My Broken Language: A Memoir - book cover
Performing Arts
  • Publisher : One World
  • Published : 11 Jan 2022
  • Pages : 336
  • ISBN-10 : 0399590064
  • ISBN-13 : 9780399590061
  • Language : English

My Broken Language: A Memoir

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BUZZ PICK • The Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and co-writer of In the Heights tells her lyrical story of coming of age against the backdrop of an ailing Philadelphia barrio, with her sprawling Puerto Rican family as a collective muse.

LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: NPR, New York Public Library, BookPage, and BookRiot • "Quiara Alegría Hudes is in her own league. Her sentences will take your breath away. How lucky we are to have her telling our stories."-Lin-Manuel Miranda, award-winning creator of Hamilton and In the Heights
Quiara Alegría Hudes was the sharp-eyed girl on the stairs while her family danced their defiance in a tight North Philly kitchen. She was awed by her mother and aunts and cousins, but haunted by the unspoken, untold stories of the barrio-even as she tried to find her own voice in the sea of language around her, written and spoken, English and Spanish, bodies and books, Western art and sacred altars. Her family became her private pantheon, a gathering circle of powerful orisha-like women with tragic real-world wounds, and she vowed to tell their stories-but first she'd have to get off the stairs and join the dance. She'd have to find her language.

Weaving together Hudes's love of music with the songs of her family, the lessons of North Philly with those of Yale, this is a multimythic dive into home, memory, and belonging-narrated by an obsessed girl who fought to become an artist so she could capture the world she loved in all its wild and delicate beauty.

Editorial Reviews

"My Broken Language is such a flawless demonstration of . . . strife with linguistic inheritance that it nearly broke me. In the moments after I finished reading, first came the aphasia of wonder at a book that exceeds you; and then, swiftly crowding out the silence, the cresting roar of my own Afro-Caribbean ancestors shouting Ogún Balenyó in unison."-The New York Times Book Review

"Quiara Alegría Hudes is a bona fide storyteller about the people she loves-especially the women in her family who cook, talk, light candles, and conjure the spirits. Enormously empathetic and funny, My Broken Language is rich with unflinching observations that bring us in close, close, without cloaking the details. The language throughout is gorgeous and so moving. I love this book."-Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana

"Every line of this book is poetry. From North Philly to all of us, Hudes showers us with aché, teaching us what it looks like to find languages of survival in a country with a ‘panoply of invisibilities.' Hudes paints unforgettable moments on every page for mothers and daughters and all spiritually curious and existential human beings. This story is about Latinas. But it is also about all of us."-Maria Hinojosa, Emmy Award–winning journalist and author of Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America

"Wise, graceful, and devastatingly beautiful, Hudes's memoir gives voice to the complicated cultural collisions and gentle rebellions that seed a life. I was inspired and moved by the resilient spirit of Hudes and the Perez women, who through joy and great heartbreak manage to conjure a remarkable world in and beyond their Philly barrio."-Lynn Nottage, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright

"Joyful, righteous, indignant, self-assured, exuberant: These are all words that could describe Quiara Alegría Hudes's My Broken Language. The celebrated playwright calls her language broken, but in this extraordinary memoir she actually remakes language so that it speaks to her world. . . . Hudes's first name is an invented endearment, a form of the verb querer, which means "to love." . . . There may be no better compliment to the author of this marvelous, one-of-a-kind memoir than to say she truly lives up to her name. With My Broken Language, she has invented a language of love and to-the-bone happiness to tell stories only a Perez woman could share."-BookPage (starred review)

Readers Top Reviews

jgf Celeste Miller
I already greatly admired Quiara Hudes writing from her plays, but this memoir provides another layer of understanding and appreciation. She also offers a way for the reader to get a clue about what it’s like to walk in her shoes, and that’s an invaluable privilege.
Sara Goldrick-Rab
This is the finest book I’ve read in the last 10 years. Maybe even longer. I read it slowly and deeply, and am seriously considering beginning again now. Pick it up. It will teach you thing I can’t even begin to explain.
Quiara Alegria Hudes grew up in a warm and loving family from Puerto Rico and went onto Yale College in music and to graduate school studies in play-writing with the prominent playwright Paula Vogel. This created a deep confusion in her mind and self-confidence that finally resolved itself as she realized that her Puerto Rican family and neighborhood in Philadelphia could be the source of powerful plays, and led her to collaborate with Lin-Manuel Miranda in the book for In the Heights in film. Patience is needed because the details are complicated.
Eric Selby
You are in for a treat because this memoir is just vibrant in style and language. I heard the author being interviewed on WHYY public radio by Marty Moss-Coane and knew I had to get the book because of the texture of the author's rendering pieces of her life, born of a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father, she grew up in West Philadelphia among a gaggle of family members whom you will feel you almost know just by way of what the author tells you. Yes, she tosses in Spanish. Which only makes it richer. It is vibrant, so full of passion, so full of exuberance. And, of course, you know she eventually goes to Yale and then to Brown and then on to fame as a playwright.

Short Excerpt Teaser


A Multilingual Block in West Philly

Dad was hurrying mom in English. "Let's go, Virginia," as he leaned against the tailgate sucking an unfiltered so hard I heard it crackle all the way on the stoop. Mom propped the screen door with her foot, ordering me to carry out boxes in snaps, gestures, and screams. And Titi Ginny was telling mom to pay dad no mind in Spanish. "Siempre tiene prisa," she whispered with a tilted smile, turning dad's impatience into a sweet little nothing.

My brat pack came to wave me off and started in on the obscene gestures whenever mom turned her back. Chien was first-­generation Vietnamese. Ben and Elizabeth, first-­gen Cambodian. Rowetha lost her Amharic after leaving Ethiopia. We all spoke English, unlike our parents, who all spoke different languages from one another. This was my West Philly crew, my pampers–­to–­pre-­K alphabet soup. I assumed all blocks everywhere were like it-­as many languages as sidewalk cracks, one boarded-­up home for every lived-­in, more gum wads than dandelions. But mom told me no, nature would reign at our new rental house on a horse farm.

Titi Ginny unlatched the screen so it slammed, and handed me a pastelillo grease-­wrapped in paper towel. A snack for the drive. I wanted her to re-­create our current layout in the new spot, to move next door so I could sneak across the alley and watch cartoons in her lazy boy. There was a spot between two pleather cracks, duct-­tape repaired, where my butt fit perfectly. My Sunday morning throne. But mom said there were no alleys where we were moving, and no such thing as next door either. That gave me something to think about.

Anyway, Titi Ginny's softball team was waiting in Fairmount Park and she had to be on second base in an hour. So she rolled down her driver's side and promised to visit the farm, my big cousins in tow. Mary Lou, Cuca, Flor, Big Vic, Vivi, and Nuchi. She'd cram all their stinky teen butts in her backseat, and they'd see the country for the first time. "Bring Abuela and Tía Toña, oh, and Tía Moncha, too," I said, marveling at the prospect of hanging with my fam outside of Philly. Titi Ginny turned the key and every version of dios-­te-­bendiga rolled off her tongue. There were a million ways to say god-­bless in Spanish. Dios te cuide, dios te favoresca, dios te this and te that. There was only one way to say it in English, and you only said it after a sneeze. Then off she went before off we went.

Dad slammed the tailgate and mom teared up in the pleather passenger side. "Extrañaré a mi hermana." Dad stayed quiet, probably didn't understand. But I knew the Spanish word for missing someone sounded like the English word for strange. Sandwiched between them, I sensed mom's worried profile. She had talked the move up for months, but saying goodbye to a sister was a whole 'nother thing.

"Then why do we have to move today? Can't we finish out summer on the block?"

"Because, Quiara, I been stuck a city girl since I was eleven. But before that, before I came to Philly, I had a whole farm to myself. Mami gets to be with nature again, where she belongs, like in Puerto Rico." And her tired eyes made room for a little spark.

How she told it, mom had been changing scenes all her life, same as geese veeing over the art museum. There was always a next stop full of new promise. Even Abuela's memories about PR were made of a million places-­towns, cities, and barrios. Too many to keep track. This time, I got to join mom's migration.

Pulling away from the narrow block, the rearview showed my crew double-­dutching and playing shoot-­out. No final waves, hollers, or stuck-­out tongues. Whatever's the best language for saying bye, I'd flubbed it cuz the city already forgot me.

The horse farm was on a twisty road flanked by woods. Perky little hills worked a number on my bladder. Despite a strong midday sun, the road was all green shadow thanks to trees thick and tall as god's fingers. My old block's trees were like zoo elephants-­one or two specimens stunted by a cement habitat. But this chaos of greenery had my heart calling dibs. Monster claws made of vine and bramble reached for our truck. Far as I had known, plants began in the soil and grew to the sky. But not here, where greenery grew sideways, diagonally, and downward. "We are your new brat pack," the woods whispered, seeming mischievous as my old crew, and also like they wouldn't tell on you.

When I got out of the pickup, I walked to the edge of the woods and stared. "Introduce yourself. Go talk to the trees," mom said. I ventured in, ferns feathering my shins, and didn't stop walking till I couldn't see the house and the house couldn't see me. Jack-­in-­the-­pulpits were terrariums of rainwater and...