A Sou’Wester Award finalist for his work, All the Proud Fathers, Daniel Mancilla received a Ph.D in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and has had chapters from All the Proud Fathers published in journals as Barrelhouse, The Chicago Tribune, The Saturday Evening Post, River Styx, and Washington Square Review, among others. His other works of fiction have won numerous awards and distinctions such as the 2014 Madison Review Chris O’Malley Fiction Prize, the 2012 Washington Square Review Flash Fiction Award, and finalist for the 2009 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award.
Born in Elgin, Illinois, Dan lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches writing at Kendall College of Art and Design and at Aquinas College. Dan is also an avid fan of professional wrestling, an interest that inspired stories such as The Deathmask of El Gaucho and some of his distinctive characters in All the Proud Fathers.
How did you get into writing? Was it a significant influence in your childhood/growing years?
“I wrote some silly character sketches and anecdotes to make classmates laugh in grade school, but most of my storytelling back then took the form of acting out elaborate plots with my G.I. Joe or Star Wars action figures.
It wasn’t until I took my first creative writing workshop in college that I entertained the possibility of writing as a career. That was when I read Stuart Dybek’s short story, “Hot Ice.” For the first time I was reading about people and places I knew. Dybek’s characters could have been guys hanging on the corner of my street. His Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago was peppered with the same Spanish and Eastern European languages as my Elgin, Illinois neighborhood. That freed me up to write my stories. To value my own experiences.”
How would you describe your writing style? What do you hope to achieve by this particular writing style?
“Perhaps I’d describe my style as Magic Naturalism. (Is that even a thing? If not, it is now.) Something like 100 Years of Solitude meets Native Son.
My primary aim when I write is to make sure there’s no hint of the puppeteer’s stings. The task I set for myself as an artist is to produce a world that is at once familiar and concrete yet completely fantastic. I strive to make the worlds of my stories completely immersive for readers and weave what John Gardner refers to as the “fictive dream” in such a way that the strange or “magical” parts of my stories come about organically.”
What inspired you to write “All the Proud Fathers”?
“I don’t know if there was a specific inspiration. I do remember that at one point several years ago when I was trying to publish my wrestling novel I kind of got burned out and felt the need to step away from it. When I did, I started to hear the narrator’s voice for a new story. It was an anonymous collective voice which became the narrator of “Our Gypsy Problem.” That story is now the opening chapter in All the Proud Fathers.”
Is there any particular social commentary or issues you wanted to raise with this book?
“While writing All the Proud Fathers I was thinking about life cycles of Rustbelt cities—the boom times of the past, the extended periods of blight, the brief flashes of re-development followed by the inevitable gentrification. I see that life cycle as an aspect of character development—for the people in All the Proud Fathers but also for Black Hawk which is just as much a character as the mystic priests, corrupt ward bosses, palooka boxers, and knife-throwing burlesque dancers who populate the city.
The title of my manuscript comes from James Wright’s poem, “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio.” Like Wright’s poem, All the Proud Fathers explores the complicated relationships between fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters) and examines the toll that living in a blighted community takes those relationships.”
What does something like the Sou’Wester Award mean to you?
“First book contests like the Sou’Wester Award are vital to discovering and sharing new literary voices. I try to support them and promote them whenever I can. Being considered for the award is a tremendous honor. Winning a publishing contract would be the culmination of decades of hard work.”
Find out more about Dan Mancilla and his works at danmancilla.com.