Hugo Esteban Rodríguez Castañeda

Hi! My name is Hugo Esteban Rodríguez Castañeda and I’m a writer, poet, and educator living in Cypress, Texas. I grew up in H. Matamoros Tamaulipas in the northern Mexican borderlands and I spent a childhood surrounded by books, art, and music. Now I can’t paint to save my life or carry a tune in a bucket but I can put words in the proper order to paint those images and sing those songs in peoples’ minds. When I turned 12, I discovered the joys of fanfiction and writing in worlds other writers had created for me. In 2005, I moved to the United States, just across the border to Brownsville, Texas. My fanfiction eventually led to developing a knack for writing original work, starting out with genre fiction before discovering my niche in poetry and flash fiction. I started writing for an audience in 2003 as a member of my high school’s journalism program, continued that throughout college at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and then in 2012 as a freelancer for entertainment websites. My career as a journalist went into a hiatus then and I was admitted to the University of Texas at El Paso’s MFA program. With the support of my family and my then-girlfriend I realized that this was where I was supposed to be. I learned a lot in that program, and it led to having my first pieces being published (poetry in 2013 and fiction in 2016) and my master’s thesis in the program eventually became my debut collection, And Other Stories, originally published by La Casita Grande Editores. It was as a student there that I met another Houstonian in the program- Lupe Mendez, a local educator, poet, and activist who introduced me to the local spoken word scene. With the support of both the faculty in the program and the creatives I met in Houston. I was able to find my identity as a poet and writer.

After a two-year creative break, I started writing again in 2020 and I am currently in the process of querying for my debut poetry collection. I really don’t have a “why” I write situation. I just know I like doing it, and I like reaching people through my work. I come from a family of storytellers, I’m just the first one to put those stories on paper.

When I’m not teaching, coaching, or writing, I enjoy cooking, kickboxing, listening to music, playing the occasional videogame or painting miniatures. You can also see me at local concert venues in the thick of a moshpit or walking around shopping malls. I also get most of my reading done through Audible while I walk my dogs.

My Process

For my poetry, I write out my poems in a journal I carry with me most of the time. Then I let them sit there for a week, then once the week passes, I take a look at the poem again and type it up. If I like it, I’ll save it in a ‘holding’ folder on my computer, then revisit it in a week and if it is good enough, I add it to my collection. If it at any point in the process I don’t like it, I’ll salvage what I can and then I start over.

For my fiction, I have a much more simpler approach. I just channel the inner voice that goes, “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and write stories on that without placing limits on how weird, boring, or strange something is. My most decorated piece is simultaneously an homage to Julio Cortazar’s La autopista del sur and a dream I had when I was in high school; my first genre short story was inspired by the idea that skin cells weigh down a mattress; and the story I still think I had the most fun writing started out with a craving for some tacos de tripa and ended up being a novella about perfectionism.

The key is to always carry something to write with and something to write on wherever you go. Although I do use my poems as tools of introspection, I like to be out and about in towns and cities and I enjoy listening to them talk. Locations that feature heavily in my work: Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Mexico DF, Mexico; San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas; Brownsville, Texas; Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; Granada, Andalucia, and Santiago de Compostela, Galicia.

I had a version of this poster in my room growing up (my grandfather loved watching bullfights) and alongside David Alfaro Siqueiros’ Retrato de la Burguesia (a print seen above at the MFAH) and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (pictured below) represent my aesthetic.

My Influences

I am inspired by a lot of things in this world buuuut as far as direct influences go:

Jaime Sabines
Federico Garcia Lorca
Octavio Paz
Sandra Cisneros
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Raymond Carver
Julio Cortazar
Sandra Cisneros
Joaquin Sabina
Andrea Gibson
Sasha Pimentel
Dagoberto Gilb
Rudy Francisco
Neil Hilborn
Dan Abnett
William King
Mark Strand

A selection of must-read books

Lupe Mendez, “Why Am I Like Tequila”
Sasha Pimentel “Insides she swallowed”
Leslie Contreras-Schwartz “Nightbloom & Cenote”
William King “Complete Gotrek and Felix”
Dan Abnett “Gaunt’s Ghosts Series”
Octavia Butler “Bloodchild and Other Stories”
Nicholas Eames “Kings of the Wyld”
Cathy O’Neil “Weapons of Math Destruction”
Sandra Cisneros “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories”
Raymond Carver “Will you please be quiet, please?”
Dagoberto Gilb “Woodcuts of Women”
K.B. Wagers “Indaran War Series”
Mark Strand “Blizzard of One”
Octavio Paz “El Laberinto de la Soledad”
Edith Hamilton “Mythology”
Andrea Gibson “Lord of the Butterflies”
Stephen King “On Writing”
Federico Garcia Lorca “Theory and play of the duende”
Erich Maria Remarque “All Quiet on the Western Front”
Howard Zinn “A People’s History of the United States”
Rudy Francisco “Helium”
Terry Pratchett “Night Watch”
Jaime Sabines “Recuento de poemas”
Benjamin Alire Saenz “Everything begins and ends at the Kenucky Club”
Oscar Casares “Brownsville Stories”
Neil Gaiman “Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions”

Con idea, con sonido o con gesto, el duende gusta de los bordes del pozo en franca lucha con el creador. Ángel y musa se escapan con violín o compás, y el duende hiere, y en la curación de esta herida, que no se cierra nunca, está lo insólito, lo inventado de la obra de un hombre.

With idea, sound, or gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.

Federico Garcia Lorca, Theory and Play of the Duende
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