First Draft

Her name is Ivonne Lamazares. You've probably never heard of her. Cuban immigrant, good student, dedicated teacher, devoted wife and mother. Oh, and something else. She just might be the world's next big thing in literary fiction.

Elena Perez, a junior high classmate who later would become Ivonne's best friend as well as her Miami-Dade faculty colleague and officemate, remembers the newcomer as "very quiet, observant, and nervous, always running her fingers through her hair. She was less concerned with her appearance than others at that age. We were in different groups. We hated each other."

By her junior year in high school, Lamazares had become an honor student in English, and the old enemies became friends after Lamazares led Perez into an impassioned discussion of Wuthering Heights one day in journalism class. But Lamazares's perch in America still felt shaky. Her grandfather had died, her grandmother would soon follow, and whatever stability she had, she says, came from her attachment to her boyfriend, a Chilean immigrant.

About the time her grandmother died, in the summer before Ivonne's senior year, Lamazares got a break. Her late mother's twin sister Catalina, who is Ivonne's godmother, moved to Miami from New York and took her in. Her godparents had three children about Ivonne's age, and living with her cousins, Lamazares says, gave her for the first time "something that looked like a family, a huge extended Cuban family, the kind I never had even in Cuba. They gave me stability, love, and attention. It was another shock."

After graduating from Hialeah High in 1981, Lamazares went on to Miami-Dade Community College, taking advance-placement courses to earn her associate in arts degree in just one year. From there she entered Barry University as a junior, graduating in 1984 with a degree in English. In Cuba Lamazares had kept journals, in which she talked out her adolescent fears and confusion in a prose style modeled in part on religious confessionals written by Catholic priests in what they imagined as the voices of young people. In those journals, Lamazares says, she recorded her views on what she saw as the hypocrisy of fellow parishioners, her reasons for refusing to take communion, and her love-struck musings on a handsome classmate.

When she left Cuba, she entrusted the journals to a friend, who swore she would hold them in confidence. Later she would learn that her writings had been widely circulated among the friends she left behind. Though that betrayal may have led her to give up diary-keeping for a time, it did not extinguish her yearning to write. At Barry she won a couple of competitions sponsored by the university's creative-writing club, of which she served a term as president. Still, Lamazares's instinct for survival told her to make a career of teaching. So while working at Miami-Dade as a writing tutor, she enrolled at the University of Miami in a program that led to a doctorate in higher education.

Steve Kronen grew up in Miami, graduated from Killian High School in 1971, and ducked in and out of junior college before finally taking a master's degree in fine arts from Warren Wilson College, a nonresidency school for writers based in North Carolina. He met Ivonne in 1989 at a poetry reading at Books & Books, Mitchell Kaplan's venerable Coral Gables bookstore.

Kronen is a serious poet whose verse has both intelligence and heft. He has published in the Paris Review, the New Republic, the Kenyon Review, and the New Criterion, among others, and has twice won Florida Arts Council grants. He was reading the night Ivonne was there to listen. After the program, they were introduced by a mutual friend and joined a group that first went for ice cream and later to Coconut Grove to dance. Lamazares says she doesn't recall the poem he read that night, but she does remember him, and when he called the next day they began a steady courtship. Within a few weeks they realized that they had met years earlier when both were students at different Miami-Dade campuses. Each had entered a writing contest sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. He won first prize and an award of $200; Ivonne took fourth. She got $75.

At the awards ceremony, Kronen read his poem. "It was good," she remembers, "but I didn't understand any of it. I just thought he's a way better poet than me. Then one of the ladies there asked me, 'Have you met the winner?'

"I said no.
"'Well,' she said, 'He's the real thing.'
"So later I read his poem, and I still didn't understand any of it."

Steve and Ivonne were married in 1991. They honeymooned in New England, spending three days at a Connecticut ashram and stopping at Walden Pond. When they got back to Miami, Ivonne defended her dissertation, "The Effects of Computer-Assisted Instruction on the Writing Performance and Writing Anxiety of Community College Developmental Students," and Steve learned that his first volume of poetry, Empirical Evidence, had been accepted for publication by the University of Georgia Press.

In a wedding poem Steve wrote for Ivonne, "The World's Deserts," the speaker marvels at the vastness of the universe and the fatefulness of discovery, and ends his musing by looking at the sky: "And there,/other stars, more it's said,/than all the sands on all the beaches,/kaleidoscoped before him as they do now/forming pictures before us this cool night/-- a horse with wings, and there/-- a barking dog, and there --/a skinny man holding fast to a beautiful woman/having come many hard miles to find each other."

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