Miami Native Author Finds Roots In Her Pineapple Tights & Carries Them To Professorship In Nebraska

Sep 21, 2018

Cuban-American author Jennine Capó Crucet has taken her “very Miami” teaching style and pineapple tights to Nebraska.

Her book, “Make Your Home Among Strangers,” is the first title of the Sundial Book Club. It follows a young Cuban-American woman, Lizet Ramirez, as she goes from her life in Hialeah to an elite private school in the Northeast. Ramirez is then pulled between life at college and home, finding herself in the middle of a national immigration debate in Miami. 

Crucet joined Sundial to about to talk about her new life as a professor in Nebraska, her book and how much she misses her hometown Miami.  

CRUCET: My life growing up in Miami is pretty intensely tied to family and seeing family in and around the city. It's hard for me. I enjoyed some of the aspects of Miami living, like going out to clubs and dancing and the amazing and spectacular nightlife. I didn't really appreciate what it was like to live there until I left and became terribly homesick once I saw that my life and career were taking me away from my hometown. It's not that I didn't appreciate what I had, it's that I didn't even know what it meant to be a person from Miami, a person who lived there, a person who had been really shaped by that city. I don't even know what that meant until I left it.

WLRN: And now you're a teacher?

I'm a professor at the University of Nebraska.

How do you describe your teaching style?

I have the luxury of teaching creative writing and I say that because what it means is that [for] most of the students that come to my class, I'm the class that they're excited about - their fun class.

I work very hard to make my students uncomfortable because only through discomfort can there be growth. I asked them to write about things that make them uncomfortable. I will sometimes ask them to do things in class that are physically uncomfortable.

Yesterday, I spent the first five minutes doing yoga poses. I don't know anything about yoga, but this would be something different and make some of my students get out of their chairs. Many students they'll be there the first night in my class and they run away. They're like 'nope this lady's not for me.'

I would also describe my pedagogical approach as "very Miami." And so that plays well for some Nebraskans and not others.

Explain what it means to be "very Miami."

A lot of the students that I have are from this region. We are the land-grant institution and we serve the citizens of Nebraska. The majority of my students are Nebraskans and for them to have a professor from Miami -- I'm talking loudly with my hands and at the moment my hair is blue. I'm usually wearing tights with pineapples on them because they're my lucky tights. So you know they [the students] kind of walk in and they're like 'wow this does not look like a professor.' Except that since I am a professor, that's what a professor looks like. That's what I mean by 'Miami,' not that everybody is walking around in pineapple tights but I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who bought those when they came out.

I try to sort of help expand the idea of what a professor can be. This comes from my background as a first-generation college student. My sense of what a professor looked like was very specific and it was usually an older, straight, white man with gray hair or going bald wearing a tweed jacket and a sweater vest. But that doesn't have to epitomize that role. I'm trying to be the professor that I needed to see when I was in college and I'm just making more room for those students that are coming behind me.

Jennine Capó Crucet welcomes the Sundial Book Club. You can join the book club here.