Envy was my inconstant companion for many years, and I kind of miss him now that he's gone. He directed my attention to writers who won bigger prizes or sold more or published in more prestigious places. He didn't accept my excuses for being less famous, less well-reviewed etc. And really, my excuses didn't convince even me. I think envy was useful at an earlier stage of my writing, because it made me try harder — and maybe fail better. But it also distorted my vision and corrupted my goals. It made me think that selling and gathering rave reviews were the measure of writing quality. Then one day, or maybe gradually over many days or weeks, while I was working on a particularly difficult nonfiction book, I dismissed Envy. I think it was because of the difficulty of writing that book, and my determination not to distort what I had to say to please an imaginary audience. Because it was a book that talked about people I cared about, and also about me and how I related to them, and that had to be honest even if it was not popular.
That book was Hispanic Nation. It was quite unlike other books being written about or for Latinos in the U.S., with a premise — or perhaps I should say hypothesis — that most academics in the field found unacceptable, even threatening to their specific areas of expertise: that the many people of different Hispanic backgrounds (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Cubans, Dominicans, and all the others) were, consciously and unconsciously, constructing links to create one big Hispanic nation in the U.S., a huge solidarity group supporting and consuming nationwide TV stations, scores or hundreds of businesses, and political candidates who understood their needs. I managed to get it published in 1996, and it is still in print, now in its 4th printing, so it seems to have succeeded in speaking to some people.
Now I see my writing career differently. I now think that selling and critical praise are good not for themselves but as confirmation that the writing has reached into the feelings and consciousness of readers. Giving up envy was a great release. I accepted that my principal goals were not to make money and/or create a huge fan club, great as those things may be. My main goal is to tell my truth, as well as I can so that you too, someone outside my experience, can feel it also.
Causes Geoffrey Fox Supports
Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières