Monthly Archives: March 2012

Happy Birthday, Octavio Paz!

Octavio Paz was born on this day in 1914 in Mexico City and died in 1998. The poet is one of only a dozen Latinos – and the lone Mexican – to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he won in 1990.

Paz‘s writings were first published when he was just a teenager. He is known for his poems that “investigate the intersection of philosophy, religion, art, politics, and the role of the individual,” according to poets.org.

His most prominent works are 1957’s Sun Stone, which revolves around the Aztec calendar and was adapted into a play, and 1950’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, which focuses on Mexico.

Paz remains a beloved figure in his homeland, even in these high tech times. His poem, Blanco, is the basis for one of the most popular apps in Mexico.

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Happy Birthday, Mario Vargas Llosa!

Mario Vargas Llosa was born 76 years ago today in Arequipa, Peru. He is one of only a dozen Latinos to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he received two years ago.

He is known – along with Mexican Carlos Fuentes and his rival, Colombian Gabriel García Márquez – for the Latin American boom in literature in the 1960s. Here’s a terrific article from The New York Times when he won the Nobel.

Politics remain a central theme in his works and his life – 1963′s Time of the Hero, which was burned by Peruvian soldiers because of its depiction of military schools; 1975’s Conversation in the Cathedral, describes life under 1950s Peru while dictator Manuel A. Odría rules the country; Death in the Andes, released in 1993, is a haunting tale about the disappearance of men in Peru; and 2000’s The Feast of the Goat, covers time in the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo’s regime. Vargas Llosa ran unsuccessfully for president of Peru in 1990.

But Vargas Llosa isn’t always serious: 1982’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is a comic novel about the title character’s affair with her nephew.

His next book, The Dream of the Celt, about Irish human rights activist Roger Casement, is scheduled to come out in June.

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In the News: New books, Librotraficantes, Rodriguez, Mora

Upcoming Releases:

Margarita Engle’s The Wild Book, for children ages 10 and younger, will be released Tuesday. The story focuses on a girl who struggles with reading.

Carolina de Robertis’ Perla, about an Argentine woman who discovers a painful secret about her parents’ past, will come out March 27.

Arizona:

The Librotraficante Caravan, led by Aztec Muse publisher Tony Diaz, made its way from Houston to Tucson – with stops in San Antonio, El Paso and Albuquerque – to distribute $20,000 worth of Latino-themed books that were banned by the Tucson school district. The journey received coverage from The New York Times, El Paso Times, San Antonio Express-News, Arizona Daily Star and The Texas Observer.

• Here’s a great New York Times article about how the state’s ban on ethnic studies has affected classroom studies, such as a visit by author Matt de La Peña.

Awards:

Pat Mora won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for her book, Gracias/Thanks.

Author profiles:

Bless Me Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya talks about his banned books in the Albuquerque alternative newspaper, Alibi.

The Los Angeles Times features a great profile of Luis J. Rodriguez.

Contests:

Luis Alberto Urrea provides the prompt for NPR’S Three-Minute Fiction contest. Deadline is March 25.

• The Hispanic Reader is taking the week off. When we come back, we’ll celebrate the birthdays of two Nobel Prize winners. Happy Spring Break!

Note: This post was updated to include The New York Times article.

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Meet novelist Meg Medina, author of “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind”

Meg Medina began telling stories at a young age. Now she’s won awards and devoted audiences for those stories.

The Cuban-American writer released her new young adult novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, (Candlewick Press) earlier this week.

This follows 2008′s Milagros: Girl from Away and 2011′s Aunt Isa Wants a New Car. Aunt Isa, which is also available in Spanish, earned Medina the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award, given to a new author and new artist of picture books for children nine and younger, as well as a spot on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer List for feminist literature for readers from birth to age 18.

Medina, who grew up in Queens, New York, and lives in Richmond, Virginia, talked to The Hispanic Reader as part of her blog tour for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Click to watch the trailer and learn more about the book.

Q: Tell me about your book The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. What inspired the story?

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is my first young adult novel. It is the story of 17-year-old Sonia Ocampo who, due to the strange circumstances of her birth, is mistakenly believed to be an angel sent to her mining village. With each passing year, her neighbors have pinned all their hopes and dreams on her shoulders (literally), a burden she can no longer bear. With the help of her clever aunt, Tia Neli, Sonia secures a job as a domestic in the capital, and for a while she believes she has escaped her burdens. Unfortunately, trouble isn’t far. Her brother has left for the north, too, and has not been heard from in weeks. Naturally, everyone turns to Sonia to secure his safety. With only her wits – and the help of a lovesick taxiboy – Sonia has to untangle lies and secrets that have plagued her since her birth.

The novel is written in magical realism, but it touches on contemporary issues: migration and legality; true love vs. predatory relationships; defining yourself despite how others define you; young people’s dreams and having the right to follow them.

Q: What influenced you to become a writer?

I have to believe that it was inevitable. I come from a large Cuban family that loves to tell stories. The act of retelling events was part of my life from a very young age – and I’m thankful to my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother for that gift. Even today, when my elders are in their eighties, I enjoy hearing their stories of Cuba. The stories connected me to my imagination and to my culture. I use my writing in much the same way.

Q: You write mostly for children and young adults about overcoming tough circumstances. What appealed to you about this audience?

I think that writing for children is an honor. I don’t think you can find an adult who truly loves to read, who can’t name his favorite book as a child. There’s something magical about that time in our lives, and I love that my work lives there, where real life and stories hold hands. It’s such a treat to write for an audience that operates that way. As for writing about tough circumstances, I say that it’s important to give children – especially bicultural children – a way to see themselves, their struggles, and their families in books and stories.

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At the theater: “Electricidad” and “In the Heights”

“At the Theater” is a feature in which I check out plays by Latino writers. The article is intended to be a look at the author’s work and not a review of the theatrical production – so no comments about acting, lighting or staging. I saw the Fort Worth-based Artes de la Rosa’s production of the play Electricidad and a national tour production of In the Heights.

Life in the barrio has been a constant theme in Latino literature – and it’s the setting of two powerful, and very different, plays that have received nationwide attention and are now showing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad, the barrio is at its rawest, filled with gangsters and cholos who can’t escape their ‘hood. Electricidad is a young woman who sits outside her home, protecting the body of her murdered father. Based on the Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Electra, a trio of neighborhood women serve as the Greek chorus while Electricidad deals with her mother, sister and others. Depending on your point of view, the play shows barrio life at its most realistic or it perpetuates the worst stereotypes of Latinos.

By contrast, In the Heights is so joyful, one could think it takes place on another planet. The play actually takes place near a bodega in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. The story by Quiara Alegría Hudes (she also wrote 26 Miles) depicts the lives of its residents, who break into upbeat songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. At the end of the show, you wished you lived in this neighborhood where everyone is your friend and every problem has a solution. The show deservedly won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

About the plays: If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you can see excellent productions of these plays until March 25. Electricidad is produced by the Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts at the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth. For tickets, click here. In the Heights, which is on a national tour until June, is playing at the Winspear Opera House, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, in Dallas. For tickets, click here.

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Classic book review: Ana Castillo’s “So Far From God”

I was so close to loving Ana Castillo’s 1993 novel So Far From God.

So Far From God takes place in a small village in New Mexico, where Sofi is taking care of her four daughters after her husband Domingo has left her. There’s Esperanza, the oldest daughter who works as a television reporter in the Middle East; Fe, who suffers a nervous breakdown when her engagement ends; Caridad, who is attacked by a mysterious creature, ends up living in a cave and becomes a saint to villagers because they believe she has special powers; and La Loca, who dies as an toddler, but wakes up during her own funeral and lands on the church’s roof.

And that’s just the first four chapters, folks.

This book reminded me of Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which also focused on four daughters in a non-linear story. But Garcia Girls is a realistic book and, if you couldn’t tell already, So Far From God uses vast amounts of magic realism and myth.

Sofi is the backbone of the family, running the family’s carnicería and even becoming the leader of her small village. Castillo keeps a light, conversational tone throughout the book even when the women suffer through some terrible tragedies.

As Sofi says, “God gave me four daughters, and you would have thought that by now I would be a content grandmother, sitting back and letting my daughters care for me, bringing me nothing but their babies on Sundays to rock on my lap! But no, not my hijitas! I had to produce the kinds of species that flies!”

I enjoyed the stories and I liked Castillo’s sense of humor. But Castillo packs so much into her sentences that I had to reread them and hunt for the verb. I was also annoyed by her frequent use of double negatives. I would accept this – reluctantly – if the book had a strong first person narrator or if it was used in the dialogue, but I didn’t think they were necessary. In fact, wanted to stab the book with a red pen so the double negatives would bleed to death.

So, I just liked So Far From God when I could have loved it.

More about Ana Castillo:

Ana Castillo is a Mexican-American author who has written numerous books and poems, including 1992’s The Mixquiahuala Letters and 1999’s Peel My Love Like an Onion. Her next book, The Last Goddess Standing, is expected to come out later this year.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

This book is third in the series of classic books by Latina authors. Next month: Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez.

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Happy Birthday, Gabriel García Márquez!

(Update: García Márquez passed away in April 2014. Here is his obituary from The New York Times; an overview of his life in Mental Floss magazine that first appeared in 2009; a collection of his short stories published in The New Yorker; and reaction to his death from world leaders and writers compiled by the Huffington Post.)

Gabriel García Márquez was born 85 years old today in Aracataca, Colombia. He is the greatest Latino writer alive, perhaps ever.

García Márquez is known for his classic books, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. He was part of the Latin American boom of literature in the 1960s, along with Carlos Fuentes and his rival, Mario Vargas Llosa. (Their feud resulted in García Márquez getting a black eye.)

His books are known for their magic realism. But some books are too realistic: 1996’s News of a Kidnapping, which reflected the turmoil in his country, recently received a sales boost in Tehran because the story is similar to recent events in that country.

What makes García Márquez the most significant writer in Latino literature today? He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature earlier than any other living recipient. But he’s also permeated the pop culture more than anyone else. Oprah Winfrey chose his works for her book club. Cholera plays a major plot point in the 2001 movie Serendipity. And, best of all, actor Tom Hanks is shown reading Solitude in the 1989 movie Turner and Hooch. What could be better than that?

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In the news: Librotraficantes in Arizona, Anaya, Valdes, Díaz

Arizona:

The Librotraficante Caravan will kick off March 12 on its journey to distribute Latino-themed books that have been banned in Tucson classrooms. Aztec Muse founder Tony Diaz is spearheading the tour, which starts in Houston and hosts events during its stops in San Antonio, El Paso and Albuquerque and, finally, Tucson. The San Antonio event on March 13 will include Sandra Cisneros (right), Carmen Tafolla and Luis Alberto Urrea. The Tucson event on March 17 will feature Dagoberto Gilb and Helena Maria Viramontes. At each stop, the caravan will create Underground Libraries made up of the banned books.

Awards:

Bless Me Ultima author Rudolfo Anaya, left, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. The ceremony takes place April 20 and coincides with the Los Angeles Festival of Books April 21-22.

• Books by Sergio Chejfec, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Juan José Saer, Moacyr Scliar and Enrique Vila-Matas made the 2012 Best Translated Books Award Longlist.

Book Festivals:

• The Tucson Festival of Books, which runs March 10-11, will include Monica Brown, Denise Chavez, Diana Gabaldon, Carmen Giménez Smith, Grace Pena Delgado, Sam Quinones, Alberto Alvaro Ríos, Sergio Troncoso and Luis Alberto Urrea, right, who will give the keynote address during the Author’s Table Dinner March 9.

Children’s Literature Conference:

March 19 is the deadline for early registration for the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference, which takes place March 29-30 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The event includes seminars on educational strategies, networking opportunities and a keynote address by authors Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy.

Upcoming releases:

Alisa Valdes, best known for her Dirty Girls Social Club series, plans to publish 100-page ebook romance “novelas” for $1.99 one a month starting with Billy, the Man in April. (Click on her “eRomance” page.)

• Pultizer Prize winner Junot Díaz is releasing a new book of short stories called This Is How You Lose Her on Sept. 11, according to The New York Times.

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