Juan Alvarado Valdivia – Conversation No. 18

Photo by Joe Felder

Juan Alvarado Valdivia was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and raised in Fremont, CA. His family is from Perú. Juan received his MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California. He is a proud two-time VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) alum and attended the 2013 Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. He was a resident at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Wyoming and at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Acentos Review, Black Heart Magazine, BorderSenses Literary Magazine and Label Me Latina/o. His book, ¡Cancerlandia!: A Memoir (University of New Mexico Press) received Honorable Mention for the 2016 International Latino Book Award for Best Biography in English and was listed as a Top 10 Best Nonfiction Book for 2015 on TheLatinoAuthor.com.

At what point did you decide you wanted to write a memoir about this experience?


I decided to write about what I was going through a few months after I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At the time, I was studying creative writing with a nonfiction emphasis so, well, I had a lot of fresh material to work with. It was liberating to put down the flurry of emotions—both bad, and good—that were swirling within me. There was a lot I was bottling up.  

Did you workshop your memoir in your creative writing program? If yes, how did you handle the positive and negative critiques?


I did. It ended up becoming my thesis. Most of my classmates’ critiques were good and positive. I still remember the first time I workshopped excerpts of my memoir with my classmates. It was new material—and it was fresh, raw, urgent and something I was still working through but I was obsessed with writing about my disease, and they loved it. That affirmation was huge. It validated my obsession, so I kept on writing.

The one critique that would likely fall under “negative” versus “positive” were the ones I received from my thesis readers. My professors encouraged me to write a more straight-forward narrative instead of one that was a hodgepodge of specific events and essays based on a theme (like death), and I knew they were right. Thankfully, I took their advice and focused on writing a more linear memoir narrative.