Quiara Alegría Hudes is undoubtedly having a moment. In 2005, Hudes debuted a little Broadway show you might have heard of called In the Heights, for which she wrote the book and which went on to win a Tony and a Grammy. The show is now on the big screen, years after its final live performance, and as powerful as ever thanks to Hudes’s guiding hand as screenwriter and producer. In between penning a Tony award-winning show and creating a summer blockbuster, Hudes won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for her play Water by the Spoonful, a sequel to her Pulitzer-nominated play, Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, which follows an Iraq war veteran returning to civilian life and his relationship with his biological mother who is in recovery from years of drug misuse.
In April, she published My Broken Language, a memoir about her coming-of-age among a Puerto Rican family in North Philly, exploring the varied influences that made her into the artist she is today. Hudes is also the founder of Emancipated Stories, a volunteer program that provides a space for currently or formerly incarcerated people to share their writing or art and “bridge two separate populations,” those behind bars and those outside.
Hudes answered our Jezebel Questionnaire and recommended some powerful and moving reads including the upsetting yet vital work of Nelson A Denis.
What is the ultimate book for you? What’s the book that imprinted on you?
There’s before I encountered James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain, and there’s after. It came when I was finally done with school, when I could determine the direction of my reading life. Baldwin was the first heart-stopping discovery of my adulthood.
What’s one thing that you’re obsessed with right now? (What makes it worth your obsession?)
I’m obsessed with the music podcasts Song Exploder and Object of Sound. Songwriters discuss both the strategic decisions and intuitive impulses that led to a great song. I always learn something new about listening, which is of course relevant to writing.
What darling did you have to kill?
I wrote 70 pages for my memoir, My Broken Language, that were about one of the worst days of my life, when I took a day trip back home to Philly and painful stuff went down. It turned out the pages were off-topic to the direction of the book which focused more on my youth.
If you could read a novel by any celebrity or famous person, who would it be and why? (One that doesn’t exist yet!)
Missy Elliot and Sheila E come to mind. I wanna know how these rebel chicks thrived in a male-dominated business and art form. I need their strategies. Spill the deets!
One of Dorothy Parker’s famous quotes is about a book that “should not be tossed aside lightly… but thrown with great force.” What’s the last book you threw across the room? What made you do it?
Nelson A Denis’s War Against All Puerto Ricans. He unveils the dark side of US colonial rule over Puerto Rico and how its economy has been steamrolled by US corporations for over a century. It was a harrowing, enraging education.
What’s the perfect place to be alone?
A clearing in the woods by a creek, with enough sunlight for reading.
If that’s not available, then a crowded noisy bar in Washington Heights with a drink, my laptop open, and a few hours to write.
What’s one line from a project you didn’t write that lives in an endless loop in your head?
“I began to dig what was inside me.” That sentence comes late in Piri Thomas’s powerful memoir Down These Mean Streets. In prison, he becomes an avid reader and this prompts a self-examination deep into his history and his own soul.