Sweet Connections: Gianna Russo

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Gianna Russo
Title of Piece Published in Sweet: Somewhere Jazz
Issue:  10.2

Russo Photo.jpg

Gianna is living in her 1928 bungalow in Seminole Heights, where the distant gunshots are fewer and the local hipsters are plentiful. She loves it there. Gianna continues teaching creative and academic writing at Saint Leo University, where she also directs the Sandhill Writers Retreat. Gianna is still puttering around in her garden and dancing in her imagination. You can learn more about Gianna by visiting her website.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

A ton has happened since then! I went back to school and earned an MFA in Poetry from The University of Tampa. My second poetry collection, One House Down, is due out in October 2019 from Madville Press.  I’ve had a number of magazine publications, and I was named Creative Loafing’s Best of the Bay Local Poet.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I’m working on new poems and a memoir. The poems are coalescing around ideas of immigration, social justice and the haves and have-nots. They’ve been influenced by my having a Mexican daughter-in-law and by a visit to Immokolee, Florida, where migrant farm workers grow and pick the majority of our fresh vegetables. It was very troubling to witness their living conditions.  The hateful rhetoric and actions coming from the current US administration is also influencing this work.

I’m also working on a biographical memoir about my grandfather.  He was a Florida legislator in the early 1920s and then a judge in Tampa.  I’m using archival papers and my own memories and experiences to tell our story.

Who is your favorite author?

For a book lover and literature teacher, that’s a terrible question!  My favorites right now include my numerous mentors (they know who they are), along with Ross Gay, Natalie Diaz, Ada Limon, and the Appalachian writer Ron Rash.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Again, this only applies to right now: A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay.

What inspires you to write?

The sound of owls at dusk, the feel of palm fronds in the rain, the taste of good wine, the smell of sulfur water, the sight of bats among skyscrapers, powerful poems, and provocative conversations, to name a few.

What is your favorite sweet?

I have a huge sweet tooth.  One of my favorites is classic flan de leche.  This recipe supposedly comes from the now-defunct, very famous Spanish restaurant in Ybor City, Las Novedades, where it is said Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders ate before embarking to Cuba for the Spanish American War.  I was given the recipe thirty years ago by my neighbor, Hortensia Ramirez, whose uncle had worked there before it closed sometime in the latter part of the 20th century. This flan is absolutely the best!  And easy!

You will need 4-6 ceramic custard cups
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can water
4 eggs beaten well
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
4-5 tbsp. sugar

First, caramelize the sugar by heating it on high in a nonreactive pan until it starts to melt. Reduce to medium and stir until sugar turns golden brown.  Pour into custard cups.  Beat together the other ingredients. Pour over the sugar in the cups.  Place the cups in a large pan with water that comes up to about the half the height of the cups (a water bath). Bake in a 350 oven for 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 300 and bake for an hour or until set (insert toothpick to test).  Allow cups to cool on a rack and overnight in the fridge (cover with plastic wrap once cool).  To unmold, run a knife around the edge of each cup and turn it over onto a plate.  The sugar should cascade over the flan.  Delicious!

For more info see:
http://www.tampapix.com/lasnovedades.htm

 Thank you, Gianna, for taking the time to reconnect with us.  We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

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