Friday, November 18, 2022

Q&A with Katalina Gamarra




Katalina Gamarra is the author of the new novel Ben and Beatriz, an update of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. A former bookseller, she lives in Boston.


Q: Why did you decide to write an updated version of Much Ado About Nothing, and why did you set it among Harvard students in 2017?


A: Shakespeare is where I learned how powerful and effective storytelling can be, and it was through obsessively digesting his words that I realized I wanted to be a storyteller. And because Much Ado is a play I know so well, it felt very natural to use that as a jumping off point for my first novel!


I decided to set it at Harvard in 2017 because being a mixed-race Latina living in New England, I’ve experienced a lot of micro-aggressions and classism at the hands of white people. And because there’s not a lot of representation of this subtle form of discrimination, it took me a long time to figure out that that’s what it was.


I wanted to write about it both to allow myself to process my own experiences, but also to provide representation for anyone else who might be experiencing the same thing who might be as confused as I was. 


Q: What did you see as the right balance between Shakespeare's original characters and your own versions, and what inspired your take on Ben/Benedick and Beatriz/Beatrice?


A: My B&B were actually inspired by the 2011 production of Much Ado starting David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice. Tate’s Beatrice was very unique in that she was not “lady-like” or “polished” the way Beatrice is often played (like Emma Thompson in the ‘90s version). Tate was boisterous, loud, unapologetic, and did not conform to gender roles. I LOVED that take on Beatrice and used it as the groundwork for creating my own.


In terms of balancing mine with the originals, I started with the basic tenets of the characters (i.e., arrogance for Benedick, stubbornness for Beatrice, wit for both of them) and let those characteristics drive who the characters became in the 2017 setting. I thought about what might drive a 22-year-old cishet white guy to arrogance in 2017, and similarly what a 22-year-old queer Latinx woman would have to be stubborn about.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Gamarra uses their [Ben and Beatriz’s] love story to explore race, colorism, sexuality, and privilege, crafting a romance between two people who are all too aware of their differences but still find a safe space in each other.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe their relationship?


A: I remember being shocked when I read that review because they summed up what I was trying to do better than I could!


I’ve learned over my life that while it’s very important to educate ourselves about the realities of racism, classism, misogyny, etc., it’s also important to give our brains a break to recharge. Otherwise we’ll walk through life being constantly angry and/or depressed and we won’t be taking care of ourselves…which means we won’t be able to carry out the change we seek.


That’s why I worked hard to house these intense topics in the context of a love story—my hope was that being exposed to the realities of racism, classism, and misogyny as a stepping stone to falling in love would help balance self-education with self-care. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: That everyone experiences trauma, yet we all have the ability to help ourselves. I tried to write recovery into the book as well trauma because I think we so often see representations of living trauma, but not often both lived trauma and recovery from it. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I’m working on something completely different! It’s not a romance, and it’s much more in the literary sphere. But it’s still character/relationship driven and explores relevant social issues. :)


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can keep up with me on TikTok and Instagram @katalina.gamarra and on Twitter @AccioLeoBloom :) 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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