cover of short story collection WHEN TRYING TO RETURN HOME



The stories in When Trying to Return Home dig deeply into the question of belonging. A young woman is torn between overwhelming love for her mother and the need to break free from her damaging influence during a desperate and disastrous attempt to rescue her brother from foster care. A man, his wife, and his mistress each confront the borders separating love and hate, obligation and longing, on the eve of a flight to San Juan. A college student grapples with the space between chivalry and machismo in a tense encounter involving a nun. And in 1930s Louisiana, a woman attempting to find a place to call her own chances upon an old friend at a bar and must reckon with her troubled past. Forming a web of desires and consequences that span generations, McCauley’s Black American and Afro–Puerto Rican characters remind us that these voices have always been here, occupying the very center of American life—even if we haven’t always been willing to listen.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Kimbilio Fellow and Author

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer, poet, and university professor. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kimbilio, CantoMundo and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. She holds an MFA from Florida International University and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Missouri. The author of the cross-genre collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF, she is an assistant professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.


a woman with a white blouse and green leaves poses in front of a tropical forest

Five Questions for Jennifer Maritza McCauley

My mother and father. They’re rich, detailed storytellers and they made me want to write stories that had that kind of sprawl. 

It depends on the story. For the first story in my collection, “Torsion,” plot came first. One of my wonderful professors Lynne Barrett told us to find a story in a newspaper and write about that. I found a story in a Pittsburgh newspaper about a mother who steals her child back from foster care and that inspired “Torsion.” We had to write plot charts about our story before we actually began writing it. So it took some time before I had the piece together. For the rest of the stories character came first. I know I wanted to write about a nun coming out of a convent in Miami and I had a pretty good idea of who she would be. Then I wrote a few stories that featured this character; her name is Estelle. I was solicited for a Johnny Cash anthology by Joe Clifford and I wanted to write about a Black woman Johnny Cash, a musician who doesn’t give a crap and lives her life as she pleases. This character is named Mavis and she’s Estelle’s sister. I also knew I wanted to write a story featuring a man, his wife, his mistress and the mistress’s children in Puerto Rico so that came together. I tried to find places where the characters could walk in and out of each other’s stories. I edited until I could find those kinds of throughlines. 

A good day would be getting up late, having coffee on a porch then going to the sea. Then I’d have lunch at a trendy little spot. I’d go to a cool indie bookstore and explore whatever city I’m in. Then I’d do some writing at a coffee shop. Dinner would be also at a great restaurant with friends then I’d head over to a jazz show.

The Pho here in Houston is really good. So I’ll go with Pho. 

Enlightening. Immersive. Painstaking. Rewarding.