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Tuesday January 31st

UNC professor will share stories from both U.S. borders at Epilogue

Epilogue coffee shop on Franklin Street opened for the first time on Friday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Buy Photos Epilogue coffee shop on Franklin Street opened for the first time on Friday, Nov. 11, 2019.

A UNC professor is bringing her life experiences and candid stories from America’s borderlands to Chapel Hill. 

Creative writing professor Stephanie Elizondo Griest will be presenting her book, "All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands" at Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews on Feb. 6 at 6 p.m., according to a press release from the creative writing program at UNC. 

"All the Agents and Saints" was initially published in 2017, but the upcoming book talk is a launch party for its paperback release. The book talk will also include a slideshow of artistic responses to border walls, the primary subject of Griest’s book. 

The book is a discussion of borders as tools of division and their impact on the people around them. Griest spent seven years interviewing hundreds of people living near the United States’ Southern and Northern borders. 

Griest said her personal experience living in South Texas near the U.S.–Mexico border inspired her to capture these stories. 

“I was deeply aware of profound social inequality from a very young age," Griest said. "I gravitated toward those issues and instinctively wanted to share what I was seeing and hopefully use that as an instrument of change.” 

The book captures the everyday life of those who live near both United States borders. Griest said it was important to get a variety of opinions through the interviews.

“I’ve always been fascinated by what it means to have an international border line run right through your neighborhood, your family, your blood, your body,” Griest said. 

Another motivational factor to write the book stemmed from Griest’s biracial background. 

“The Texas-Mexico borderline not only bisects my ancestral land, it cuts through my family, as well,” Griest said. 

With a Mexican mother and a Kansan father, Griest said she long felt an inner fissure between two nations. She said the book is the result of trying to fuse these two cultures together. 

Griest spent time living and working in Russia, China, Cuba and Mexico to produce her other books, such as "Around the Bloc" and "100 Places Every Woman Should Go."

However, Griest was surprised upon returning to South Texas in 2007. After Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, she said the area changed drastically.

“When I returned home, what I remembered as being kind of a sleepy place was suddenly a very heavily militarized place, and that is what I think propelled me to write this book more than anything,” Griest said. 

Griest said the stakes were higher for this book because she was writing about her own community as opposed to far-away nations. Ultimately, Griest considers it her mission to dispel the misconceptions about the border. 

“So often, our understanding of the border is dictated by politicians living thousands of miles away, but those decisions impact all of us,” Griest said. 

Griest also said she considers her book a "testimonio" — Spanish for testimony — which she defined as a community work of witness to provide a voice for indigenous communities that have lived at the borders for hundreds of years. 

“Collecting all those voices and talking to all those people was only part of it,” Griest said. “Now I need to take it to the larger public, so I take book tours very seriously.” 

Kinsey Watson, events coordinator at Epilogue, was introduced to "All the Agents and Saints" through a Latina Feminism course at UNC. 

Watson said she enjoyed the book because, while most academic literature is mundane, she found this book to be immersive and interesting. Watson said the personal touch to the book sets it apart from other accounts of the border she has read.

Instead of simply explaining the surveys and conversations at the border, Watson said Griest injects authentic feelings and moments into the book. 

"All the Agents and Saints" is important for the Chapel Hill community because of the importance of taking a human perspective on the borderlands, Watson said. 

“We have to realize that these are real experiences and not just like characters we see on a screen or in a book or article,” Watson said. 

Griest said the people whose stories she has accumulated for the novel provide her with creative inspiration. 

“This is incredibly challenging work to do," Griest said. "But what keeps me going are these voices and my devotion to this community."

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