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Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the nationally bestselling author of the novel “Woman of Light” and the short story collection “Sabrina & Corina,” a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of an American Book Award. She is a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow and the 2021 recipient of the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2022–2024 Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University. She is from Denver, Colorado.

SunLit: Tell us the backstory of “Woman of Light.” What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Kali Fajardo-Anstine: The idea for “Woman of Light” first came to me over 15 years ago. I was born with an innate hunger to write books and to be among them in any way possible. I remember sitting in my Auntie Lucy Lucero’s home on 5th and Galapago and thinking to myself, “My people need our stories included in the literary canon.” And that’s how I decided I would write this book. 

I am of woven ancestry — with Chicano and Indigenous roots from the San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico, a Jewish maternal grandmother from East Denver, a Filipino great grandfather who migrated to Denver in the 1930s, and miner ancestors from Belgium and other European countries. 

“Woman of Light” is my heart song to my ancestors and to the people of Denver. An epic novel inspired by classic Western film and old Hollywood, this adventurous character-driven book is my tribute to my homeland and the culturally diverse people who created me. 

SunLit: Place the excerpt you’ve chosen in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it? 

Fajardo-Anstine: From the novel’s early chapter “Little Light,” this excerpt begins in 1933 with our 17-year-old protagonist, Luz Lopez, as she reads tea leaves for money at a Denver chile harvest festival on the banks of the Platte River. 


Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

Her older brother, the elegant and fetching Diego, is about to take the festival stage with his two rattlesnakes, Reina and Corporal. We meet Auntie Maria Josie, the family’s queer and steadfast matriarch, and their boastful cousin Lizette.  

SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you sat down to write? 

Fajardo-Anstine: “Woman of Light” wouldn’t exist without the extensive historical research that I undertook for a decade. In the chapter “Shelter from the Storm,” a horrifying Ku Klux Klan march tears through downtown Denver. While I grew up hearing stories of the Klan and the ways in which they terrorized my ancestors in Denver firsthand, in order to fully grasp the horror of that march I had to do some very difficult research. 

Klan memorabilia is accessible for researchers in several Colorado archives. I was shocked when examining physical Klan robes at the Denver Public Library. There were many sizes of robes, even some to fit babies and children. There is a detail in “Woman of Light where Luz looks into the unflinching faces of young mothers with their babies during that hideous Klan march. It’s a terrifying moment in the novel, and I remember as I was examining those robes in the library, it felt like I was happening upon a dried and discarded snake skin, knowing full well a live serpent wasn’t far away. 

SunLit: You’ve had an interesting journey to becoming a bestselling author. How did your background – growing up in Denver with seven siblings, dropping out of high school before resuming your higher education, working for more than a decade as an independent bookseller – influence your development as a writer?

Fajardo-Anstine: Sometimes I think about Flannery O’Connor’s quote, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” My early life is foundational to how I view the world and how the world is expressed through my fiction. It’s all there in books, how I understand being part of a large family, my obsession with books, and my views on education.

SunLit: Your short story collection “Sabrina & Corina,” published in 2019, really vaulted you to national and international acclaim. How has that success changed your life and career?

“Woman of Light”

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Fajardo-Anstine: The greatest gift “Sabrina & Corina” has given me are my readers, who tell me they feel seen by work; that my fiction acknowledges aspects of their human experience that is often ignored or left out of mainstream narratives.  

Whenever a reader tells me, “Your story is my story,” I thank them because as a young person, I felt so utterly alone, and now I know there are many of us. I am beyond grateful  and honored to have this community of fans behind my work. I will always do my best to write new work and to keep telling my stories. 

SunLit: If you could pick just one thing – a theme, lesson, emotion or realization — that readers would take from “Woman of Light,” what would that be? 

Fajardo-Anstine: I hope readers finish this book feeling that we are all capable of strength and love despite the ugliness of our world. But most of all, I hope my readers feel less lonely and inspired to learn more about their own family history. 

SunLit: In a highly politicized atmosphere where books, and people’s access to them, has become increasingly contentious, what would you add to the conversation about books, libraries and generally the availability of literature in the public sphere?

Fajardo-Anstine: Every year that I worked as a bookseller at West Side Books in North Denver, I delighted in putting up our Banned Books display and selling every last title to eager customers. Book bannings of any kind are obscene, truly obscene. I think of a postcard we had clipped in the backroom of the bookstore. It was an illustration of a book burner or “fireman” based on Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451.” The postcard said, “Books Inspire Dangerous Thoughts. For your protection give your books to your local fireman for safe disposal.” 

It is only in recent history that the majority of Americans are fully literate, especially Americans of color and those from the working class of all races. Controlling our ability to read, and thus form our own ideas, is one of the greatest means of subjugating a people. 

So, a big hearty thank you to librarians, teachers, booksellers, PEN America, and everyone else who is a warrior for the free exchange of ideas. Your work makes us more free. 

SunLit: You’re currently the Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University. What do you feel are the most important lessons or advice that you can offer to aspiring writers?

Fajardo-Anstine: Read everything you can get your hands on, get to know your local booksellers and librarians, and don’t be discouraged by rejection. The most important thing is to keep going, keep refining your skills, and develop an indestructible relationship to your art form. No rejection can ever destroy your relationship to your writing. 

SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?

Fajardo-Anstine: I write at home or in private rooms at public libraries. During my publication years, it is difficult to write, as I am often promoting a book through speaking tours or events. When I am fully in writing mode, I wake up, get started, take a walk at midday, and then work until the evening. There’s some lunch and snacks in there, too… 

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Fajardo-Anstine: This fall, my introduction to Willa Cather’s astounding classic “Death Comes For the Archbishop” will be published by Penguin Classics, in both paperback and hardcover.

Many readers ask if there will be a sequel to “Woman of Light.” Perhaps someday! I am working on a new short story about a country singer and I have just been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for my next novel, currently untitled, set in Colorado. 

“Lightning Round:” Just a quirky collection of quick questions:

Do you look forward to the actual work of writing or is it a chore that you dread but must do to achieve good things?

When I am able to write and I am not on the road touring or teaching, writing feels as natural to me as breathing. It’s my calling, my mode of being. 

What’s the first piece of writing – at any age – that you remember being proud of? 

A short story I wrote in about 9th or 8th grade about a woman taken away from her San Luis Valley family to live on the plains with a cruel rancher. 

When you look back at your early professional writing, how do you feel about it? Impressed? Embarrassed? Satisfied? Wish you could have a do-over? 

I have always written to the best of my ability at the time. I am proud of my earlier work. Of course, I have grown as a writer, but it’s only looking back that I can see what I could have changed in the moment. 

What three writers, from any era, can you imagine having over for a great discussion about literature and writing? 

James Baldwin, Alice Munro, Arturo Islas.   

Do you have a favorite quote about writing?

I don’t have just one, but I like many. This is from Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

What does the current collection of books on your home shelves tell visitors about you? 

That I need more bookshelves… 

Soundtrack or silence? What’s the audio background that helps you write?

The epigraph to my first book is from Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” There is also a chapter in “Woman of Light” named for a Dylan song. Not a lot of silence in this house. Music is part of the work.  

What event, and at what age, convinced you that you wanted to be a writer?

There was no one event. I knew for certain by fourteen or fifteen that I am a writer. 

As an author, what do you most fear?

My loved ones dying.  

Also as an author, what brings you the greatest satisfaction?

Writing a good sentence. There’s no rush like it. 

The Colorado Sun

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