It’s the birthday of Denise Chávez (books by this author), born in Las Cruces, New Mexico (1948), a town just 40 miles from the Mexican border. Her father was a lawyer, and he left the family when Chávez was a child, so her mother, a teacher, raised her with the help of a strong community of women from both sides of the border.
After earning two master’s degrees, Chávez went to work on her first novel, the draft of which was 1,200 pages. She and her editor whittled it down to 456 pages, and the resulting book, Face of an Angel, was published in 1994 to high critical acclaim. The novel includes excerpts from the diary of the protagonist, who is a career waitress, as well as a waitress etiquette and philosophy manual. Chávez herself had spent more than 30 years waiting tables.
She grew up in a family that loved to tell stories, and she acknowledges her roots in the oral storytelling tradition, calling herself a “performance writer.” In her writing, she also incorporates her bilingual background, and she does not italicize Spanish words in her works, which has caused conflicts with editors who think that the words should be differentiated in the type or set apart somehow.
Chávez has written several plays, three novels — Face of an Angel (1994), Loving Pedro Infante (2001), and The King and Queen of Comezón (2014) — and a children’s book, The Woman Who Knew the Language of Animals (1992). She also wrote a memoir with recipes, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food, and Culture (2006). She is the founder and director of the annual Border Book Festival in Las Cruces.