Middlebury professor Luis Hernán Castañeda. Photo via http://www.middlebury.edu

On Friday, Oct. 18, writer Luiz Hernan Castaneda gave a lecture titled “Peruvian Writer in the Green Mountains” which explored his own literary work and provided the perspective of a Peruvian writer living and writing in Vermont.

The Middlebury College Spanish professor was originally born in Lima, Peru. He began his career as a writer in 2004 when his first book, “Casa de Islandia,” was published, and went on to write two more books while in Peru.

Castaneda’s work, like many other Peruvian writers in the early 2000s, was inspired by the political turmoil and harsh dictatorship under President Alberto Fujimori from 1990 until 2000. But instead of writing in a realist form, in which fiction writers attempt to represent familiar events as they are, like most writers of this time were doing, Castaneda wanted to write fantastic fiction with parody, humor and dystopian elements.

In 2006, Castaneda moved to Boulder, Colorado to pursue a graduate degree and Ph.D. in Spanish at the University of Colorado. While in Boulder, he said that he found a “conflicted space.” He came to the U.S. as President George Bush’s war on terror was in full effect. He also arrived as the financial crisis of 2008 had begun to unfold. 

He started to see parallels between his new life in Boulder and his old life in Peru. The Rocky Mountains began to resemble the Andes, Peru began to show up in his stories’ plots and settings and Castaneda started to feel that being in Boulder was not a positive experience for him. He wanted to go back to Peru, feeling a sense of nostalgia and homesickness. 

But after getting married, he decided to stay in the U.S. and began applying for jobs. He eventually took a position at Middlebury College teaching Spanish in 2012, where he has remained ever since. 

While looking for jobs, Castaneda knew that he didn’t want to live in a completely urbanized area. 

“I didn’t want to live in a cultural center … or even a literary center,” he said. Vermont seemed to be a blend of everything that he was looking for. Similar to Maine, Vermont is not a large cultural or literary influence in America. But similar to Stephen King’s prominence in Maine and the U.S. as a whole, Vermont is influenced by the work of Robert Frost and his poetry. 

While working at Middlebury, Castaneda produced two books and is expected to have one more released in Peru in the next few weeks. He writes his stories on political violence, migration, climate change and the degradation of truth. But he writes on his own terms, breaking from the realist mold that is often associated with the topics that he chooses to write about.

He is also working to bring awareness to Peruvian writers living in the U.S. In an anthology produced this year, he features the work of 17 writers that was written in the U.S. but was released and consumed in Peru. Castaneda cited a quote from George Carlin to describe this work: “it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” He explains how the 17 narratives in this anthology are more of a critique of the times that we live in and a snapshot of the world around us. 

Castaneda’s lecture was the third talk in the UMaine Unidos series, the new Rising Tide Professorship initiative on Latinos in academia.