While Gold Fame Citrus is about natural disaster and energy crises, author Claire Vaye Watkins seems more interested in humanity’s ability to create new beginnings. For those who saw the 2015 blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road prior to reading Gold Fame Citrus, this novel will certainly conjure familiar images of vast deserts and isolated people in strange clothing. But, Watkins’ characters beg us to rekindle our sense of wonder and our love for humanity. While water is scarce and blueberries are precious delicacies, Luz, the story’s protagonist, reminds us that humans have an insane, beautiful knack for building community.
While the novel certainly contains warnings about ecological irresponsibility, it is a book about creating a family despite the shortcomings of society. The novel is not without its imperfect characters: irresponsible parents, selfish lovers, faulty leaders, and paranoid wanderers. While so much is broken from the start of this novel, Luz able to receive the support of good people in her flawed little desert village. The character Dallas helps her learn how to be a mother and develop the strength to survive the desert. By teaching Luz to ask questions, Dallas affirms Luz’s inner strength. After Luz spends time learning from Dallas, her whole view of self shifts. The narrator says, “All that time he let her [Luz] think she was the flimsy one. At night, the dunes sang.”
This book is an imperfect, but beautiful example of why we value our SouthBound lecture series. All artistic communities need the support of good people who have been doing what they love for a long time. Likewise, words of wisdom and advice help the young artists learn how to find their way and remind the seasoned artists of their joy and passion. Rick Bragg reminded us to look back at our roots; to appreciate the people who have shaped and molded us. Adrian Matejka taught us to tell old stories in new ways. And Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly reminded us through their work that history is also the story of individual people; people who wrote letters and diaries about natural disasters. We are incredibly excited to hear from Claire Vaye Watkins on April 21st. Gold Fame Citrus has so much to teach us about ourselves, our art, and our own inner strength. We are thrilled to welcome Claire Vaye Watkins into our community to encourage and inspire us.