VCFA alumnx and former VCFA Director of Recruitment Ann Dávila Cardinal (W ‘07) was nominated for a 2022 Vermont Book Award in the Fiction category for her novel The Storyteller’s Death (Sourcebooks 2022). Prior to the nomination, we interviewed Cardinal about her amazing journey with The Storyteller’s Death for the 2022 edition of VCFA’s alumnx magazine, in residence. You can read the story behind the book, as it appeared in the magazine, below.
The Stories That Never Leave Us
Some stories come to you all at once. And some stories take you seventeen years to write. At least, that was the case for Ann Dávila Cardinal—author, former VCFA Director of Recruitment, and class of 2007 Writing alumnx—and her latest novel, The Storyteller’s Death.
The Storyteller’s Death follows Isla Larsen Sanchez, a young woman whose life is marked by her Puerto Rican family, death, and stories. “I wanted to honor that Puerto Rican side of myself,” Cardinal explains of the story. “It’s sort of like my love letter to my family and to the culture.” Cardinal’s narrative also explores themes of racism, generational trauma, the power of family, and the power of our stories.
The book found its roots as a short story for a VCFA workshop. “I had been accepted to the program and I was trying to figure out what to workshop because I hadn’t written a lot of fiction,” explains Cardinal. After a conversation with friends about care for the elderly, she said to her friends that, “in Puerto Rico, there was no old age home. There was always some old woman dying in the backroom of my childhood.” In that conversation, she found the first line of her story.
After seeing the potential for a novel, Cardinal worked on the manuscript for the next two years while finishing her MFA. Near the end of the program, she felt she hadn’t quite found her footing with the project. She shelved the book, but the stories of her life and family continued to haunt her. As Cardinal started to write and publish her YA novels—such as Five Midnights (Tor Teen 2019) and Category Five (Macmillan 2020)—she worked on The Storyteller’s Death in the background for years, picking it up and putting it down again. “I am a stubborn woman,” Cardinal says. “I refused to give up on it.”
Finally, five years ago, she brought the novel to the VCFA Postgraduate Writers’ Conference. There, Cardinal says, faculty member Andre Dubus III “had me rewrite a section in third person, and I did it just to prove him wrong. I read from it during the workshop, and it opened up the whole novel for me.”
Seventeen years later, The Storyteller’s Death came out with Sourcebooks on October 4, 2022. To Cardinal, the wait was worth it. “I feel like it needed those 17 years,” says Cardinal.
Without VCFA and her community, Cardinal explains “[The Storyteller’s Death] wouldn’t exist. That’s why I have the [VCFA] logo tattooed on my arm, because this is part of who I am. I talk to alum friends and faculty friends every day about their work, and I graduated years ago. I still have that support system.”
“It is true [that writing] is a hard field,” Cardinal says. But, in Cardinal’s words, perseverance is sometimes exactly what you need to help push you through. “Whatever field you’re creating in, don’t give up. Use your community and come back to VCFA. If you’ve moved away from the community, try to come back and see if that breaks things loose—because sometimes, that’s all you need.”
Find Cardinal’s books at anndavilacardinal.com.