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Serros, Michele

Serros, Michele

Career
Sidelights
Selected Writings
Sources

Author

B orn c. 1967, in Oxnard, CA; daughter of BeatriceSerros; married Gene Trautman (a drummer;divorced). Education: Santa Monica City College, A.A.; University of California, B.A. (with honors), 1996.

Addresses: Office—c/o Simon Pulse Publicity Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Career

P ublished first book,Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard, 1994; road poet for Lollapalooza, 1994; writer for The George Lopez Show, ABC, 2002. Also worked as a commentator for Morning Edition and host of Along for the Ride, both on National Public Radio; was a freelancer for Latino USA; taught poetry at inner-city schools and women’s prisons.

Awards: Latino Spirit Award, California Latino Legislative Caucus.

Sidelights

C hicana author Michele Serros uses humor andwit to chronicle her experiences as a brown-skinned woman in the United States. Beginning with her acclaimed collection, Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard, which was written while she was still a college student, Serros reluctantly embraced her position as a Hispanic role model. Serros also used her writing skills on radio and television productions.

Born around 1967 in Oxnard, California, Serros is a fourth-generation Mexican American who was discouraged from learning Spanish by her parents. She was raised in Oxnard, and her parents were both hard workers who held two jobs each to support their family. Though her mother, Beatrice, had unfulfilled artistic ambitions, she and her husband found their role models on television.

Serros told the Dallas Morning News’ Beatriz Terra-zas, “They wanted to make a home as close to The Brady Bunch as possible for us. Every payday my mom would buy Kentucky Fried Chicken and we would wheel the TV out to the patio to watch The Brady Bunch. That was the life we wanted.”

Interested in books and writing since her youth, young Serros believed that all writers were men from the East Coast chronicling the lives of well-off people who lived in big cities. On her sister’s suggestion, Serros considered adopting an appropriate pseudonym, Michael Hill. Yet her favorite authors were Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Louise Fitzhugh. Over time, she learned she did not need to change her name to be accepted as a writer, and she could be herself to write. Serros moved to Los Angeles when she was 19 years old to explore the writing scene there and go to college, first at Santa Monica City College.

Triggered by the death of her mother in 1991 and a class at Santa Monica City College, Serros began to see she could be a published author, too. The class was on Mexican-American literature and featured far more Spanish-surnamed authors than she expected were out there. The experience led her to craft her poems, short stories, and vignettes into a short book.

In 1994, Serros was able to publish the collection, titled Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard. The original publisher, Lalo Press, went out of business soon after the book came out, and Serros herself hocked the books out of her trunk and garage for several years. Though the volume lacked the usual ISBN (Industry Standard Book Number), she was able to convince a few book stores to carry it.

Despite this setback, Serros found an audience for the book, which was eventually added to high school and college curriculums throughout the United States over the next few years. During this time, Serros completed her degree with honors from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1996. While she was a student there, professors began using her book in their classes. Fellow students would track her down to help with their assignments on it.

A new edition of Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard was published in 1998 by Riverhead Press. The collection struck a chord with critics who praised it for its racial honesty, wisdom, and wit. Some critics especially singled out the short story, “Attention Shoppers,” which uses the frozen food section at an Oxnard grocery story to illustrate racist concepts through frozen vegetables. The poems, too, were acknowledged for their powerful statements on racial attitudes and language, primarily concerning Hispanic Americans. In addition, universal themes explored such issues as conformity, identity, and loneliness.

Reviewing the new edition in the San Francisco Chronicle, Patricia Holt wrote, “Michele Serros brings a rare authority and confidence to these pages. Like Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto, Ana Castillo, and others, she has a gift for the conversational aesthetic.” Along similar lines, Christine Gra-nados of the Austin American-Statesman commented, “Serros is one of the first Mexican-American writers since Dagoberto Gilb to capture the irony and, more important, the humor in the culture. She has been described as a spoken-word artist, writer, and poet, but I consider her a comedian.”

Yet Serros was also told her writing in the book was not as Mexican-American as it should be. She informed Cheryl Klein of the University Wire, “It didn’t capture that quote-unquote ‘essence’ of Chicano lit. I’m fourth-generation Mexican. [My book has] references that aren’t familiar to them. There’s a lot of pop culture references. They might see it as very whitewashed.”

Two years later, Serros published a second collection of mostly stories and vignettes, How to Be a Chicana Role Model. Influenced by her own experiences as a writer who is now expected to be a role model, she wrote about people’s expectations of her and the effect these had on her life. The racism Ser-ros encountered also informed the text. Regrettably, some academics assumed all Latina writers were the same, while others ignored her or regarded her as a domestic worker. Serros emphasized that the book was fiction, but she also admitted most of the incidents actually happened to her. She added embellishments to the events, however.

Given that her dark sense of humor was still on display, critics generally embraced How to Be a Chicana Role Model. Publishers Weekly wrote, “Though this outing lacks some of the fizz of Chicana Falsa, Serros turns out a funny yet poignant defense of her craft.” The book became a bestseller in certain markets, such as Los Angeles.

While working as an author, Serros also made a living with words in other venues. By the early 2000s, she had worked for National Public Radio as a commentator for Morning Edition and host of Along for the Ride. After living in New York City for several years, Serros returned to the West Coast to take a job writing for theABC situation comedy, The George Lopez Show.

Serros was happy to be writing for a show that emphasized a middle-class Hispanic family. She told Cecilia M. Gomez-Gonzalez of the Press Enterprise, “Some of the other Latino programs were so stereotypical. There’s no way I would have worked on any of those. I could not have been prouder to work on this. This show, it’s about a funny family who have a suburban lifestyle and, hey, they happen to be Latino.”

After her stint on The George Lopez Show ended, Ser-ros returned to New York City and again focused on her writing. She also continued to freelance for National Public Radio as well as Latino USA. In 2006, she published her first novel, a young adult work titled Honey Blonde Chica.

The novel focuses on upper-class Hispanic Evie Gomez, who has an identity crisis despite her life of wealth and privilege. She and her teen clique friends face a number of adolescent problems that the author explores in a tone similar to popular Gossip Girl books. Serros told Maricella Miranda of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “I liked the idea of writing about well-to-do Latinos . I was sort of getting tired of the poor Mexican.”

For her next project, Serros planned on writing a novel for an adult audience. No matter what she wrote, Serros wanted to help her audience. She told Terrazas of Dallas Morning News, “When I was younger, books allowed not only an escape for me but a chance to use my imagination—more so than a TV show or a movie. There was a lot of chaos in my home. My parents would fight a lot. In school I had the typical problems wanting to be accepted every time I opened a book I had a whole new set of friends. I would like to give this gift of escape to someone else.”

Selected Writings

Story and poetry collections

Chicana Falsa, and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard, Lalo Press, 1994; new ed., Riverhead Books, 1998.

How to Be a Chicana Role Model, Riverhead Books, 2000.

Novels

Honey Blonde Chica, Simon Pulse, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Austin American-Statesman (TX), June 7, 1998, p. D6.

Dallas Morning News, August 15, 2000.

Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA), October 8, 2002, p. E6.

Publishers Weekly, June 19, 2000, p. 61.

San Antonio Express-News (TX), July 25, 2000, p. 1D.

San Diego Union-Tribune, August 24, 2000, p. E1.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 3, 1998, p. E3.

School Library Journal, August 2006, p. 128.

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN), October 25, 2007.

University Wire, August 24, 1998.

Whittier Daily News (CA), April 24, 2005.

Online

Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2007.

—A. Petruso

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