By Judith Salkin
Growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles in the ‘70s, author Josefina Lopez couldn’t figure out why she was depressed and didn’t fit in with the rest of the girls in her family and culture. While most girls her age were being groomed to marry, raise a family and do everything to make her husband’s life comfortable, Lopez chafed at the thought of such a life. She wanted more. She wanted an education. She wanted to see the world. She wanted a life outside the strict confines of her parents’ generational expectations. “But my parents didn’t understand,” she recalled earlier this week from her home in L.A. “And I was depressed, suicidal and I didn’t know why.”
Eventually she wrote a play that made her parents begin to understand her feelings. “It made them begin to see what was going on inside me and why I couldn’t be like all the other Chicana girls,” she added. Lopez became a playwright and author. Her most famous works are “Real Women Have Curves,” one of her plays adapted into the 2001 film starring America Ferrara and “Hungry Woman in Paris,” a novel that looks at the many types of hunger in a woman’s life.
She’ll be in the San Jacinto Mountains on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Café Aroma as part of the 4th Annual Idyllwild Authors Series that began in June and runs through mid-August reading from “Hungry Woman” and signing copies of her book.
The authors’ series is the brainchild of author Eduardo Santiago, a writer himself, who based the series on the popular “Actors Studio” television series.
Lopez, who did eventually marry and have children of her own, just returned from a four-week vacation that included time at her home in the South of France (her husband is French) and a cruise of Scandinavian and Russian ports, is looking forward to the reading and talking to fans of her work.
“I’m a writer and performer and when the book first came out (in 2009), I did a lot of readings, which I loved,” she said. “I’m also the artistic director of a theater group here in Boyle Heights and I don’t get as many opportunities to perform so I am really looking forward to this.”
What surprised Lopez most was the visceral feedback that she got from readers old and young to the situation of her heroine in “Hungry Woman.”
“Younger women loved the eroticism, while older women thought it was too much,” she said. “I think it was partially a cultural reaction, too.”
She wrote the book, partially as a way to sort out what happened in her life after “Real Women,” and as an answer for younger Latinas. “I wrote it so that they could see that there are alternatives in their lives,” she said. “The book I wish I could have had to read. I wish I had had a book like this to myself permission to look at my life differently.”
While she expected the audience to question her choices, “I find that when I do these readings I’m often the one posing the questions,” she said.
Lopez was born in 1969 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and emigrated to the U.S. with her parents at the age of five. She grew up in a traditional home, with undiagnosed ADD, not understanding why she felt so different and wanting more from life than being a wife. She attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where she wrote a play that her parents attended. “When they saw it, my father began to understand me a little more,” she said. She continued her education, earning a BA in Fine Arts from Columbia College Chicago and her MFA in screenwriting from the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.
Over the years, she has written and produced plays such as “Simply Maria, Or the American Dream,” “Confessions of a Women From East L.A.,” “Boyle Heights,” “Lola Goes To Roma” and “Real Women Have Curves.”
Once “Real Women” was turned into the film and won accolades at Sundance and other film festivals, Lopez believed her Hollywood career would take off.
“Am I disappointed that it didn’t?” she asked. “Of course! I couldn’t understand why HBO didn’t pick it up immediately as a series and why no one wanted me as a writer. I think it was because ‘Real Women’ came out at the right time, but in a way 10 years too early.”
In her dismay at her treatment in Hollywood, Lopez retreated to Paris where she gave birth to her second child and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school as background for “Hungry Woman.”
But she hasn’t given up on her Hollywood dreams.
With more Latinos in leading roles in television and film and the success of “Devious Maids,” Lopez has formed her own production company and continues to pitch ideas for series and films, many based on her own plays.
In 2000 she started Casa 0101 Theater Art Space, to fulfill her vision of bringing art and live theater programs to the community she grew up in and where she teaches classes in play and screenwriting. The Boyle Heights theater group that gives a voice to the community and especially encourages young Latinas in finding their own voices in the neighborhood where they grew up.
“This neighborhood is coming back to life,” she said of Boyle Heights. “There is some gentrification going on, but unlike some community (organizations), we’re here to be a part of what’s going on.”
What: 4th Annual Authors Series
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, July 13
Where: Café Aroma, 54750 N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild
Cost: Free, only books purchased at event will be signed
Info: (323) 377-9730; www.idyllwildauthors.com