Intimate Conversation with Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Intimate Conversation with Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa  was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City.  She taught in the New York City School system before becoming a young adult librarian.  Her experiences in Puerto Rico and the South Bronx, as well as her African heritage form the basis of her work.  Dahlma has won the Bronx Council on the Arts ACE and BRIO Awards, as well as a Literary Arts Fellowship.  She still lives in the Bronx. She can be contacted through her web page at

What makes you powerful as a person and as a writer? I think one thing that makes me very strong is recognizing that I didn't get where I am by my will alone.  I stand on the shoulders of other very strong and creative women.  When I stop honoring what they lived and died to give me, that's when I lose my way.

Who are your mentors?The female members of my family to whom I dedicated the book are my first and strongest mentors.  Artistically, I owe a great deal to Toni Morrison and Isabel Allende.  Their work gave me permission to tell my story my way and helped me find my own voice.  They also gave me the courage to speak about the unspeakable.

How would you complete this sentence, My writing offers the following legacy to future readers...?Everyone from every culture has important stories to tell--whether in the privacy of their homes or on the page.  I encourage everyone to find an elder and listen.  Write down the stories, collect them, pass them down to the next generation.  These are the only sign posts that we can leave for those who come after us.  We all need the lessons of the past so we can build a better future.  It is only in forgetting that we grow weaker.

Introduce us to your book and the main characters in Daughters of the Stone.A lyrical, powerful debut novel about a family of Afro–Puerto Rican women, spanning five generations, detailing their physical and spiritual journey from the Old World to the New.

It is the mid-1800s. Fela, taken from Africa, is working at her second sugar plantation in colonial Puerto Rico, where her mistress is only too happy to benefit from her impressive embroidery skills. But Fela has a secret. Before she and her husband were separated and sold into slavery, they performed a tribal ceremony in which they poured the essence of their unborn child into a very special stone. Fela keeps the stone with her, waiting for the chance to finish what she started. When the plantation owner approaches her, Fela sees a better opportunity for her child, and allows the man to act out his desire. Such is the beginning of a line of daughters connected by their intense love for one another, and the stories of a lost land.

Mati, a powerful healer and noted craftswoman, is grounded in a life that is disappearing in a quickly changing world.

Concha, unsure of her place, doesn’t realize the price she will pay for rejecting her past.

Elena, modern and educated, tries to navigate between two cultures, moving to the United States, where she will struggle to keep her family together.

Carisa turns to the past for wisdom and strength when her life in New York falls apart.

The stone becomes meaningful to each of the women, pulling them through times of crisis and ultimately connecting them to one another. Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa shows great skill and warmth in the telling of this heartbreaking, inspirational story about mothers and daughters, and the ways in which they hurt and save one another.

What specific situation or revelation prompted you to write Daughters of the Stone?There were many reasons for my book coming about.  I'll pick just one.  As a child I was sent to live with my grandmother in Puerto Rico.  At home in the Bronx I had the television to keep me company in the evenings.  But in Puerto Rico, I remember sitting in a corner of my grandmother's porch and listening to the women on the porch telling stories. They sat in their rockers and talked about everything that went on in the town. They told jokes, corrected each other's memories and told and retold family tales. Years, decades later when those women were all gone, I remembered those stories and felt so connected.  It occurred to me that those women's voices were never heard in the literature that I read or the media stories that reflected only the stereotypical images of Puerto Rican life.  I felt that it was time for those voices to be heard.

How will reading your book shape the reader's lives?Hopefully, my book will motivate them to look at their own family stories and examine how their lives have been influenced by what came before.

Ultimately, what do you want your readers to gain from your book?I'd like them to understand the importance of storytelling in our lives.  I'd like them to see the past as a foundation for the future and a conduit of strength and dignity.

What do you think makes your book different from other on the same subject?My book covers a journey of 150 years that most people have never thought about.  This novel examines the journey of the Puerto Rican family from slavery, through colonialism, to immigration to acculturation to self identity.  Many people say that they never knew we had slavery in Puerto Rico.  Others are surprised by the hardships suffered by immigrants.  Others see the similarities in the characters and situations with their own journeys.  Still others focus on the personal voyage of the characters. I'm happy that readers can take any one of these or many other routes to reading and enjoying the book. When that happens, I know I did my job well.

Buy now from Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa's website:

Praise for Daughters of the Stone - ISBN# 0312539266

This commanding exploration of women's history will resonate with readers of strong African American feminist narratives like those of Toni Morrison and Ntozake Shange. With its unflinching description of slavery, it should also appeal to readers of slave narratives like Charles Johnson's Middle Passage and Manu Herbstein's Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade."--Library Journal (starred review)

"[A] compelling debut…Beautifully told by Llanos-Figueroa, this is an unforgettable saga of the magical beliefs binding one family for generations."--Booklist

"Rejoice! Here is a novel you've never read before: the story of a long line of extraordinary Afro-Puerto Rican women silenced by history. In Daughters of the Stone, Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa rescues them from oblivion and richly, compellingly, magically, introduces them to literature--and to the world. Bienvenidas!" --Cristina García, author of A Handbook to Luck

"This is a remarkable first novel, both magical and deeply real, that vividly renders the power of storytelling to a diasporic people. The story of each woman in her own time and place is like a luminous fiber, meticulously spun from hay into gold, which woven together creates an unforgettable history, grounded in a black stone that symbolizes the legends and rituals of the Old Ones, but spiraling into a wider world that connects stone to memory and earth to continents. I am happy to add such a clairvoyant new voice to the Latina literary heritage. Llanos-Figueroa's 'Fela', with her embroidery skills, her dreaming, and her dance of loss and survival, is kindred spirit to my own 'Concepción'. I could not resist the magnetic pull of these stories."
--Alicia Gaspar de Alba, author of Calligraphy of the Witch  


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