Courtesy / Al Rendon
The Department of Arts & Culture COSA (City of San Antonio) Grant For Literary Arts originally went to writer and editor Bryce Milligan, who returned the award after allegations of inappropriate conduct surfaced in early May.
Having been ranked among the top 10 percent of applicants in the literary arts category, Cuba already had been a finalist for the new Artist Foundation People’s Choice award. Composer Nathan Felix won that award in February.
The applications of Cuba and fellow literary arts finalist Michelle Mondo were reviewed and scored a second time by judges, said Susan Oliver Heard, chair of the Artist Foundation board, and Cuba emerged the winner.
A press release from the foundation thanked Cuba “for being gracious in her acceptance of this grant and for continuing to create compelling stories for the entire community to enjoy.”
Heard said of Cuba: “She’ll be a great steward for the foundation,” in part for her work as a teacher and mentor to many San Antonio writers.
Cuba previously won recognition for her 2013 novel Body and Bread, including the PEN Southwest Award in Fiction, and a listing as one of “Ten Titles to Pick Up Now” in O, The Oprah Magazine.
In her teaching and work as writer-in-residence at Our Lady of the Lake University, Cuba said she prefers to avoid “the ‘L’ word,” as “literature” can sound too elitist for a form she feels is meant “for everyone.”
She teaches her students, she said, that reading allows identification with characters who might be “very much unlike you. As a result, you make discoveries about the human experience, experiences that are teaching you something new about people you don’t meet in your everyday life.”
Reading can create "empathy and tolerance of a broad understanding of what we all have in common,” she said.
Cuba applied to the Artist Foundation with plans for a second novel, titled He Didn’t Kill Nobody but Mom, about Texas serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas first confessed to thousands of murders, including that of his mother, but eventually recanted all but the one murder referred to in the book's title. Due to DNA evidence disproving his involvement in the murder that won his conviction, his death sentence was commuted in 1998 by Gov. George W. Bush.
The twisted tale resembles a Coen brothers movie for its absurdity, Cuba said, and her novel echoes that tone.
The grant will help her finish the writing and bring her manuscript to editors for review. “The foundation’s grant has really kicked the process into gear,” Cuba said.
Cuba’s entry in the recent Literary San Antonio anthology, published by TCU Press and edited by Milligan, demonstrates her willingness to directly take on topical issues, even if uncomfortable. The short story, titled Patriotism, deals with a wife's revelation that her longtime husband supports a side of the political spectrum opposite of her own beliefs.
“What’s left when a person won’t listen?” the story concludes.