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An Interview with Teresa Dovalpage, author of Last Seen in Havana

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Writer, translator, and college professor, Teresa Dovalpage is a Cuban transplant firmly rooted in New Mexico. She is the author of four short story collections, four plays, and thirteen novels—including the Havana Mystery series. Her most recent novel, the fifth one in the series, is Last Seen in Havana, a multigenerational story that moves back and forth between 1980 and 2020 in Havana. Teresa lives with her husband, one dog and too many barn cats. Learn more at

You can buy Last Seen in Havana here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

A great novel by Emile Zola, L’Assommoir, influenced me the most. I read it in Spanish (as La taberna) when I was 13 or 14 years old—my mother complained about me reading such “dark stuff” at my age. Though there were things I didn’t understand, I still remember the deep impression this vivid portrayal of alcoholism and life in 19-century Paris caused in me. The protagonist, Gervaise, felt like a friend that I wanted to help but was unable to. At night, I would replay the novel’s sad ending and change it. It was the first book that made me think of becoming a writer someday.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have been a college professor for over thirty years, first in Havana, Cuba, and later in Albuquerque and Taos. Currently I teach Spanish and English as a Second Language at New Mexico Junior College. I was also a journalist for The Taos News, which helped me immensely with my writing. No waiting for the muse when you have a deadline!

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I played with several titles for a while and asked my editor and friends for help. Finally, it came from one of the lines in the story, where the narrator, Mercedes, refers to her long-lost mother: “I only knew for sure that she had last been seen in Havana, with me in a stroller, walking around the neighborhood.”

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I was very happy when I saw the Art Deco-style house on the cover because a house, Villa Santa Marta, is a character in the story—an antagonist, actually, as it poses real danger to its occupants.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

A Cuban song for sure! I am thinking of “La política no cabe en la azucarera” (“Politics don’t fit in a sugar bowl”) by Carlos Varela, which became the anthem of the “special period” in Cuba. You can find it here!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I would like for my readers to get to know the real Cuba, beyond assumptions and stereotypes. I take them by the hand and say “mira” (look) at how we live. This is Havana, here is a tobacco farm in Pinar del Río, that’s what growing up there was like.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am working on another mystery novel. The main character, Teresa, is a Cuban-born woman in her fifties who lives in the US and writes mystery novels. What inspired her to become a writer was an unsolved case she witnessed as a teenager: a teacher and a student who died in a suspected murder-suicide case at the middle school she attended in Havana. The building where the middle school used to be is now the luxury Hotel Manzana Kempinski. Teresa goes back to Cuba and stays in the hotel hoping to solve the case. It was so much fun turning myself into a character!

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