Thursday, November 21, 2019

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bill berry, jr.

Publisher and CEO, aaduna &
Member, Rockford Kingsley's Advisory Board
 
 
 
 
 
 
Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ph.D.
 

 

 

   

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E-ViewPoints

 
Interview With Noted Author
Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ph.D.
 
bill berry, jr.
 
In this month's E-ViewPoints I am priviledged to present an interview I conducted with the noted author Almira Astudillo Gilles.  Almira Gilles is a freelance writer born and raised in Quezon City,  Philippines, now living in Palatine,  Illinois.  After completing her graduate studies at Michigan State University (and getting married in the process), she taught at the De Paul University Graduate School of Business, and then tried her hand at consulting.  Deciding on a career change, she returned to her passion, poetry, and started writing full time while raising her two children. Her published credits include a picture book,  a chapbook of poetry, essays,  short stories and plays for community theater.  She has just finished a novel and is working on another one. When she's not writing and editing,  she volunteers for many nonprofit organizations,  tends to her child who is still at home,  and teaches her dog—along with her husband—new tricks.  
 
 
 
 
bill berry, jr.:
You are now writing fulltime with Willie Wins, a children’s book (2001), and Old Man Walking, a collection of your poems (2005) in publication. What motivated you to transition from an academic/corporate consulting career to pursuing the written word as a full-time writer?
 
Almira: 
My genes: both sides of my family have heart issues.  One evening when I was teaching at De Paul University in Chicago, the room started to swim in front of me.  My students opened all the windows—which made those sitting beside them very uncomfortable since it was winter—and I was able to finish the class with much effort. Somehow I made it to the train, taking a taxi instead of walking.  The next day, I saw a doctor, who said my blood pressure was extremely high, and probably had been for months.  That was the precipitating situation: I knew I could not handle the rigors of a full-time academic career, leaving my children in the care of someone else, and performing all household responsibilities when my husband was away for business (which was frequent). I tried consulting, but in addition to the above, I had to travel too. So in looking around for something I could handle, I turned to writing. I had been writing since age 6; was published in elementary school, so I happily returned to it.
 
bill:
Your concern and insight for and about family appears to be an ongoing influence in your work. Willie Wins focuses on a father and son relationship. Some of your poems (notably “Mangoes” and “Balancing Act”) reference a mother and child. Your non-fiction piece in aaduna recollects a childhood incident between you and your father that is pivotal. Are these references homage to how you grew up in the Philippines or is it a reflection of your own sense of familial relationships? And what other influences frame what and how you write?       
 
Almira:
As is the case for many Asian cultures, family is major part of our lives, and these bonds last even into adulthood. In fact, all of my siblings and I stayed with my parents through college and until we got married and moved into our own households. In fact, it’s not unusual for families with large houses to accommodate the families of their son or daughter. Extended families are common practice; in fact, even family friends are accorded the title of “aunt or uncle,” “grandmother or grandfather,” “older sister or brother” depending upon that friend’s age. My sense of family now that I have my own is very much a product of my upbringing; this was my choice, and my American-born husband and I have come to an agreement on how to incorporate the best of both our worlds.
 
Other influences on my writing are the political and social landscape of my youth and young adulthood. I spent most of my childhood under martial law, imposed by then President Ferdinand Marcos. When the writ of habeas corpus is taken away from you, you learn to be careful about what you say. On the other hand, I studied at the University of the Philippines which was a hotbed of student activism, so I wasn’t completely compliant.  As for social influences, the majority of the people in the Philippines are poor, and stratification by status and income is very distinct. You’ll see that in many of my poems. I learned not to take my access to education lightly; I think most Filipinos feel the same way. Many of my writing colleagues have observed that religion almost always has a part in my writing. In a country that was 90% Catholic when I was growing up, it’s hard to ignore the role of religion and spirituality in everyday life.  I wouldn’t say I’m a spiritual writer in the sense that my religious views influence what I write, but I do make references to the influence of religious institutions on the behaviors of my fictional characters.
 
bill:
Religion, politics, social status, and economics are major influencers in the real world as well as the literary world an author creates. Singularly or in combination, these issues normally ignite complicated spheres of adversity. The novel that you completed and the one you are working on now probably capture some of these dynamics. How would you describe these unpublished works? And how do you personally deal with adversity?
 
Almira:
A reader described the first novel as “magical realism,” which I find amusing because that label refers to magical elements used to create a realistic atmosphere. In fact, this novel found a basis in an actual event in the Philippines and there is no fantasy in it. I guess the characters and setting are so exotic to some readers because it takes place in a different place and time, and with such unusual characters, that it truly is another world for them.  
 
The novel I’m working on now is very much grounded in suburban Chicago and is much more gritty than the first, focusing on the façade of normal family relationships. But like the first, this novel is also based on knowledge arising out of personal experiences so different as they may be, they both reflect my perception of the world.  The second is particularly hard because I’m writing from a first-person viewpoint of a young adult male.
 
How do I deal with adversity? I’m a very organized person, so when things do not go according to my expectations I take a step back (well, often, I’m pushed several steps back) and adjust.  Sounds simple? But that adjustment involves a lot of self-doubt and sleepless nights. I try to use what I can from that to enhance my writing. It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon of a struggling young adult writer telling his mother sarcastically, “Gee, thanks, Mom, for such a normal childhood.” When we can transcend the pain of adversity, we achieve enlightenment.
 
bill:
Like a seasoned writer, you tease us with just enough tidbits that we want to read both novels. Hopefully, a publisher will provide that opportunity. Thank you for “kicking off” e-viewpoints. Any final thoughts, or advice for Rockford Kingsley readers?
 
Almira:   
I dedicated Willie Wins to my two children because “they have taught me to look for treasure in unexpected places.” There is so much opportunity for personal and professional growth all around us, but we have to be actively engaged in the world.  Never stop learning. Expose yourself to new experiences. Embrace new relationships. 
 
One last thing, I want to share is self-knowledge. 
 
Early in my professional life, I tried to follow a traditional path expected of someone with several graduate degrees. Something was not quite right, and I experienced so much stress that I developed hypertension. Looking back, I should have known then that I was not living the life I wanted. I took immense pleasure in raising my children. I thrived in a profession that rewarded creativity, and I wanted to help people. I needed to be myself and set my own goals. Now, this may sound simplistic for people living in America, but I did not grow up with that sense of entitlement. I was so busy trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of me, thinking that was enough that I had neglected to listen to myself. So, I’d like to end with a quote from Albert Einstein, physicist and philosopher who certainly lived a full life: “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” 
 
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

 

  

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