Meet Jaime Cortez, Author of Gordo: Stories

San Mateo County Libraries can’t wait to welcome Jaime Cortez, opens a new window, author of Gordo: Stories, opens a new window for a virtual author talk and live audience Q&A. On Thursday, November 16, at 6:30 PM, opens a new window, join us over Zoom to hear Jaime’s process of crafting these semi-autobiographical stories of searching for belonging. 

Be sure to visit your nearest San Mateo County Libraries location for a free, signed copy of Gordo! Limited supplies will be available on a first come, first served basis starting Monday, October 30.

A Tender, Charming Portrayal of Life’s Joys and Sorrows

Like his book’s child narrator, the titular Gordo, Jaime Cortez grew up in the migrant farmworker camps of 1970s Watsonville, California. Now equipped with the insights of adulthood, Cortez has shaped his memories of family, friends and community into 11 short stories as interwoven as his characters’ lives.

Gordo explores “a terrain of machismo pride, queer self-discovery, notions of home and harrowing tales of immigration,”, opens a new window deftly balanced with humor and the sort of small, sometimes absurd details that can only be drawn from real life.

For example, in the opening story, “The Jesus Donut,” a traveling donut truck visits the farmworker camp, but only one child can afford them—two donuts cost two dimes. How do Gordo and his friends navigate this stark reminder of poverty and inequality? By staging Catholic rites, casting donut pieces as communion wafers.

What young Gordo has in imagination he lacks in grown-up language. For example, he knows he is different from other boys, but he does not yet explicitly defend his gentle nature or identify as gay.

As Cortez explains in an interview, opens a new window, “There is a story about my poor clueless dad buying me boxing equipment... in a doomed effort to toughen me up into a boy who better fulfilled his ideas of what a boy should be.

“If I told that particular story by preaching about the evils of gender role rigidity and toxic masculinity, it would be such a dreary and ineffective piece of writing. But by focusing instead on the tragicomic folly of a father unable to see what is obvious, the story becomes more engaging. The gender rigidity is revealed in its full absurdity.”

Gordo continuously refuses to reduce its characters to caricatures or talking points. Instead, Cortez invites his readers to know the world in all of its vibrant textures. Yes, there is violence and tragedy. But there is also always, undeniably, joy.

Get to Know Jaime Cortez

Jaime Cortez, opens a new window is a writer and visual artist based in Watsonville, California, and the San Francisco Bay Area. His fiction, essays and drawings have appeared in diverse publications that include Kindergarten: Experimental Writing For Children (edited 2013 by Dana Teen Lomax for Black Radish Press), No Straight Lines, a 40-year compendium of LGBT comics (edited 2012 by Justin Hall for Fantagraphics Press), Street Art San Francisco (edited 2009 by Annice Jacoby for Abrams Press) and Infinite Cities an experimental atlas of San Francisco (edited 2010 by Rebecca Solnit for UC Berkeley Press). He wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Sexile for AIDS Project Los Angeles in 2003.

His first short story collection, Gordo, was published in 2021 by Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Press. Gordo received national acclaim from reviewers at The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The book was nominated for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Fiction and the Lambda Literary Award, and was named a best book of the year by National Public Radio and Bookpage. Cortez received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and his MFA in visual art from UC Berkeley.

Praise for Gordo

“Funny and incredibly charming, despite highlighting the acute poverty of the camp’s Latino migrant residents…Cortez, a Bay Area author, masterfully navigates adverse conditions of migrant life while prioritizing in these stories the way people adapt to their circumstance — managing to find joy and amusement, love and triumph, that which makes us delightfully human — amid its challenge.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“A lovely book that masterfully evokes 1970s California, but manages, nonetheless, to feel truly universal…. The town that inspired John Steinbeck has a new literary star.” — NPR

“Some people have to walk around with so many sad stories. They have to get up, brush their teeth, wash their face, go to work like everybody else, but they’re not like everyone else. Jaime Cortez is a wise guy with a wide heart, who sees what ‘no one else wants to see.’ His funny/tragic tales, luminescent with love, are lanterns for our dark times.” — Sandra Cisneros