How Francisco Goldman Became Frank
September 1, 2011, by John Pluecker
Francisco Goldman was the first writer I realized was a human being. In the real world. Off the page. It’s odd it took so many years for me to recognize this very obvious fact. I was living in Tampico, Mexico, in 2004 and reading his latest book (at the time), The Divine Husband. The novel revolves around a brief period that the original pan-Americanist literary and political powerhouse, José Martí, spent in Guatemala. Goldman’s novel invents the story of a young woman, María de las Nieves Morán, with whom he’s said to have fallen in love, but the novel also delves into the stories of a panoply of characters around her, as she travels back and forth to New York and around other parts of the Americas. I’d read (and loved) all of Goldman’s previous novels before that: The Long Night of White Chickens and The Ordinary Seaman.
I spent two long days on the couch in our hot, sticky living room, enthralled by the novel. I slowly became more and more obsessive about the man who wrote these books, snooping around on-line and searching for any information about Goldman or Martí. I even got a copy of the complete works of José Martí in Spanish to deepen my quest. But suddenly, one day as I was cyber-stalking Goldman, I found out he’d be in Austin that following weekend. I talked it out with friends and decided in the end to take the risk. I got on a bus from Tampico and rode the sixteen hours or so north, all the while furiously writing out questions for the “author.” I went to Goldman’s event and sat near the back, finally building up the nerve to ask one overly thought-out, frighteningly complex question. Afterwards, I struck up a conversation with the man himself and, surprise surprise, he was a human being. And a friendly one at that.
Long story short, Francisco Goldman became Frank. He was smart (I already knew that), but he was also a raucously good time: funny, kind and incredibly open and welcoming. That weekend, I also met and fell for Aura, his girlfriend then, and a slew of his literary and not-so-literary friends. I did an awkward interview with Frank in a hotel lobby based on all the questions I’d pulled together on the bus. Rather than being scared (probably the more rational response), he was flattered and charmed. We ended up hanging out all weekend, drinking well into the morning, partying like literary rock stars, even swimming in a sparkling pool well after the bars had closed. On the bus back to the dusty, industrial neighborhood where I was living in Tampico, I was literally bouncing with joy. Who knew the people with their names on books were actual people?
Recently, Inprint asked me to blog about Frank’s most recent book, Say Her Name, and specifically about its mix of memoir and fiction. So each week for the next three weeks, I’ll be putting a new blog post up here. As I thought about what I would write, I realized that my experience of Francisco Goldman, the author, is impossible for me to separate from my experience of Frank, the friend. So these posts will also be a mixture of memoir and book review. And of course promotion for his upcoming event in Houston on September 19 at the Wortham Center downtown. Don’t miss it! Get your tickets now!