Author and journalist
Born in 1969, in Albuquerque, NM; daughter of Nelson P. Valdes (a sociologist) and Maxine Conant (a poet); married Patrick Rodriguez (a writer), 1999; children: Alexander. Education: Graduated from the Berklee College of Music, c. 1991; Columbia University, M.A. (journalism), 1994.
Addresses: Office —St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Reporter, Boston Globe, Boston, MA, c. 1994-98; reporter, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, 1998-2001; features editor, Albuquerque Tribune, Albuquerque, NM, 2002. Film rights to The Dirty Girls Social Club were optioned by Jennifer Lopez and Columbia Pictures.
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's debut novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, was heralded as a publishing-industry breakthrough when it appeared in 2003. The tale of six college-educated Latina women, and their career and romantic travails, prompted book-world talk that an author had finally managed to crack the popular-fiction market for Hispanic-American readers, and she was hailed as the next Terry McMillan, the best-selling writer of Waiting to Exhale. "This is the book I wanted to read but couldn't find," Valdes-Rodriguez told Rocky Mountain News writer Erika Gonzalez. "So much of what's written in English about Latinas is about us being downtrodden and struggling. I wanted to have fun."
Valdes-Rodriguez's career trajectory from journalist to author was not her first foray into the creative professions. Born in 1969 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she was a talented tenor saxophonist in her teens, and graduated from Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music. She sometimes points out in interviews that she was only half-Hispanic, and did not become fluent in Spanish until she took it up in her twenties. "There's a part of me that wants to vomit to be called a Latina writer," she told Chicago Tribune writer Patrick T. Reardon. "Why am I identified as part of a Latino movement and not by my mother's Irish background?" Her Cuban-born father was a sociologist who taught at various universities, and the family moved around often during her childhood before her parents' divorce.
After attempting to earn a living as a musician in New York City for a time, Valdes-Rodriguez enrolled in the graduate journalism program at Columbia University, finishing in 1994. She then landed a staff writing job with the Boston Globe, where her innate sense of justice found an outlet both in the stories she filed, and in calling attention to what she felt was the paper's biased coverage of news events involving minorities. She also sensed that African-American and Hispanic journalists were treated differently by the paper's editors, and it was only then that she started to learn the language of her paternal ancestors. "At newspapers there was always this sort of, 'we need someone to go cover this story who speaks Spanish, can you go?'" she recalled in an interview with Kristin Finan of the Houston Chronicle. "At the beginning I was afraid to admit that I didn't [speak Spanish] because I thought that might have been one of the main reasons they hired me."
After Boston, Valdes-Rodriguez moved on to the Los Angeles Times in 1998, where she covered the Spanish-language music industry. She also married and became pregnant, and she and her husband decided to move to her home state. Her letter of resignation to her LA Times bosses was a lengthy e-mail screed that made it onto the Internet, and gained Valdes-Rodriguez a certain measure of notoriety. In it, she excoriated the paper's editors for grouping the diverse nationalities of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean under a single umbrella term. "'Latino'—as used in The Los Angeles Times—is the most recent attempt at genocide perpetrated against the native people of the Americas," she asserted, according to a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith.
Not surprisingly, Valdes-Rodriguez had a difficult time finding another job in journalism thanks to that letter. She scraped by, doing freelance public-relations work for Hispanic entertainers, and had to rely on Medicaid to cover the cost of her son's delivery. But when she submitted a proposal for a nonfiction book about Hispanic pop divas, the editors who read it asked if she had written any fiction instead. Valdes-Rodriguez had been working intermittently on a manuscript for several years, and decided to leave her infant son at home with her husband and head for the local Starbucks. "The staff thought that I was strange because I was there all the time," she recalled in an interview with London Daily Telegraph writer Marcus Warren. "I would be there 10 to 15 hours a day for two weeks."
The submitted manuscript sparked a bidding war among publishers, who had long sought a "Latina Terry McMillan" to jump-start fiction aimed at Hispanic-American female readers. Valdes-Rodriguez earned a $475,000 advance on the book's royalties when she signed with St. Martin's Press, though that had not been the highest offer tendered. She chose St. Martin's, she told Gonzalez in the Rocky Mountain News article, because "they never viewed it as an ethnic book. They saw it as the next Nanny Diaries—a mainstream book with Latino characters."
The Dirty Girls Social Club was published to great fanfare in the spring of 2003. Its chapters chronicle the post-collegiate lives of a sextet of Latinas, all friends from their Boston University days. They are a diverse group, both in heritage, class, and professional aspirations, but manage to get together twice yearly to catch up with the "sucias," a term that, roughly translated, means fast young women. Reviews were generally mixed, as in critic Fabiola Santiago's assessment for the Miami Herald. She termed Valdes-Rodriguez's debut "a chatty, watered-down view of 18- to 34-year-old Latinahood and a failed attempt to dispel stereotypes (just check out the cover for plentiful Jennifer Lopez hotness). Yet there is something charming about the novel, which has the feel of a night out with the girls that's both comfortable and adventurous."
Valdes-Rodriguez's next book, Playing with Boys, was published by St. Martin's in 2004. This one centers around a trio of Hispanic women in the Hollywood entertainment-industry orbit whose lives intersect thanks to a screenplay in the works about Central American politics. "Once again, without resorting to didacticism," noted Library Journal reviewer Shelley Mosley, Valdes-Rodriguez's "novel becomes a subtle vehicle for demonstrating the rich diversity of Latina culture."
Valdes-Rodriguez's last job in journalism was as the features editor for the Albuquerque Tribune. She lives in the area, not far from her childhood home, with her husband Patrick Rodriguez, a screenwriter, and their son, Alexander. At work on a third novel—this one set in Miami—she is thrilled to have left the constraints of newspaper journalism behind and discovered a more creative outlet for her principles. "The process of writing is a joy," she told Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Teresa K. Weaver. "I feel a little guilty when I'm doing it because I enjoy it so much."
The Dirty Girls Social Club, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Playing with Boys, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 23, 2003, p. D1.
Chicago Tribune, August 21, 2002.
Cosmopolitan, May 2003, p. 82.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), August 13, 2003.
Detroit Free Press, May 11, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 2003, p. 42.
Houston Chronicle, September 27, 2004, p. 1.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 14, 2003.
Library Journal, August 2004, p. 70.
Miami Herald, May 2, 2003.
New York Times, April 24, 2003, p. E1.
Publishers Weekly, April 14, 2003, p. 49; July 7, 2003, p. 17; August 30, 2004, p. 31.
Rocky Mountain News, June 5, 2003, p. 8D.
Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2004.