Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere
a memoir by
EVENT: Robert Lopez, in conversation with Jennifer Morales, at the Wisconsin Book Festival
October 21, 2023, at 4:30 p.m., Central Library, Community Room 302
The Wisconsin Book Festival, presented by Madison Public Library in partnership with Madison Public Library Foundation, presents free, public author events that celebrate books and spark conversations.
→ View more: wisconsinbookfestival.org/presenters/robert-lopez
A "Book of the Month" —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"A Most Anticipated Book of 2023" —Chicago Review of Books
That I was born Puerto Rican was happenstance, but that I have no connection to what it means is no accident. My grandparents made conscious decisions and so did my father as part of the first generation born here in the States. And none of it bothered me until recently, which is probably why I can’t quite put my finger on any of this. I’m still grappling with what I’ve lost and how I can miss something I’ve never had.
Robert Lopez’s grandfather Sixto was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in 1904, immigrating to the United States in the 1920s, where he lived in a racially proportioned apartment complex in East New York, Brooklyn, until his death in 1987. The family’s efforts to assimilate within their new homeland led to the near complete erasure of their heritage, culture, and language within two generations.
Little is known of Sixto—he may have been a longshoreman, a painter, or a boxer, but was most likely a longshoreman—or why he originally decided to leave Puerto Rico, other than that he was a meticulously slow eater who played the standup keyboard and guitar, and enjoyed watching baseball. Through family recollection, the constant banter volleyed across nets within Brooklyn’s diverse tennis community, as well as an imagined fabulist history drawn from Sixto’s remembered traits, in Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: An American Story of Assimilation and Erasure, Robert Lopez paints a compassionate portrait of family that attempts to bridge the past to the present, and re-claim a heritage threatened by assimilation and erasure.
READ AN EXCERPT:
Racquet—a quarterly magazine that celebrates the art, ideas, style and culture that surround tennis—issue Number 22, contains an excerpt from Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere titled "Dispatch from Madison, WI."
March 15, 2023 (7:30pm ET):
Book Launch at Greenlight Bookstore!
Robert Lopez presents Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere: An American Story of Assimilation and Erasure In conversation with Touré, in-person event.
Event link | Location: Fort Greene 686 Fulton Street Brooklyn, NY 11217
March 21, 2023 (6pm PT/9pm ET):
Virtual event hosted by San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore!
Robert Lopez presents Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere: An American Story of Assimilation and Erasure In conversation with in conversation with Sarah Rose Etter (author of The Book of X)!
Event link | Location: Zoom
Scroll to bottom for Goodreads reviews.
"Original and fearless... In this not-quite-a-memoir exploration of his life as an 'assimilated' Puerto Rican, Lopez uses dispatches—some hilarious, others heartbreaking—to explain and interrogate his life to an unknown recipient who could very well be himself. Imagine messages in a bottle written by an extremely talented and thoughtful explorer of a land called assimilation. This is a sharply written, incisive, and extremely engaging meditation on assimilation that will strike a painful chord with many who have suffered from the same erasure of their culture in this country."
—Daniel A. Olivas, Latino Book Review
"Flashes, Disconnections and Missed Connections: An Interview with Robert Lopez"
"A masterpiece clear and honest and alive to the world and its contradictions. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere will hit you where you live."
—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
"In this memoir, a descendant of Puerto Rican migrants examines how migration and gentrification have shaped Brooklyn and reflects on the dearth of family history that has left him with 'permanent amnesia, local and global.'"
—New York Times
"These dispatches correct each other, question each other, answer each other, and complete each other. What does Robert Lopez dispatch here? Any easy or romantic notion of kinship, ethnicity, and nationality. This book is an ode to what we don’t know about ourselves."
—Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had, On Immunity, and Notes From No Man's Land
"First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in."
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast: "Robert Lopez on Life Before We’re Born and Why Memory is Like a Failed Method Actor"
"Lopez’s book is not after certainty, does not try to pin down a ship’s manifest that might make his grandfather’s journey from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn concrete. He embraces one of our most beguiling three-word introductory phrases, 'I don’t know…' [Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is] a type of spiritual work that has a greater impact than something presented as fact."
—Vince Granata, American Literary Review
(Read the full review of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere)
"[Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere] trips nimbly through memories and non-memories of growing up not quite Puerto Rican in white Long Island and multicultural Brooklyn. Allusions to tennis, which Lopez plays and thinks about with passion, punctuate the narrative. Gripping in its range of musings on the realities of language—he doesn’t speak Spanish—, cultural identities, immigration, color classification, the status of Puerto Rico, and the challenges of being a writing professor, this is a real page-turner and mind-opener. Despite its serious themes, it’s filled with sardonic humor and provides numerous belly-laughs."
—Richard Price & Sally Price, New West Indian Guide
"The opening sentence of the book... makes it clear that this is an atypical approach to writing about family... Lopez spoke recently by phone about assimilation and about what the void in his family history has meant to him."
—Stuart Miller, The Orange County Register
Interview: "How the memoir Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere explores a lost legacy"
"Armed with little more than a lifetime of questions, one of this country's best sentence-making minds, and the twelfth most popular surname in the United States, Robert Lopez embarks on a journey of self-discovery and winds up with the heart of America in his hands: peculiar, beautiful, inspiring, sad."
—John D'Agata, author of Halls of Fame, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact
"How to resurrect a self from the ashes of family history? When there is so little to go on? If you are a storyteller like Lopez, you tell stories. You manifest ghosts. Some of the most vibrant of his dispatches are fabulist flashes of his grandfather, Sixto, a gifted musician, busking on the streets in Mayaguez in 1918, scraping together enough for a hot, meaty empanadilla in the afternoon sun."
—Sara Lippmann, Chicago Review of Books
(Read the full review of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere)
"This week, host Jason Jefferies is joined by Robert Lopez, who discusses his new [book] Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere... Topics of discussion include the American experience in 2023, dispatches and Dispatches, whether Puerto Rico is a part of the United States in popular opinion, turning an insult into a word of power, tennis, the pledge of allegiance, and much more."
—Jason Jefferies, Bookin' Podcast
Interview with Robert Lopez (March 27, 2023)
"Lopez uses this sense of obscurity, this shadow of ghosts, with an endearing talent to find the heartfelt and sincere core of our violent histories, weaving through our own various misconceptions of Puerto Rico, bridging the reality of Lopez’s distant life with the hyperreality of the actual history of the people of the island... It's these intricacies and nuances that bring life to the dispatches on the page, forcing the reader to reckon with their own handling of the material... An effective and essential read."
—Thomas Johnson, West Trade Review
(Read the full review of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere)
"Lopez’s nonfiction debut is simple in form but chock-full of complexity: his fragmented family history is sprinkled with loss and longing and parades and boxing bouts and tennis matches and myths and misquotes and vaporous memories. In telling his family’s story, Lopez is, in some sense, telling this nation’s story."
—Alyssa Oursler, Electric Literature
Interview: "What’s More American Than Erasure?"
"A portrait of someone caught in a liminal space between cultures and identities. It’s a rich and soulful memoir about how much gets lost in assimilation, how to sit with unknowability, and how we define our character as we move through the world."
—Emerson Malone, Buzzfeed
"30 Books Coming Out This Spring That You'll Love"
"In this inventive memoir, [Robert Lopez] examines his blurry lineage in short, episodic bursts... Throughout, Lopez is candid and funny, a winning guide through his individual history and a thoughtful examiner of more complicated diasporas. This will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to dig through their own past."
(Read the full review of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere)
"Robert Lopez’s Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a stunningly powerful work of family recollection on his grandfather, Sixto, his immigration to the United States in the 1920s, and the effort to assimilate that nearly erased the family’s heritage, culture, and language in just two generations."
—Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
"Our 17 Most Anticipated Books of 2023"
"After a host of formally bold works of fiction, Lopez here shifts perspectives, venturing into nonfiction with a trip into his own family’s history. Specifically, Lopez chronicles his grandfather’s decision to leave Puerto Rico and the impact that had on his family, then and now."
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"BOOKS OF THE MONTH: MARCH 2023 EDITION"
"Writing in almost impressionistic fragments, Lopez works in bursts of thought across a steady plain of self-investigation. He uses historical research and imagined scenes to dig into the past while showcasing his inability to access it."
—Colin Kirkland, Brooklyn Magazine
Interview: "NOWHERE MAN: WRITER ROBERT LOPEZ DISCUSSES HIS NEW PATCHWORK MEMOIR" (Mar. 16, 2023)
"Robert Lopez’s family story about cultural erasure has stuck with me for months after my first read. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is an honest and deep emotional exploration of the author’s family history, dating back to his grandfather Sixto’s immigration to the United States in the 1920s. Lopez honors the past and imagines his grandfather’s history through what he can remember in an effort to re-claim a heritage that has been threatened by assimilation."
—Michael Welch, Chicago Review of Books
"12 Must-Read Books of March 2023"
"Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a deceptively subversive book, full of insights and humor and a level of honest examination (both of racism and of the author himself) that is rare. Lopez writes in distilled bursts, each labelled 'Dispatch from…' (A Better Moment; Something Irretrievable; It’s Now or Never, etc), as if he wasn’t standing right beside us, murmuring these complicated truths in our ears, but beaming them in from some distant, forgotten past. He carries the weight of this past, yet it does not crush him. Or—thankfully, beautifully—us."
—Nick Flynn, author of This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, The Ticking is the Bomb, and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
"Robert Lopez’s Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is somewhere between a speculative memoir, a mostly unresolved detective story, and a meditation on learning to play tennis. That it’s none and all of these things—and more—is its particular genius. It’s the wondering and the wandering, the speculation and the narration, the knowing and the not knowing, the life and the tennis, the death and the tennis, and the quick footwork between them that’s so powerful here. As Lopez says after his friend was murdered by the police, 'The trouble with the end of the world is what to do the day after.' What are you going to do? Do what you always do: think, talk, eat too fast, grieve, live, read, write, play tennis."
—Ander Monson, author of The Gnome Stories and I Will Take the Answer
“For many years, Robert Lopez has been among the most singular writers of American fiction; now he turns the unique precision of his voice and his vision toward himself and his family history. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is a masterful work of nonfiction."
—Matt Bell, author of Appleseed
"In this powerful, moving memoir, Lopez recounts his grandfather Sixto's immigration from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico to East New York, Brooklyn in the 1920s... Lopez paints a compassionate portrait not only of his grandfather but their family and himself, offering a bridge between past and present, embracing and erasure."
—Amerie’s Book Club (Instagram)
Praise for Robert Lopez:
“Lopez has the ability to give the reader whiplash with his unconventional and bewitching stories.”
—Karolina Waclawiak, author of How to Get into the Twin Palms and The Invaders, on Good People
“Robert Lopez is the master of deadpan dread, of the elliptical koan, of the sudden turn of language that reveals life to be so wonderfully absurd. Always with Lopez, the voice is all his—enchanting, surprising, at times devastating.”
—Jess Walter, author of The Cold Millions and Beautiful Ruins
"Robert Lopez is one of the most exciting writers working today.”
—Jenny Offill, author of Weather and Dept. of Speculation, on A Better Class of People
“Robert Lopez’s strange, incantatory, visionary stories reveal the mysteries behind the ordinary world.”
—Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply and Stay Awake
“Nobody else does whatever the hell it is [Lopez]’s doing better than he does.”
—Justin Taylor, author of Riding with the Ghost, in BOMB Magazine
“Robert Lopez does amazing things with prose, tone, and sparsity.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn, on Good People
“For my money, there are few writers who can do voice better than Robert Lopez, and few who can evoke so much of a world in so few words.”
—Blake Butler, author of Three Hundred Million
BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. As a group, try to define the term “the American Dream.” Discuss these ideas in relationship to Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: do you believe the Lopez family achieved the American Dream? Why or why not? What clues do we have as to how the author feels about this question?
2. In Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere, the author states: “I appreciate what my father did for me and what his father did for both of us. But sacrificing our language and culture, our heritage and history, didn’t have to be part of the bargain” (p. 121): do you think it is possible to make gains in a new culture without suffering losses of some kind? Make a list of the pros and the cons of intentionally letting go of one’s previous culture when permanently living within a new one.
3. Talk about what it means to be a first-, second-, and third-generation American, using Sixto, Robert’s father, and Robert as a case study: how did the three generations’ concerns and goals differ? In what ways were they similar to each other? Why might a later-generation American yearn for the family’s previous culture that they are aware of but have never experienced?
4. Talk about the American government and Puerto Rico: what recent political discourse related to the island territory is investigated in the book? In what ways might migrating from Puerto Rico to one of the mainland states be similar and different to moving within one of the 50 states? Do you think Puerto Rico benefits from being a territory of the U.S. government?
5. Discuss how a lack of a familial memory is central to Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere: how important do you think generational storytelling is? What would have been different if Sixto Lopez had recorded or recounted his origins for his descendants? As a group, discuss your knowledge of your own family histories and how it has affected you.
6. Of his family, the author says: “All of it dies with me” (p. 198): what does he mean by this? Do you think the concern of his family dying would remain even if he did choose to have children and a new generation of the Lopez family name?
7. Consider the author’s paternal grandmother: how would you describe the relationship between grandmother and grandson? What was Lola’s relationship like with the rest of the family? Discuss the effect that family dynamics can have on the sharing of family history.
8. In the memoir, the author has largely focused on his paternal lineage, starting as far back as he can go, with his grandfather Sixto Lopez, who left Puerto Rico. But we also learn about the author’s Italian maternal lineage, “the culture we indulged in at home” (p. 77), as well as Spanish and Cuban ancestry: Why is the lack of knowledge of his Puerto Rican heritage in sharper focus than the others?
9. In what ways has the author’s Puerto Rican heritage affected him in a positive way? In a negative way? How has his level of awareness about this changed throughout his life?
10. The author has only recently started to examine the disconnect he feels to his heritage: what has changed for the author as he’s aged? Why do you think the topics of heritage and language have taken on more significance now? What do you believe might have contributed to this awareness being absent in the author’s youth?
11. The author is enamored with the game of tennis, which he taught himself to play at middle age: what descriptions are used to depict his tennis playing? Juxtapose the self-teaching of tennis with the possibility of self-teaching the Spanish language: what is different between the two subjects?
12. Throughout the book, the author portrays scenes with his Brooklyn tennis friends: what are these descriptions like? Why do you think the tennis community is so important? Do you think it’s fitting that the memoir’s cover features a tennis racket?
13. Running throughout the book are descriptions of the author’s first experience watching the New York City Puerto Rican Day Parade: what does he do while watching the parade? In what ways is the parade described? What emotions do you think are present during these scenes?
14. The author reflects: “I grew up surrounded by white people and never thought of myself as other… No one ever told me that teachers and coaches and employers and policemen might treat me differently” (p. 7): do you think this decision by the adults in his life was right or wrong? How did the setting of his childhood affect his self-identity later in life?
15. Discuss the author’s relationship with term “spic” and how it changed over time.
16. What was it like for the author to be raised on Long Island, both during childhood and as an adult thinking back on that period? What do you make of his decision to settle in Brooklyn in adulthood, back to where his parents had intentionally moved him and his sister away from? As a group, share whether or not you feel a disconnect now to the place in which you were raised, and the reasons why.
17. When the author says: “I think about language and history and people who can speak a language that for me should’ve been a birthright” (p. 184), what connection can be made between being able to speak a language and feeling a sense of belonging? As a group, share any similar experience you or your family has had on the topic of language and belonging.
18. What effect might it have on someone to repeatedly have experiences like this one with strangers, based solely on appearance: “I can’t count how many times someone has spoken Spanish to me and I’ve had to say, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish” (p. 95). What do you believe are the origins of the author’s expectation that he ought to be able to speak Spanish in addition to English?
19. When the author recounts working in restaurants, how would you characterize his relationships with his coworkers? How do you think these experiences affected him?
20. Of another passenger on an airplane trip, the author concludes: “Maybe she isn’t Puerto Rican or maybe she’s Puerto Rican like I am” (p. 194): what does he mean by this? Do you think he feels like he is being equally observed?
21. Various surveys are pointed to discuss how Americans feel about identity: do you believe language ability is mandatory for inclusion in a cultural identity? What do you think is important in order for a person to feel they belong? Discuss the term “LINO” that is used in the book: what does it mean, and how does the author feel about it? Do you think that it is possible to be Latino—or any other identity—in name only?
22. During a university opportunity as a guest writer that brings the author to Utah, a fellow attendee repeatedly refers to him as “Roberto” instead of his name, Robert. Why do you think he did not correct this mistake?
23. Talk about diversity in higher education faculty and programming: if you aren’t part of academia yourself, what conclusions do you draw from the author’s experiences? If you do have personal insight, were his experiences in line with what you already believed, or different?
24. The author, in his role as a college professor, describes utilizing a famous Miłosz quote with his students “to give them license to let it fly, to destroy themselves and their families” (p. 18): what do you think this means? What purpose does this objective serve? Do you think that Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere achieves this goal?
25. Talk about the idea of inheritance—that which is passed down from one generation to the next, whether material or genetic: what health concerns does the author have? What else about inheritance is explored in the memoir?
Robert Lopez is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, named one of 25 important books of the decade by HTML Giant, and All Back Full; two story collections, Asunder and Good People, and a novel-in-stories titled A Better Class of People. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in dozens of publications, including Bomb, The Threepenny Review, Vice Magazine, New England Review, The Sun, and the Norton Anthology of Sudden Fiction – Latino. He teaches at Stony Brook University and has previously taught at Columbia University, The New School, Pratt Institute, and Syracuse University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Visit his website here: robertlopez.net
Visit the Robert Lopez author page for additional details and interviews.
Enjoy a sneak peek of select pages from Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere!
View Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere sneak peek here on Issuu.com
FORMAT: Hardback (Paper-over-board)
LIST PRICE: $26
PRINT ISBN: 9781953387240
DIGITAL ISBN: 9781953387257
AUDIOBOOK: Digital Download ISBN: 9781696611077
RELEASE DATE: 3/14/2023
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"
AUDIO BOOK: HighBridge audiobook of Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere by Robert Lopez, read by Lee Osorio. Click here to listen to a excerpt of the memoir:
Printed in Canada by Marquis, with the following environmental statement:
*Printed on Rolland Enviro. This paper contains 100% post-consumer fiber, is manufactured using renewable energy - Biogas and processed chlorine free.
*FSC certified paper (inside and cover).