Professor's controversial fiction highlights the desert southwest

April 20, 2010

Aaron Morales, an assistant professor of English at Indiana State University, has completed work on his first book titled "Drowning Tucson."

The official release of the book is scheduled for May 1.

"Drowning Tucson" chronicles the lives of the Nunez family in some of the toughest neighborhoods of 1980s Tucson. The characters include both crooked cops as well as prostitutes plying their trade along the streets of downtown Tucson, Arizona. The characters are linked by crushing poverty, the brutal codes of the street and the harsh nature of the desert.

Morales, 33 and a Tucson native, said he began writing the short story episodes that would later become the book without a clear idea about where his work was headed. Tucson was the perfect setting for some of the themes he wanted to explore in his writing, he said, because that's where he witnessed the work of gangs, life on the street and the "dark side of humanity."

"It's wasn't my goal to write something that just shocks and offends," he said. "I wouldn't have spent 10 years of my life writing just for that effect.

"But I do want the reader to experience the violence. It's more meaningful that way, to be submerged in the middle of it."

When, as a Hoosier in graduate school, Morales began to flesh out some of his memories of the Arizona desert, a professor told him to commit wholeheartedly to his storytelling. The advice forever changed the tone of his work, he said.

And now, he's unapologetic about the book's harsh and graphic subject matter that some critics have dubbed a glorification of violence.

"I don't think people understand violence, and when you don't understand something, you're going to look away," he said. "I don't want anyone to turn a blind eye. To experience it makes you a better pacifist."

While the violent episodes and themes that run throughout the book are designed to "challenge readers to get out of their cozy comfortable little places," Morales insists "Drowning Tucson" is also a romance that examines masculinity and how and where men get their cues.

On a deeper level, "Drowning Tucson" examines American society - Morales' criticism of the ambivalence and the condescension cast on those unable to improve their circumstances.

His concern about these societal attitudes has led him to further examine them in the second novel he's writing titled "Eat Your Children." In it, he explores the effects of methamphetamine on the children of drug users.

"We pretend all is well and good with those who are on the fringes of our lives," he said. "We owe it to ourselves to look more carefully at troubled humans and to be more aware of their realities."

For Morales, his writing brings a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves, he says, people whose economic and cultural background impedes their ability to elevate themselves in status, class or position.

Morales' ties to ISU extend beyond his teaching. He is a 2000 graduate of the English Department's creative writing program.

Contact: Aaron Morales, assistant professor of English, Indiana State University at 812-237-3168 or aaron.morales@indstate.edu.

Writer and Photographer: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University at 812-237-3790 or rachel.mcclelland@indstate.edu.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/842713108_nbtwP-D.jpg