King of the Marble World

Oct 21, 2018

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we’ll be featuring writer Phillippe Diederich. His novel for young adults Playing For The Devil's Fire is a portrait of friendship, corruption, and playing for keeps in the small town of Izayoc, Mexico--a pueblo in a tiny valley, only a few hours west of Mexico City, where the state of Mexico meets the states of Michoacan and Guerrerro.

"That's what they call me: Boli. It's short for bolillo. Since my parents own a bakery, I guess it makes sense. I don't mind. It's better than my real name Liberio, which is so old fashioned. [My best friend] Mosca had been bragging all morning about the devil's fire marble he'd won the day before from some kid in his neighborhood. The devil's fire was a legend--el diablito rojo."

Author & photographer, Phillippe Diederich.
Credit Kevin Moloney

Phillippe Diederich is the author of the novels Playing for the Devil’s Fire (Cinco Puntos Press, 2016), which was named the 2017 Best Young Adult novel by the Texas Institute of Letters and 2017 Young Adult Library Services Association Best Fiction for Young Adults; and Sofrito (Cinco Puntos Press, 2015).

His short fiction has been published in national literary journals including Quarterly West, Acentos Review, Burrow Press, Hobart and others. In 2017 he was awarded the PEN Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. His short fiction has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes.

He is the recipient of the Chris O’Malley Prize for Fiction from the Madison Review, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs, and a John Ringling Towers Grant in Literature from the Sarasota County Artist Alliance.

The son of Haitian exiles, Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. During the 1990’s he worked as a photojournalist, covering news and feature assignments in the U.S. and Latin America for national publications.

Credit Phillippe Diederich

Thank you to musicians, singers and songwriters Phil Davis of New Motto, David Ramirez, Know Who's A Robot, Bark., and Kinderfunken.

Thank you to actors Carlos Reta, Brian Reyes, Jesus Reyes and Luis Gutierrez.

A special thanks to Ancient River for the amazing score.

Thank you to Stickyz Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Listen to the song "Continental Divide" by New Motto

Listen to the song "Mother of Light" from the score by Ancient River

Listen to the Song "Last Man Standing" by Bark.

Interested in learning more about playing marbles?



Generous funding for the episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Producer: Mary Ellen Kubit


Recorded by: William Wagner

Interns: Kaitlin Strain & Josh Enloe