When alumnus Fernando Rover ’16 traveled to Scotland shortly after graduation, he never knew that trip would lead to an award-winning book. Inspired by the sights of Iona—a tiny island off the coast of Mull—Rover, a double major in English and history, began writing poems about the black male experience in America. Weaving together topics like emotional vulnerability and racial profiling, he created his first major work, "Labyrinth."
Named a 2019 winner by Best Indie Book Awards™, this international literary award contest recognizes self-published authors in major genres. "Labyrinth" is Rover’s answer to a lack of creative content that examines and addresses black male masculinity. His time abroad was when he says he decided to become a writer.
“Iona was really a pilgrimage experience,” Rover, a San Antonio native, said. “People go there to unplug and get away from everyday life. It’s a place for reflection and centering. I was asking myself I am here. I kept seeing all these rocks arranged in the pattern of a labyrinth. People often confuse mazes with labyrinths. The difference is that with a maze, there are multiples ways in and out. With a labyrinth, there is only one way. That trip helped me center myself and understand who I am and who I want to be. My book, Labyrinth, is about acceptance.”
He chose poetry for its powerful ability to start and end a story on one page. Poems like “Lost Boys,” were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of young black men like Treyvon Martin. Other pieces deal with themes of grief and trauma. It was always important to Rover that his work addressed themes he felt were rarely viewed from the perspective of a black male.
He was in high school when he read, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” by Ntozake Shange. While it still remains one of his favorite books, he recognized there wasn’t a male counterpart.
“It was so well done and intricate, but I realized then that there wasn’t anything like it coming from places of emotion or vulnerability through a black man’s perspective,” he said. “Toni Morrison said, ‘If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.’”
Writing is how Rover says he deals with problems and sorts out emotions.
“Half of the poems are specifically about the black male experience in America and the other half is about experiences period,” he said. “When you’re a black or brown boy out somewhere at night, you’re often villainized or criminalized even though you’re a child. With those kinds of experiences comes emotion. We cry. We get upset. We lose people. However being vulnerable and dealing with those emotions is still taboo for men, especially men of color. However, we are starting to see a change and more African Americans seeking help with mental health.”
In May 2017, Rover lost his sister, Montoya. Her sudden passing was a shock to everyone.
“It rocked my world,” he said. “When you lose someone you grew up with it’s the worst thing in the world. I did shut down for a while. But as time went on, writing became very therapeutic. People grieve in different ways and I knew needed to get all of this out and move on so it doesn’t stay inside. Writing became cathartic.”
He used that and the tools he learned while studying at TLU to complete the book, including the personal guidance he received from professors in the Department of English and Communications.
“Dr. Pam Johnston taught me how to turn experiences into a narrative or a story,” he said. “She always had students’ best interest at heart. She was honest and told us it’s great that you want to be a writer, but you’re not going to be a millionaire instantly. It takes work and risk. If you want something you can have it, but you have to put in the work. I thank her so much for that. While, yes, we were reading Shakespeare and Jane Austen, we were also reading black writers like Charles Chestnutt. The department also knew what authors and books were important to black culture and diversity.”
Rover’s current plans include promoting the book, as well as continuing to write pieces for The San Antonio Observer, the city’s oldest African American newspaper. The recognition as a black author from a city most often associated with influential Hispanic roots, is another area of pride. He also currently serves as a workforce development liaison for the Bexar County Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Most people don’t know about the rich African American history of the city and they don’t necessarily think about black culture when they think of San Antonio,” he said. “I want to show the multicultural facets and tell the stories that we need to and should share. It means the world to me receive this award.”