David Pérez was born and raised in the South Bronx in New York City of parents of Puerto Rican descent. Growing up in the Millbrook Houses in the 1960s and navigating his way through Catholic school comprise much of the storyline for his memoir Wow! (11B Press, 2011). David has written hundreds of published articles for newspapers and magazines and is also a skilled editor. As an actor, he has appeared on stage, film, and commercial print. He currently lives in Taos, New Mexico with his wife, poet Veronica Golos, and is the father of two adult children, Belinda and Jase.
Thanks for this interview, David! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it?
Wow! is a memoir of a smart, funny and somewhat naïve Puerto Rican boy (me) growing up in the South Bronx in the 1960s, living in the projects and navigating his way through a Catholic elementary school populated by a trio of desperadoes known as the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
Wow! is not the typical “boy grows up in ghetto, survives despite drugs and violence” story. This childhood reads like an adventure tale with David and his somewhat wacky friends: Julio’s constant queries in Religion class (“What if you only steal bubble gum?”), and Chino’s challenges to authority (“I ain’t afraid of no Brothers of any heart!”). David’s brother George is worried about junkies stealing boxes of potato chips in broad daylight. Mom loves the Funk&Wagnell’s Encyclopedia. Dad has just discovered credit.
I called my book a “memoirito” because of its novella length (128 pages). Its episodic writing style also reminded me of the telenovelas that Latinos watch, or those popular pocket paperback novelas in Spanish with illustrations. Wow! has illustrations too, done by my brother George Pérez, an internationally acclaimed comic book artist. He drew the cover as well.
As far as inspiration goes, I’ve always been a storyteller, whether as an activist journalist, writer or actor — and especially as a father. Seeing my kids become adults so quickly made me think of my own growing up, how cool it would be if I could capture each moment as if with a pause button. Reviewing my coming-of-age eventually resulted in my memoir.