We aren’t sure if we can claim Kirstin Valdez Quade as Las Vegas’ own if she only spent a small part of her childhood here, but we sure wish we could. Quade may not be a household name, but the emerging writer, whose debut short story collection Night at the Fiestas is now available at the Writer’s Block, was recognized by the National Book Foundation as one of their “5 Under 35” in 2014.
While Fiestas takes place almost exclusively in New Mexico, where Quade’s family is from, she sees her itinerant childhood as a major influence on her stories. Quade’s father, a geochemist, moved their family all around the Southwest, including Las Vegas, Pahrump and Reno, while he worked on his dissertation. Although Quade has yet to write something set in Vegas, one of the stories in her collection takes place in a fictional Pahrump.
“I think I am a writer because of that upbringing,” says Quade. “I spent a lot of time in the back seat reading and thinking about stories. Because I’ve lived in so many different places, it made me really interested in people. I saw myself as part of many different kinds of communities.”
The first story in Quade’s collection stemmed from a piece of her family history: when Quade’s godmother was a young child, she hid behind a wood stove to protect herself from her violent father, who that night killed her grandfather and put her mother in a coma.
“I’m really interested in the dynamics within families and the ability that family members have to wound each other,” says Quade. “We come from families. They shape us and we shape them.”
Quade’s stories are strongly connected by their sense of loss and violence. There is a sense of darkness pervading the stories, but also an emotional quality that suggests at Quade’s interest in faith within the confines of tight knit families. Quade also explores issues of race and class that come through in powerful ways in Fiestas, which she spent ten years writing while she worked on other stories, which have ended up in publications like The New Yorker and The Best American Short Stories.
Quade is currently working on a novel, but for those just starting to write, the author offers this advice: Continue to be curious, explore and allow your characters the space they need to emerge. That’s solid counsel, coming from a writer of such great promise.