Writer/poet Charlie Vázquez may have been born and bred in New York City, but his literature is known across the country as one of the foremost examples of personal redemption through the craft of masterfully weaving words. And on this weekend, when gay pride is being celebrated nationwide, he’s humble about his work having promoted discussion of LGBT issues for both gay and straight readers.
“I see myself as having had a lifetime of trying to navigate between different communities,” says the 41-year-old, who was part of a panel discussing contemporary Latino literature at Fordham University on Saturday. “I’m Latino. I’m gay. I am both of those things and to recognize that is a celebration of my sexuality and my roots.”
Vázquez, who self-published his first novel “Buzz and Israel” in 2004, has come a long way to declare such a statement with confidence and purpose. The eldest of five children to parents of mixed Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, Vázquez grew up on classic salsa beats and homemade criollo cooking in a city that was rife with drugs and violence.
“I grew up with a range of influences, some very dark. But music and books were always a way to open up my eyes to a different world, something to escape to,” recalls Vázquez, who, as a young child became attached to playing the trumpet and reading through scores of second-hand books.
Vázquez left the city in 1988 (“in the middle of the city’s crack epidemic, where there was nothing for me,” he explains) and soon found himself in Portland, Oregon. He joined a band and briefly studied music production. Vázquez thought music was the voice he had long been searching for, but while scribbling lyrics in dog-eared notebooks, found that the musicality and sensuality of the written word held a magnetic attraction for him.
Over the course of the last 15 years, the Brooklyn resident says he’s been able to reconcile his environment with his sense of being; his sexuality with his family; and his interests with his love of the written word. Following the release of “Buzz and Israel,” Vázquez has written “Business as Usual,” “Contraband” and has authored several essays published in anthologies including “Best Gay Love Stories: New York City” (2006) and “Queer and Catholic” (2008).
Although he never graduated from college, Vázquez says he’s always learning as he reads books of history and science. And as he’s grown older, he’s also found deep satisfaction organizing books readings and literary events throughout New York City.
Vázquez has also forged meaningful relationships as a literary mentor to other LGBT authors. As a freelance editor, he’s able to help sharpen the voice of young gay writers who, like him, are using literature as a means to tap into their own sense of pride.
After all, explains Vázquez, the LGBT community has come extremely far, but there’s still progress to be made.
“Opening your soul, putting yourself into a great book is a way to reexamine stereotypes and explore the world,” says Vázquez.
“Because if you’re not enlightening yourself, you’re not evolving.”