Vanessa Garcia is, far more than most artists, a multifaceted creative talent. Now 36, she has just earned her doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine. She’s an award-winning playwright, journalist, screenwriter, painter and teacher. She’s now a novelist as well: White Light (Shade Mountain Press, 284 pages, $28), her book about a Cuban-American artist trying to create as she deals with her father’s sudden death, has just come out. And the Miami Beach-born daughter of Cuban parents is also at work on a memoir, My Cuban Routes.
Garcia’s double major as a Barnard College undergrad — English and art history with a concentration in visual arts — underscores the range of her creative interests. She gives much of the credit for that to her maternal grandfather, Severo Rivases, who was born in Spain, went to France as a young teen during the Spanish Civil War, then moved to Cuba as World War II hit Europe.
“My grandfather read Shakespeare to me, or we read it together, since I was six. I think people underestimate kids,” Garcia remembers. “I remember that we had a conversation about what we were going to eat for lunch. He got Hamlet down from the shelf and read the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy. We made our own poem about what we’d have for lunch.”
Rivases’ shelves were also full of books about art.
“We’d talk about how you relate art to life, one to the other, and how to change your life. How to read your life,” she says.
During her teen years, she lived under the same roof with with her grandparents, her mother, Jacqueline Diaz-Sampol, and her sister Nicole. So her grandfather’s influence was even more constant.
“I think I’m very much an artist because of him,” Garcia says.
Watercolor painting became “a way of communicating,” she says. Influenced by friends who were actors and directors, she added theater to her repertoire in her 20s in New York, starting to write plays and thinking of drama as “another language to acquire.”
And that may be the key to Garcia’s varied modes of expression.
“I don’t see these as separate things. I feel like different stories have different vehicles they need to take to get to the place they need to go,” she says.
Arts Awakenings explores South Florida artists’ and arts lovers’ first connection with the arts, a show that affected them deeply or what sparked their passion for performance. To suggest a subject, email cdolen@MiamiHerald.com.