The Writing the Self seminar hosted a conversation with the author and the translator of “Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White” on Friday, Oct. 23. Lila Quintero Weaver, the author and illustrator of the graphic novel styled memoir, and the book’s Spanish translator Karina Vazquez were introduced by students in the seminar to speak about the book and its weight as a work of literature with roots in the civil rights movement. Afterwards, as students and guests helped themselves to refreshments, the floor was open for a Q&A session.
The memoir begins with Weaver and her family’s immigration to the United States from Argentina when she was five years old. In an interview, she described her and her family’s assimilation into their hometown in Alabama and how the book captures this part of her life.
“I speak about our integration into society in the South coming as Latin Americans and the cultural resistance, especially from my parents, as my siblings and I desperately wanted to Americanize or what we felt was becoming Americanized. That’s one aspect of it,” Weaver said.
Another subject of the memoir is how her identity as an immigrant growing up in the South played a role in her interaction with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
“It’s an extreme privilege when you’ve been able to see more of the world and know that more exists than this very small fish bowl,” Weaver said. “I feel that coming as a child who had never seen some of the things that we witnessed in Alabama, I can think about how a fresh pair of eyes can see something that people have grown accustomed to. So, coming as a kid is a way of bringing a form of innocence that is hard for an adult to experience.”
Vazquez is a professor of Spanish language and Latin American literature at the University of Alabama. She’s collaborating with Weaver to produce a version of the book in Spanish that is as true to the original as possible. Only text and dialogue is changed in the Spanish version, even images of newspaper clippings and textbooks are kept in English.
“I am Argentinian too and there are different parts of the book that I relate to,” Vazquez said. “When I met Lila I told her I would love to use this book in the classroom but I want all my materials in Spanish so I asked when the Spanish version will be available. She said one day it will come up but I started to use it in English anyway and this summer I worked with the photographic intertextual in narrative. I thought this would be a perfect project.”
Weaver’s book covers one historical event in particular about a mob that led to the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an African-American man who later died from his wounds. This pivotal event happened just a block away from her house.
“The person that shot him was a state trooper and he was exonerated,” she said. “This is the event that led to the march from Selma to Montgomery. Even though I grew up in that town I never knew the connection, it was never taught in school and no one ever pointed it out.”
Weaver grew up in the precise region where a lot of events in the Civil Rights Movement took place. “I was in the eighth grade when schools were completely desegregated and that’s when my biggest challenge came along where I took a stand while a lot of my white classmates were maintaining themselves apart and had very racist attitudes,” she said. “That was a dividing line for me to be able to say that I’m not going to live that way and I’m going to make friends across the racial barrier.”
Weaver also explained how she came up with the idea of writing a memoir recording her experiences in the form of a graphic novel.
“I was in a program at the University of Alabama and I had to do a project and it was whatever I decided to focus on,” she said. “I first thought about doing something on immigration and I realized there was an encyclopedic scope to that so I started to narrow and narrow the focus down to my family’s experience. Then it occurred to me that I could do an illustrated work.”
Weaver’s mother was a talented artist and she passed on her artistic ability to Weaver at a young age. Her father was a teacher at a local school but his other passion was photography. His collection of family photos and videos grew enormous over the years.
“I was surrounded by not only photographs but also the process of photo making because it was always present in the house,” Weaver said. “My drawings, some, are what I would call cartoonish photo realism; I take various scenes in which I actually replicate photos that we have from our family collection of photos. Other times I sort of assume the position of a photographer and create faux photographs.”
There is a lot of variety in illustration throughout the graphic novel. Weaver often puts together collage-styled pages of various drawings and images to depict what is happening in the book’s timeline.
“I love reading memoir, that’s actually my favorite genre because I think it is an opportunity to live inside someone else’s life, to kind of borrow their point of view for a while and to learn about the specificity of their life, to pick up details,” Weaver said. “As someone who aspires also to write fiction, I have a hard time inventing anything as interesting as what I see in actual lives.”