Five years ago, Valerie Russo founded a successful blog named Literanista [en]. This Puerto Rican-Sicilian writer talks with Global Voices about her vision, achievements and future goals.
Global Voices: As explained in Literanista [en], creating and working on this blog helped you find your dream job. How did this happen?
Valerie Russo: Back in 2006, when I created Literanista [en], my day job was in print publishing as a copy editor and on my downtime, I got increasingly involved in the web, reading blogs, posting in forums and message boards. About three years prior, a friend and I had launched our own community forum. One day it dawned on me that I could manage my own personal “site.” I never thought of Literanista as a personal journal as many blogs were perceived then, it was always had an angle, a niche to fill, a focus – it just so happened that that angle was very intertwined with my own personal interests and passions – multicultural literature, culture and science.
I was lucky enough to work on these projects at a time when they were becoming extremely important in shaping a lot of converging aspects of the web (cultural, business, etc.,) or what we think of today as new media or the social web. I developed skills early on that quickly allowed me to qualify for tech-related, marketing, and editorial jobs that perhaps five years earlier, I would’ve never guessed that it would’ve been in my scope – not even with my degree in anthropology.
GV: Can you share some thoughts about your experience as a social media strategist? What interests you the most about this growing field?
VR: The most fascinating thing to me about social media and technology is the rate and speed at which it is #1 changing the very fabric of our culture and world; and #2, the exponential rate at which the speed of new technology is being created.
Technology is growing and exploding into all sorts of aspects of our lives that it once really didn’t touch at all and then that cultural shift is happening even faster and faster because technology itself is evolving at an ever-increasing pace. If you think of the rate of new technological advances and how long they took to gain mass acceptance (think automobiles, radio, telephone, etc) and then look at the rate at which things like Facebook (500+ million users in 5 years), iPads (half a million sold on launch day to 70% new user consumers), app usage and so on are becoming accepted you can see how much the acceleration is increasing.
I find this extremely interesting and culturally relevant. It is also pretty neat how it is creating a convergence of what we once looked at as separate fields. Things we thought of as once promotional are now look at as transmedia narratives. There is no longer a distinction between offline and online, most of us are always plugged in – even those who don’t own a PC. I love how “social” the web has become, how empowering it is to everyday people, to the powerless as well as the rich and famous. I think we are in for a great ride – and the best part of this history is that it is our story – we are the creators of it.
GV: How did you envision Literanista? What was the main purpose? Has it changed over the years?
VR: Amazingly, Literanista [en] hasn’t changed much from my original vision. The purpose of the blog was always to fill a void, to create a place for issues and books or authors that I felt weren’t focused on enough in traditional media. For example, the issues and stories of Hispanics, multiculturality, and feminist groups that were dismissed, invisibilized or marginalized and/or constricted by categories within society that they didn’t fit into neatly. Overtime, as my interest into technology grew, that also became a focus.
GV: Can you describe your relationship with Literanista’s readers?
VR: I have a great relationship with my readers, who are worldwide. There are many that I feel I knew personally from their comments and emails and some I have had the privilege to meet in real life. One reader from Austin even came up to New York to visit and meet with me last year.
Many authors too have contacted me and relationships have blossomed through the blog and then other social media outlets. In addition to that companies and brands, and artists, constantly reach out to me to keep me in the loop of news and items of interest. It’s pretty neat because one fear of all writers – from bloggers to bestselling novelists is that no one will read your stuff – but I am a firm believer that if you build it – write it – they will come. You just have to take that leap of faith and it doesn’t hurt to be a great writer or have something interesting to say.
GV: Why did you decide to focus exclusively on Latino/a writing? How do you pick the books that are reviewed on this blog?
VR: It was something very personal to me. The books that made the biggest impact on me were books that either changed my worldview and/or I could relate to – and while of course, I related to many, many diverse books and authors like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Dostoevsky, the ones that really spoke to me where the ones that felt like home to me – the stories of Piri Thomas or Isabel Allende and those were the ones that I felt no one ever really highlighted unless if specifically referencing Latino literature. I wanted to change that – I wanted to create a place were this ‘type’ of literature was an everyday discussion.
The books I feature on my website have to be either written by a Hispanic person, or discuss or cover an issue relevant to Hispanic culture within and outside of the US (such as immigration, or race…), or are [cover the] multicultural Diasporas relevant to my audience. I lean heavily toward adult literary fiction (my personal reading bias) but I do cover non-fiction and other genres from time to time.
GV: Which books (reviewed on your blog) have transformed your views on the craft of writing?
VR: I often don’t have time to ‘review’ a book in the real sense of the word on my blog. Many times I feature a book and build a post around it without necessarily sharing all of my own views, interpretation, and analysis of it. All I say is “check this out” – because that’s all I feel my role really is – to put it on your radar.
A few books beloved to me that also really impacted my writing are “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón,”The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz, “Blindness” by José Saramago, and “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. I am drawn to epic stunning stories that are holistic in the sense that they are brilliantly written, rich with history and drama, and stay with you long after you read the final sentence. I admire Zafón for creating such imagery that makes me want to travel into his narrative. I admire Díaz, on a personal level for being a native homeboy who rose to win a Pulitzer Prize, as well as for creating a masterpiece woven with threads of contemporary humor and nerdism, to historical Caribbean roots and culture, and more – brilliant. Saramago and McCarthy are masters of language, creating searing beautiful lines and imagery that are haunting and eloquent. I can only wish to one day write anything like the aforementioned.
GV: How have you been able to integrate all these interests – technology, research, publishing and marketing – to develop your work as a poet and novelist? Does keeping such an updated blog influences your current writing projects (for example your novel)?
VR: Literanista [en] has become the home of my art, a place to archive dreams and thoughts, poems and pictures, inspirations and to craft and evolve – and do this for others’ work too. Working on it and writing online allows me to craft and hone my skills and build and engage with a community that shares a similar interest. It’s my platform, my soapbox, my corner of the hood but it’s also a journey, one that is developing, that draws from all the aspects of things that I am learning and discovering. It is very parallel to my writing. Hopefully one day [both] will come together and surge into something bigger than my blog and me, and leave behind a legacy. In the meantime, I hope you will stop and check it out!