The day Toni Morrison died I was working an hour away from home, conducting meetings with a team of insurance professionals I’d managed for the best part of twenty years. I’d been balancing a double life, as a writer, the entire time I worked my full-time job. When my phone started buzzing, ringing, vibrating, I reached for it quickly, and was only momentarily relieved that an unthinkable thing hadn’t happened to either of my kids, or my husband, or my mother. But the moment didn’t last very long. I plummeted into despair when I realized a writer who had inspired me, guided me in such an important way was now gone. I cried home during my drive home that day, for the loss to humanity, and honestly, resigned that I’d never get to show Morrison how she’d impacted me: mainly through her reading my debut novel, Neruda on the Park, which I’d harbored since I was fifteen years old as my most secret wish.
I was 15 years old when two librarians introduced me to Morrison’s work. My local public library still stands on 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Like many kids who walked in there on any given day, I was trying to escape home, find a quiet place where adults would leave me the hell alone. There, I found an odd duo who did the exact opposite: two librarians, a Black man, taller than any person I’d seen in real life, and a short, plump White woman, with soft hands who, like my abuelita, used to lead me places by pointing with her chin in the direction she wanted me to go. I told them I had never been in a library. They walked me around the wide floor, showing me different sections I should get to eventually, amassing in their arms an enormous stack of books I should take home. There were books by Esmeralda Santiago, Cristina García, Anton Chekhov, Gabriel García Márquez, and most critically Toni Morrison. They debated which would be the best for me to start on. Finally, they decided and handed me a slim book: The Bluest Eye.
I clung to that book, captivated by its cover, which featured a young girl who shared my skin tone. I didn’t go to sleep all night; finished reading that wonderful book in one sitting. Over the next three years, these two dear librarians helped me well beyond offering books I’d come to love. They helped me navigate college applications which landed me as a fully funded scholarship recipient in a small liberal arts college where I took my first writing course with Steven Millhauser. I am deeply indebted to the care and love the librarians on 125th street showed me. As a young person who still attended bilingual classes and was still learning English, I am amazed they believed in my intelligence, intuited the needs I had both in seeing my experiences as a young immigrant, but also to accept as survivable some of the horrors I lived every day at home. They gifted me a lens through which to understand the world and myself.
I have such deep admiration for the work you each do as librarians. It is my love of reading that first inspired me to be a writer. I wrote Neruda on the Park because I wanted to pay homage to the complexities of community, family, love, and ambition I’ve known my entire life. Through Eusebia and her daughter Luz, readers will come to recognize the universal themes of home and the cost of the precarious pursuit of upward mobility. My aim is also to carry readers away with humor, tenderness and a hard-to-put-down story that will recall the early days of falling in love with books–that sensuous, thrilling space where the act of losing ourselves is also the act of becoming our most deeply connected selves.
It is my honor to share Neruda on the Park with you. Although I am still heartbroken that Toni Morrison will never read my novel, I am heartened at knowing that librarians, who in my heart feel as a very close second set of eyes, may do so. It is my deepest hope you enjoy this book enough to want to place it into the hands of people who trust your taste, who love and need libraries as much as I have.
With warmth and appreciation,