Lysley Tenorio had never given a thought to pursuing a career in writing. Heck, he’d never even met a professional writer.
But all that changed after he took a class on the history of the short story, taught by writer Bharati Mukherjee, during his senior year at UC Berkeley. His eyes were opened to the possibility of telling meaningful stories about people like him – immigrants – by writing. “Reading her books about immigration really spoke to me on so many different levels,” Tenorio said. “And I thought ‘I want to give this a try – this seems like worthy pursuit.'”
After graduating from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in English, Tenorio earned a master’s in fine arts in creative writing from the University of Oregon and started writing.
Today Tenorio is an award-winning author, and his book Monstress – a collection of short stories set amongst the Filipino-American communities of California and the Philippines – is a core text in Identity in Literature, a new senior English course taught by Sarah Tunik.
Watch more videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel » He received a warm welcome when he visited O’Dowd last week, meeting with students during an MP session held in the theater. He talked about his career path, read a passage from one of the short stories in his book, and engaged in a lively Q&A session with students, many of whom were quite familiar with his work.
Tenorio said he was inspired to write Monstress because growing up he didn’t see a lot of Filipino characters or experiences in books, movies or TV shows. “So when I saw a Filipino character in the book ‘The Middle Man’ by Bharati Mukherjee that meant a lot to me,” he said. “And I thought I want to be a part of that conversation.”
Students were curious about why his stories typically have open endings. “As a writer, you want your reader to keep wondering about your story even after the last word,” he said. “If everyone interprets the ending the exact same way, I actually think I failed.”
Maya Jenkins ’18 said she thoroughly enjoyed the collection of stories in Monstress. “I felt a really great connection to the book because the stories felt real. I read the book for class, but I kept going back to it to read it again,” she said.
Tunik was thrilled that students had the opportunity to meet Tenorio and get a sense of his passion for writing.
“When we read the book for class, they loved talking about the weird, surprising, upsetting, heart-wrenching, funny, and loving moments in each story,” she said. “Some of the kids are good readers and some struggle with reading, but they all read this book and gave it sophisticated thought.”
A Whiting Writer’s Award winner and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Tenorio has received fellowships from the University of Wisconsin, Phillips Exeter Academy, Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently a professor at Saint Mary’s College of California, teaching English and creative writing, and is working on a novel about scam artists.
Two of the stories from Monstress were produced and staged at ACT, and another was turned into a musical.