Q&A: Justin Torres on Creating ‘Sustained and Deep Engagement’ with Literature

October 2, 2023
By Lucy Berbeo I UCLA

Justin Torres was just 31 years old when his first novel, “We the Animals,” caused a literary sensation. Narrated by a young boy of mixed heritage who is finding his way amid family struggles and a budding queer identity, the novel received the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and became a bestseller as well as an award-winning film.

Since its publication more than a decade ago, Torres has experienced the kind of broad, enduring recognition that eludes many authors. The literary landscape has also changed significantly in the last decade; today, literature by and about Latinos continues to gain ground. Torres, a professor of creative writing in the UCLA Department of English since 2015, is a leading voice in bringing more of these works to light for his students and for all readers.

“I recently taught a seminar called ‘The Latinx Now,’ where we looked at works published in the last five years — and the syllabus could have been three times as long,” said Torres, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. “And these are books worth discussing: literary, challenging texts.”

His second novel — the experimental “Blackouts,” which has been named a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction — will publish next week. Torres, who will participate in a book launch featuring a discussion, Q&A and book signing at Skylight Books on Oct. 9, spoke with us about his latest work, some authors past and present that everyone should read, and why progress is about more than visibility.

Read the interview.