Denver native Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a nationally best-selling author whose second book, “Woman of Light,” was published in 2022. This historical novel has been selected as Colorado Mountain College’s (CMC) 2023 Common Reader.
CMC programming surrounding the selection features a group read, an art and creative writing contest, lesson plans that interweave the book into CMC classes and live author presentations scheduled for March. Read the book now, meet Kali Fajardo-Anstine at author talks tjis month.
There are numerous accolades for Fajardo-Anstine’s work. Among them are nominations for the National Book Award and the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. She’s received the American Book Award and is the endowed chair in creative writing at Texas State University. Fajardo-Anstine also writes for numerous publications including The New York Times and The Atlantic.
Yet achievements and acknowledgments weren’t always part of this acclaimed 36-year-old author’s life. As a teenager, she struggled with depression and during her senior year in high school, a teacher told her that students like her couldn’t be successful. Shortly after hearing that, Fajardo-Anstine quit school.
Today, in addition to literary recognition and a vibrant writing career, Fajardo-Anstine is a woman who is an inspiration for anyone who has felt defeated – including CMC students.
“I’ve known about CMC for a long time,” Fajardo-Anstine said of the college, which has open enrollment where students study for high school equivalency diplomas as well as bachelor’s degrees. “I know the value of CMC for students like I was. In high school, I was not a typical GPA star student. School was not for me, but I loved learning and I loved books.”
Soon after quitting high school, her love of books, of writing and of family storytelling propelled Fajardo-Anstine’s back to academics – only this time, it was on her terms.
“My father told me to get my GED right away, which I did, then enrolled at Mtetropolitan State University,” said this second eldest in a family of seven children.
From there, Fajardo-Anstine took a methodical path, ultimately towards a writing life. First, she earned a bachelor’s degree, where professors began to acknowledge her writing abilities. Later, she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wyoming.
“Woman of Light” took her 10 years to finish, she said. “I wasn’t a full-time writer. I didn’t know if I’d be published. I had to work, so I was teaching high school dropouts, and I was working at a zip line. I know CMC students understand having to work. All the time, I was writing on weekends and at four in the morning.”
Then, finally, a book publishing contract came from Random House.
“Woman of Light,” is available at bookstores, libraries, at CMC locations and via its virtual library. It is a fictional, mystical story based on Fajardo-Anstine’s family, tracing her ancestors from their Indigenous past, to 1880’s southwestern Colorado, to 1930’s Denver.
Fajardo-Anstine’s says her own family is as complex and multicultural as the characters in her book. It’s a book about Indigenous Chicano people and celebrates CMC’s recent designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
“My father is a white man from Nebraska,” said Fajardo-Anstine, But her heritage includes Belgian, Chicano, Jewish, Latino, and Filipino. But in “Woman of Light,” the novel pivots around her Latina/Latino heritage through Luz “Little Light” Lopez, the main character who collects her family’s stories. She also resembles Fajardo-Anstine.
“Every single character – even the bad ones – are within us,” she adds.
“Woman of Light” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Books are available at area bookstores, libraries, CMC locations and through CMC’s virtual library, https://library.coloradomtn.edu/reader
Author talks and book signings
All talks will be held at 7:00 p.m.
March 27 – CMC Breckenridge, 107 Denison Placer Road (livestreamed)
March 28 – CMC Leadville, 901 S. Highway 24
March 29 – Morgridge Commons, 815 Cooper Ave., 2nd Floor, Glenwood Springs (livestreamed)
March 30 – CMC Vail Valley at Edwards, 150 Miller Ranch Road
Art and creative writing contest
All entries will be inspired by Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s book, “Woman of Light,” and her visit to CMC sites in March. Entries will focus on the themes of Indigenous roots, rights and responsibilities.
All CMC students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to participate. Submission deadline: April 9 (go to https://coloradomtn.edu/community-partnerships/common-reader) and scroll to Art and Creative Writing Contest for application instructions.