Cristina Henriquez

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Date: Jan. 22, 2015
Document Type: Biography
Length: 998 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1300L

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About this Person
Born: October 18, 1977
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Updated:Jan. 22, 2015


Born October 18, 1977; married. Education: Graduated from Northwestern University; University of Iowa, M.F.A. Addresses: Home: Chicago, IL. E-mail:


Also worked for Dallas public television and radio stations.


First place in short fiction, Northwestern magazine, 2010, for "The Invitation"; cited as one of "Fiction's New Luminaries," Virginia Quarterly Review; Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award.



  • Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.
  • The World in Half (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2009.
  • The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2014.

Contributor to several fiction and nonfiction anthologies. Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Glimmer Train, TriQuarterly, and AGNI.


In her fiction, according to critics, Cristina Henríquez evokes the spirit of Panama. "I'm half-Panamanian," Henríquez explained in an interview published on the Earth Goat blog. "My father is from Panama. ... Because of that, I feel like I have a unique perspective on life in Panama. I'm still an outsider in many ways, definitely, but I've been privy to an insider's perspective in other ways. I actually think that distance has something to do with why writing about Panama works for me. There's enough space between me and Panama for my imagination to take flight. I have some breathing room."

Her first book, Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, comprises a series of stories that describe Panamanian characters in the process of coping with issues of contemporary life. "These eight stories and a novella, set in modern-day Panama," declared Betsy Aoki in the Seattle Times, "take the American reader into emotional landscapes of grief, relationship discovery, and flashes of peace they will find familiar, even though the vivid descriptions of food, smells and Spanish words take them far from the United States." According to a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, the author creates "stories redolent of innocent attachment tempered by obdurate experience--compassionate, tender and fresh."

"Henríquez creates a vision of Panama that is at once sweepingly realistic and subtly hallucinogenic," wrote Booklist contributor Donna Seaman. "This is powerful writing that creates astonishing juxtapositions," Aoki concluded.

Miraflores (Mira) Reid is the product of an extramarital affair between her mother and a worker on the Panama Canal in Henríquez's second book, The World in Half. Mira has grown up believing that her father wanted nothing to do with her. It isn't until she is charged with her mother's care that she discovers the truth. Mira stumbles upon letters written to her mother, Catherine, from her father, Gatun Gallardo. She questions her mother, but to no avail since her mother is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and is growing worse. This leads Mira to travel from Chicago to Panama in search of her father, who did want to be a part of her life all those years ago. Once in Panama, Mira falls in with Danilo, who knows more than he lets on regarding her father's disposition, and Danilo's uncle, Hernan. Both men take a shine to Mira, Danilo romantically and Hernan paternally.

A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book a "thoughtful travelogue," while Seaman, writing for Booklist, commented: "Henríquez's accessible style and young-at-heart perspective will make this deeply satisfying for confident readers."

In her second novel, The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel, Henríquez follows new immigrants who face fear, poverty, and uncertainty as they attempt to rebuild their lives in the Unites States. The plot focuses largely on Arturo and Alma Rivera, who leave their home in Patzcuaro, Mexico, and move to Delaware with their teenage daughter, Maribel. Their beautiful daughter recently suffered a brain injury, and the Rivera's believe that, given her disability, Maribel will be able to get a better education in America. Arturo takes a job on a mushroom farm, where he works ten-hour days, and Alma tries to protect her daughter from men who might take advantage of Maribel as the girl is no longer able to protect herself. Mayor Toro, the strange son of Panamanian immigrants, lives in the same apartment building as the Riveras, and he falls in love with their daughter. The unlikely romance is protested by both families.

"Evoking a profound sense of hope, Henríquez delivers a moving account," a Publishers Weekly critic asserted. Lawrence Olszewski, writing in Library Journal, was also impressed, remarking that "Henríquez does a spectacular job of creating highly believable characters and poignant scenarios." A Kirkus Reviews correspondent praised Henríquez for "capturing the way immigrant life is often an accrual of small victories," and went on to call The Book of Unknown Americans "a smartly observed tale of immigrant life that cannily balances its optimistic tone with straight talk." Booklist reviewer Seaman pointed out: "Each scene, voice, misunderstanding, and alliance is beautifully realized and brimming with feeling." Seaman thus declared that the story is "compassionately imagined, gently comedic, and profoundly wrenching."

Commenting on her writing in an Oxford American Web site interview, Henríquez explained: "I like stringing words together on a page--a surface that's flat, a tool that's ordinary--to create something that's full and alive and that tells us about ourselves. I'm fascinated by the idea that we share this language, we use it every day, and yet how a writer orders the words on the page and how he or she chooses those particular words can so drastically make meaning and change meaning." She added: "When I'm sitting in front of my computer, it's solely about telling a story and inventing interesting, complex characters and putting them in interesting, complex situations and seeing what happens. I have a very narrow view when I'm working. And when I step back from that, when I consider what the goal of writing is for me generally, which is really the question, it's to say something meaningful not only about human experience but about the world, to give my impressions of this huge, tangled, beautiful place we live in, and to do so in a way that's artful and original."




Booklist, March 15, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, p. 27; March 1, 2009, Donna Seaman, review of The World in Half, p. 27; April 15, 2014, Donna Seaman, review of The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel, p. 15.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2006, review of Come Together, Fall Apart, p. 253; March 1, 2009, review of The World in Half; May 1, 2014, review of The Book of Unknown Americans.

Library Journal, April 15, 2006, Sofia A. Tangalos, review of Come Together, Fall Apart, p. 69; January 1, 2014, Lawrence Olszewski, review of The Book of Unknown Americans, p. 97.

Printers Row, February 6, 2010, "Living a Writing Life," p. 1.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 2005, review of Come Together, Fall Apart, p. 35; March 24, 2014, review of The Book of Unknown Americans, p. 56.

Seattle Times, April 28, 2006, Betsy Aoki, "Come Together, Fall Apart: Stories from Panama, A Journey of Sight, Smell."

States News Service, February 22, 2010, "Northwestern Magazine's Short Fiction Contest Winners."

Texas Monthly, April, 2006, Mike Shea, review of Come Together, Fall Apart, p. 56.


Cristina Henríquez Home Page, (July 3, 2014).

Earth Goat, (November 9, 2006), "Cristina Henríquez Interview: Come Together, Fall Apart."

Oxford American Web site, (June 8, 2009), author interview.

Short Review, (June 9, 2010), interview with author.

Time Out New York, (June 9, 2010), Dan Lopez, review of The World in Half.

Virginia Quarterly Review Online, (November 9, 2006), brief biography of Cristina Henríquez.

Washington Post Online, (April 24, 2009), Jonathan Yardley, review of The World in Half.*

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000170886