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RIC English professor debuts new book at Providence’s Riffraff

Olivia Barone

Arts & Entertainment Editor 

RIC students, English faculty members and friends were welcomed to Providence’s Riffraff to engage in a reading of professor Ricardio Quintana Vallejo’s debut novel: “I Hunt for Stars Alone.” Providence’s own bookstore and bar became a venue for literary conversation, dissecting Vallejo’s newest project and its importance as a novel for young readers. 

Vallejo was introduced to Riffraff’s audience by fellow RIC English Professor, Dr. Jennifer Holl, who led the night’s topic of discussion: the inspiration and writing of “I Hunt for Stars Alone.” The pair were seated on the lounge’s corner stage, backlit by Riffraff’s neon sign. And as Vallejo stood to read a passage from the novel, the crowd grew quiet with interest, accompanied only by the occasional clink of glassware. 

The discussion began by asking Vallejo about his process from concept to novel. “I heard this interview with Ocean Vuong who said you have to write with and against the people that you admire… So I started writing with him… And against him as well, in the sense that, I needed a form that was exclusively mine, and I found it. I first wrote ten poems, then 20. A friend looked at them and he said they were fine, that they were good, actually. So I just kept going until it was a book… But that was the process: to write with and against the authors I admire.” 

Photo by Leo Castaneda-Pineda

The interesting thing about “I Hunt for Stars Alone,” is not only that it is a novel written in verse, but Vallejo’s choice to alternate between free verse poems and sonnets. He explained that the novel is a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age story, and the influence that this choice in genre had on his work. “[The main character] is going through this process of development and figuring out where he fits and how he fits, I figure I could have the form of the book reflect that. So the young person speaks in free verse, because free verse is so open and there’s endless possibility within it. Then the adult, who’s looking back, speaks only in sonnets, reflecting the rigidity of adulthood.” 

As the lead character is developing, he navigates his new surroundings in Indiana. Having recently relocated, the young Mexican boy is forced to grapple with a “world that is very hostile towards him.” Vallejo explains, “[the novel] is set right after 9/11 for that reason. 9/11 sort of changes alterity in the U.S mind from being different to being dangerous. So otherness was not necessarily dangerous in the same way before 9/11.” Being a coming-of-age novel, the protagonist is not only confronted with an unfamiliarly hostile environment, but internal questions of his sexuality and identity. 

Alongside teaching, Vallejo studies the coming-of-age genre. And in writing it, he realized how essential the genre is to not only him, but its entire audience. “All of the stories we see as little kids are coming-of-age stories. They are so important to us… [but] they just don’t work anymore. Those stories are about enlightened, entrepreneurs, man, able-bodied, cishet [people] who have their paths laid in front of them. Now, the coming-of-age narrative is so much more.” 

“Coming-of-age stories saved me in a very real way,” Vallejo told Dr. Holl, Riffraff’s cool intimacy settling over their audience. At the end of the interview, he’d quote Toni Morrison, saying “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it,” a sentiment that I now have posted to the bulletin board in my bedroom. It serves to remind me of the stories I wish I could’ve read growing up, and the stories that others could be missing. 

Interested readers can find “I Hunt for Stars Alone” on Amazon to grow up alongside its protagonist as he navigates worlds inside and outside of himself. 


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