Pitt English professor’s new novel highlights the power of storytelling


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

Angie Cruz, a Pitt English professor, stands in her office in 2020.

By Gabriella Garvin, Staff Writer

Cara Romero, a middle-aged woman struggling through the Great Recession, is on a mission to reclaim her sense of identity and pay her rent in Angie Cruz’s new fiction novel. Cruz is an associate professor in the English department at Pitt.

“I started working on this book in 2017 when [Donald] Trump was president, and I was feeling all kinds of despair,” Cruz said. “The immigrant crisis continues, but during this time, it was being heavily recorded in the press, and we were seeing children in cages. I was wondering if writing was the best thing to do with my time when the world was in crisis. And when I thought about it, this character came to me.”

Flatiron Books  released “How Not To Drown In A Glass of Water” on Sept. 13. The story follows Cara Romero in a series of monologues as she navigates life during her mid-50s through 12 weeks of sessions with a job advisor.

Cruz said the significant impact the Great Recession had on her family and community inspired her to write a novel that takes place during that time.

“I imagined this character going on an interview after losing a job after working 25 years of her life there,” Cruz said. “The reason I was interested in the Great Recession was because many of my family members and community members lost their jobs during the Great Recession after working in factories and all kinds of jobs for decades. And they had to start over.”

Cruz said it was this idea of losing a job after spending decades working there that made her character come to life and on to the page.

“Cara Romero came to me and started telling me the story of her life,” Cruz said. “So the book in itself is about a woman who wants to work so she can pay her rent and she’s meeting with a job counselor for 12 weeks, and getting job training.”

Caroline Bleeke, executive editor at Flatiron Books based in New York City, said Cruz’s use of dictation to create the story made the editing process very special.

“Angie worked on the novel herself for a while before sharing pages with me. And the first time she was ready to share a little bit of her work, we went to a bar and she handed me one of her earbuds and we listened to the first chapter that she had recorded,” Bleak said. “It was just a really, really special way to first encounter the novel.”

Amelia Possanza, associate director of publicity at Flatiron Books, said the messages of interdependence and community in the novel came to life at one of Cruz’s recent launch events on Sept. 15 at The Strand, an independent bookstore in New York City. 

“She had a launch event here in New York City, which for me was my favorite part because after all the time of isolation and virtual events with COVID, it was so wonderful to be together in person to celebrate the book with her family and friends there,” Possanza said. “It was just wonderful because the book is so much about interdependence and community and to see that in celebration of the novel was really wonderful.”

Bleeke said she wouldn’t change anything about how well the publication process went. 

“Honestly, I feel like this was kind of a dream publication … We got to celebrate Angie in person, the book turned out really, really well. I think there are always challenges along the way,” Bleeke said. “But I think the past couple of weeks have been so joyful and it’s wonderful to see people really connecting with the book.”

Possanza said she is excited to see what happens with the book moving forward.

“For authors, there’s a lot of pressure on what happens when a book first comes out … I’m more curious about what’s going to happen over the next two years or the next five years. Because with a lot of books, and in Angie’s books in particular, they are adopted in schools and read by communities,” Possanza said. “This book still has a long life ahead of it.”

Cruz said her favorite part of writing the novel was working with the constraints and limitations of writing within a monologue.

“The book is written in a series of monologues and it was the first time I worked in this way where the character is speaking directly to one person. So the constraints and those limitations for what is possible within the monologue of these 30 minute sessions was very fun for me,” Cruz said. “I had so much fun just really getting to know this character.”

Cruz said studying creative writing is a tool that can be useful in every aspect of life, and that partaking in group writing sessions was very beneficial to her writing process for the novel.

“I think everyone should consider taking a creative writing class, that is my message. I feel that part of creative writing and storytelling is learning how to be a better narrator of your own life, and that is really the power in this particular book,” Cruz said. “It is about the power of storytelling, asking good questions, learning how to listen and accepting people for who they are.”