their own family stories and examine how their lives have been influenced by what came before.
BPM: Ultimately, what do you want your readers to gain from your book?
I'd like them to understand the importance of storytelling in our lives. I'd like them to see the past as a foundation for the future and a conduit of strength and dignity.
BPM: What do you think makes your book different from other on the same subject?
My book covers a journey of 150 years that most people have never thought about. This novel examines the journey of the Puerto Rican family from slavery, through colonialism, to immigration to acculturation to self identity. Many people say that they never knew we had slavery in Puerto Rico. Others are surprised by the hardships suffered by immigrants. Others see the similarities in the characters and situations with their own journeys. Still others focus on the personal voyage of the characters. I'm happy that readers can take any one of these or many other routes to reading and enjoying the book. When that happens, I know I did my job well.
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