Monthly Archives: January 2012

In the news: Arizona, awards, Mexico, Marquez, Saenz

Arizona:

• Wednesday will mark a National Day of Solidarity in which educators across the country are encouraged to teach the controversial Tucson, Ariz., school district curriculum – including Latino-themed books such as Occupied America. The district put away the books so it could still receive funding from the state, which has banned ethnic studies. Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta discussed the situation here.

• The Huffington Post wrote about Aztec Muse magazine’s Librotraficante caravan, which will distribute the banned books in Tucson in March.

The Progressive magazine features several articles about the situation, with reactions from banned authors Ana Castillo, Junot Diaz and Dagoberto Gilb.

Awards:

• Books by Meg Medina and Bettina Restrepo were named to the 2011 Amelia Bloomer list for their feminist themes. Medina was honored for Tia Isa Wants a Car and Restrepo was awarded for Illegal.

• Congratulations to California-based writer Jennifer Torres, who won the Lee and Low New Voices Award for her book, Live at the Cielito Lindo. She received a publishing contract from the publisher.

• The 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, chosen by the Young Adult Library Services Association, includes I Will Save You by Matt de la Peña, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and What Can(t) Wait by Ashley Hope Pérez.

Mexico:

• Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa and 170 other writers signed a letter published in the Mexican newspaper El Universal calling for the end of violence to journalists in that country, according to the BBC.

Author profiles:

• Nobel winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, left, talked to the Daily Sun about his return to journalism.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz discussed his writing and painting to the El Paso Times. The article noted that Sáenz, as well as Marquez and Pat Mora, made the list of the top 50 most inspiring writers in the world by Poets & Writers magazine in 2010. Salvador Plascencia was also included.

• Slam poet Jessica Helen Lopez received a nice profile from the San Antonio Express-News before a recent performance there.

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Classic Book Review: Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits”

Isabel Allende’s 1982 The House of the Spirits is considered one of Latino literature’s best-known and greatest pieces of work. When you read it, you can the sense the influence the book has had on the books you read today.

Spirits tells the tale of Esteban Trueba, a poor but temperamental miner who rebuilds an abandoned ranch in South America and becomes a powerful patrón and politician. He is surrounded by three generations of headstrong women– his wife, clairvoyant Clara; his daughter, Blanca, who falls in love with a young revolutionary that Esteban disdains; and his granddaughter, Alba, who disagrees with him politically – and faces violent consequences.

The book mirrors political events in Chile and parts of Allende’s life. Her uncle, Salvador Allende, was that country’s socialist president in 1973 when he attacked in a 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Allende writes in beautiful sentences, such as this: “Outside, the fields were shaking off their sleep and the first rays of sunlight were cutting the peaks of the cordillera like the thrusts of a saber, warming the earth and evaporating the dew into a fine white foam that blurred the edges of thing and turned the landscape into an enchanted dream.”

But those long descriptive paragraphs can make the book slow at times. I prefer fast-paced books with lots of dialogue, although the last 100 pages of Spirits was more gripping.

I can see the influence of Allende’s book in two epic tales of life on the ranchero and have characters with magical powers – Luis Alberto Urrea’s 2005 The Hummingbird’s Daughter, which has a more light-hearted tone, and Esmeralda Santiago’s 2011 Conquistadora, which has a feminist take.

Spirits – which was made into movie in 1993 starring Meryl Streep – is a fascinating story that earns the title of  “classic.”

More about Isabel Allende:

• Allende worked as a reporter before writing novels. This fascinating timeline shows her family’s history and reveals the inspiration for Spirits. Her other books include the novels 1985’s Eva Luna and 1999’s Daugher of Fortune, as well as 1995’s Paula, a memoir to her daughter, who died at age 28.

This is the first in a monthly series of classic books by Latina authors. Next month: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.

Source: I purchased this book at Books-A-Million.

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Meet novelist Julia Amante, author of “Say You’ll Be Mine”

Julia Amante, right, writes about ordinary women facing extraordinary situations. Amante’s most recent book, Say You’ll Be Mine, was released last year. Her first book, Evening at the Argentine Club, was published in 2009. The daughter of Argentine immigrants, she currently lives in California.

Q: Tell me about your book, Say You’ll Be Mine.

The main character, Isabel Gallegos’s cousin, dies in a tragic accident and leaves her as custodian of three children that she does not want. That’s the basic plot, but Say You’ll Be Mine as well as my previous book, Evenings at the Argentine Club, are stories of immigrants striving to reach their goals in life. In Say You’ll Be Mine, Isabel has put her goals on hold her entire life to be there for her parents and husband, and just as she’s about to sell her winery and live the life she’s always wanted another family obligation presents itself and she has to decide what is more important – family or her dreams.

Q: What influenced you to become a writer?

I’ve always had a love for books. When I was younger I would rather spend time with a book than with other kids. I was so in awe of writers that could create such amazing stories out of their imaginations, so when I was given opportunities to write in school, I loved it. If anything influenced me, I would say it was other great books.

Q: What Latino/a authors have been your biggest influence and why?

Victor Villasenor – I think he’s an amazing writer, speaker and person. Rudolfo Anaya with Bless Me Ultimathis was such a sweet coming of age story full of cultural beauty that it made me want to read more books of this sort – though I have to say, I really never found others that were quite as good. More recently, Michele Serros – because her books and poems are so fun and real. She’s able to look at today’s culture and point out “issues” that make you think without sounding like she’s preaching or complaining. She makes me smile. There are others, but I’ll leave it at these three.

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In the news: Awards, Arizona, Mexico and Mario Vargas Llosa

Awards:

It’s book award season! Several organizations have announced winners and nominations for the best of 2011:

• The American Library Association announced today the winners of the Pura Belpé Awards, given to children’s and young adult books that honor Latino culture. The Author Award winner was Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The Honor Books were Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle and Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller by Xavier Garza.

The Illustrator Award Winner went to Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh. The Honor Books were The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López, and Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Sara Palacios.

Luis J. Rodriguez was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in the autobiography category for his memoir, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. Aracelis Girmay, who is part Puerto Rican, received a nod in the poetry category for her book, Kingdom Animalia, which has already won the 2011 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.

Justin Torres‘s We the Animals will be one of five books vying for the NAACP Image Award’s Outstanding Literature Work – Debut Author.

Diana Gabaldon’s short story “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” from the anthology Down These Strange Streets, earned her a Best Short Story nomination from the Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America.

• Busboys and Poets bookstore, the progressive Washington D.C.-based bookstore, included several Latino-themed books in its Best of 2011 list: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s The Dreamer; Let’s Go See Papa!, by Lawrence Schimel, Alba Marina Rivera and Elisa Amado; the Spanish-language version of Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, La Otra Historia de los Estados Unidos; The Guatemala Reader by Greg Grandin, Deborah T. Levenson, Elizabeth Oglesby and News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres.

Arizona:

Aztec Muse magazine is starting a Libro Traficante Caravan to distribute books in Tucson, Arizona, after the school district put away many Latino books from classrooms to retain funding from the state, which has banned ethnic studies. For a great take on the topic, here’s Texas-based writer Beatriz Terrazasessay on the Mamiverse website.

Mexico:

Here’s an excellent NPR story about how Mexican artists, including poet Javier Sicilia, are using words and music to react to their country’s drug war.

Mario Vargas Llosa:

Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, right, declined an offer to head the Cervantes Institute in Spain, which promotes Latin American culture, according to the Latin American Herald-Tribune.

 

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In person: Ayad Akhtar and Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea and Ayad Akhtar signed books after their presentation.

Ayad Akhtar and Luis Alberto Urrea give voices to people whose stories are not always told.

The authors spoke Friday night as part of the Arts & Letters Live series at the Dallas Museum of Art. Both writers have new books to promote – Urrea’s Queen of America, the sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter that depicts Saint Teresita’s journey from revolutionary Mexico to the United States, and Akhtar’s debut novel, American Dervish, about a pre-teen boy discovering his Muslim faith.

The two were a study in contrasts. Urrea was full of energy, speaking with a big voice and sprinkling his stories with punchlines. Akhtar was more subdued, but he did draw laughs from the audience when he read an excerpt from his book and used an accent and feminine voice to play the mother.

Akhtar, who grew up in Wisconsin, said he had a clear intention: to write a book about what it was like to be Muslim in the United States. Most books about Islam were distant, he said, but his book is a coming of age story with a dysfunctional family and different points of view.

“I wanted the audience not to experience anything foreign,” he said.

Akhtar earned degrees in theater and film programs from Brown and Columbia, has written several plays and acted in the movie Too Big to Fail. Those experiences inspired him to write a movie in the form of a book.

“I’m a dramatic storyteller,” he said. “I don’t want the language to be in the way of the experience.”

Urrea seems like a born storyteller. But he said he learned to tell his stories from his family.

His mother, who was American, read him Charles Dickens and Mark Twain books. He described her as someone who thought she was always in Vogue magazine, drinking from demitasse cups and calling him “dear boy” and “Louis.” His father was from Mexico and gave him The Iliad and The Odyssey in Spanish, but never found his place in the United States.

When a young Urrea was called a “greaser” and “wetback,” his father tried to convince him there were words of pride that Mexicans used to show off their prowess.

“I knew it was a lie,” Urrea said. But he knew his father had told a great story. “That may have the moment. It was so magical.”

Urrea became the first person in his family to attend college, but he did not know what he was going to do with his life. He soon became a translator for a preacher working in the slums of Tijuana. The preacher gave him some advice.

“You need to tell these stories for those who don’t have a voice,” his friend told him.

But, as Urrea noted earlier in his speech, his bi-cultural life served him well.

“We all have multiple personalities in a way,” he said. “I consider myself a theological writer. I write about the human spirit.”

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In the news: Arizona, Bolaño and a story from Cuba

Arizona:

Starting this week, several books by Latino authors can no longer be used in classes in the Tucson, Arizona, school district so the district could keep millions of dollars in funding after the state banned ethnic studies. The blog Remezcla profiles the books, including Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo F. Acuña and Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado. (Héctor Tobar wrote about Acuña in the Los Angeles Times last year.) Salon, the online magazine, published a good overview about the issue. In this article from the Indian Country website, teachers and students talk about how the ban has affected them. The news was the topic of discussion between writers Dagoberto Gilb and S.J. Rivera on the Nuestra Palabra radio show, which you can find on its Facebook page.

Roberto Bolaño

The New Yorker has a short story called “Labyrinth” by the late Roberto Bolaño in its current issue. The website included an interview with one of his editors, Willing Davidson, and includes a mention of Francisco Goldman.

Cuban refugess

• Here’s an interesting article from the Marin Independent-Journal about a woman who found out about her family’s heritage through Cuban author Carlos Eire’s 2010 book, Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy. NPR profiled Eire when the book first come out.

This post was updated to include a link to Bolaño’s short story.

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Literary magazines for Latinos

Latino writers have found a home at Huizache magazine.

The recently released publication is one of the few literary magazines devoted to the works of Hispanic writers. Huizache features the works of nearly a dozen Latino authors. Sandra Cisneros has a terrific essay about meeting her idol, tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Lorraine López and Estella Gonzalez contribute short stories. Gary Soto, José Montoya and Benjamin Alire Sáenz wrote poems.

Huizache is a literary magazine produced by CentroVictoria, the Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture at the University of Houston-Victoria. Dagoberto Gilb serves as the center’s executive director, and Diana López is the magazine’s editor. The center also produces the Made in Texas teacher’s guide, which features lesson plans in Mexican American literature.

Huizache editors said they hope to produce it annually, according to this Victoria Advocate article. You can order the magazine for $10 here.

Here are some other literary magazines devoted to Latino literature:

The Acentos Review comes out online four times a year. Its upcoming issue is devoted to Hispanic elders.

• The online Aztlán Reads, which calls itself “a database of Xicana/o Studies fiction and non-fiction work,” features poems, short stories, author interviews, giveaways and news about literary events.

Palabra, which bills itself as “a magazine of Chicano & Latino literary art,” is a yearly print magazine that intends “to present an eclectic and adventurous array of thought and construct, alma y corazón, and a few carcajadas woven in for good measure.”

• The online Somos en escrito features a novel in progress, poetry and other works by Hispanics.

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New year, new books: What’s ahead for 2012

A new year brings a new batch of books to look forward to reading. Here’s a round-up of some upcoming titles by Latino authors coming in the first half of this year. Special thanks to The Millions website, where I got some of the tips.

• In February, Argentine writer César Aira will release Varamo, about a bureaucrat in Panama who unexpectedly writes an epic poem. The New Yorker ran an interesting interview with Aira’s translator, Chris Andrews, last year.

• Also in February, Benjamin Alire Saenz will release his young adult novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe about two teens who form an unlikely friendship.

• In April, Orange County Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano – known for his “Ask a Mexican!” column – will release Taco Nation, about America’s obsession with Mexican food. Sounds tasty.

Roberto Bolaño must be the Tupac Shakur of Latino writers. He continues to publish books even after his death in 2003. His collection of stories, The Secret of Evil, will come out in April.

Border Town: Crossing the Line is a Sweet Valley High-like series by Malín Alegría, author of the popular Estrella’s Quinceañera, about two teenage girls who live in fictional Dos Rios, Texas.

• Also in May, Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity will come out by the University of Chicago Press after a run as a self-published book. The comic novel focuses on a Brooklyn attorney who commits a crime.

• Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa will publish The Dream of the Celt, about Irish human rights activist Roger Casement, in June.

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Book review: Manuel Gonzales’ “The Miniature Wife and Other Stories”

Miniature WifeManuel Gonzales can make a skeptic believe vampires and werewolves are real, even human.

In his book, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories (Riverhead), Gonzales conjures up all sorts of wild scenarios – and he uses those situations as metaphors for larger issues about the world we live in.

The book starts off with two strong stories – “Pilot, Copilot, Writer” – in which the narrator sits on a plane that is stuck in the air for 20 years, and the title story, about a man who shrinks his wife to the size of a coffee cup. Crazy stuff, but they speak about the stagnation of life and the world’s treatment of women.

A few stores – “The Artist’s Voice,” about a composer who speaks with his ears, and “Harold Withy Keith: A Meritorious Life,” about the inventor of a vascular system made out of plants – get so bogged down in technical detail that I felt like I was reading a science textbook.

But the book roars back with great, inventive stories – “All of Me,” about a zombie who crushes on a co-worker; “One-Horned and Wild-Eyed,” about a man whose friend finds a unicorn; and “Wolf,” a graphic but fascinating account about a father who turns into a werewolf.

How good are these stories? I’m not into paranormal books because I can’t take them seriously, but Gonzales makes them believable with clear, matter-of-fact writing and relatable characters who are forced to make heartbreaking decisions.

Take the zombie in “All of Me”:

 “I don’t understand how hard it can be to keep our baser selves in check or how much easier it is, ultimately, to go back to the evil we knew and understand, the evil we have lived with for so long that it feels an inherent and important part of ourselves, to go back to this evil and tell ourselves that we had no other choice, that we didn’t opt for this decision, but that really there were never any other options for us to take. I know about choices and about not having choices and how it feels when it seems you have no other choice.”

So you get crazy scenarios mixed in fine writing and profound thoughts about the human condition and the state of the world. Manuel Gonzales can make you believe anything.

Manuel_GonzalesMore about Manuel Gonzales:

Texas-based Gonzales runs the Austin Bat Cave creative writing center for children and bakes pies on the side. His work has been published in The Believer, Esquire and the Dear Teen Me website. Read “The Animal House” from The Miniature Wife on the FiveChapters.com website.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: Stork, writer’s contests, Cisneros, Urrea

New releases:

Irises, the newest book by Mexican-American writer Francisco X. Stork, was released earlier this month. The young adult book focuses on two young sisters grappling with their father’s death and their mother’s illness.

Contests:

Speaking of Stork, writers can have their middle school or young adult book critiqued by the author if they win the Book Wish Foundation contest. Contestants must submit a 500-word essay by Feb. 1 based on Stork’s essay in the book, What You Wish For, a series of short stories and poems by prominent authors. The book, whose proceeds benefit refugee camps in Chad, also includes works by Sofia Quintero and Gary Soto, as well as Alexander McCall Smith, Meg Cabot and Joyce Carol Oates.

• Here’s a great opportunity for Latino writers who live in San Antonio: the city is looking for a poet laureate. Submissions must be turned in by Jan. 18.

Library News:

• Congratulations to San Francisco Public Library’s city librarian Luis Herrera, who was named Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year.

Writer’s workshops:

Jan. 15 is the deadline to apply for a scholarship to the Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshop. The workshop takes place June 3-9 in Taos, New Mexico, and will feature Cristina García, Martín Espada and Denise Chávez.

The Texas Observer published a terrific article about Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Foundation, visiting Mexico.

New column:

Luis Alberto Urrea, left, has a new column for Orion magazine. In a podcast of the column, he talks about an old job cleaning toilets.

 

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