Category Archives: Nation profiles

Happy Independence Day, Panama!

Panama declared its independence from Colombia on Nov. 3. The Central American country is best known for the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Here’s a look at its writers:

Carlos_Russell• The blog Life and Literature in the Caribbean Diaspora, put together by a 2012 English class at Vanderbilt University, examines the works of literature from its residents, including poet Carlos Russell, left, a former United Nations ambassador. The blog A Year of Reading the World reviewed the Juan David Morgan novel The Golden Horse (El Caballo de Oro), which has not yet been translated into English.

VeronicaChambersVeronica Chambers, right, who is of Panamanian and Costa Rican-Jamaican descent, has drawn upon her heritage for the Marisol and Magdalena series about two Latina tweenagers, as well as her 1997 memoir Mama’s Girl and the 2005 novel Miss Black America. She also has written the Amigas series and the children’s book Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, as well as several non-fiction books.

CristinaHenriquezCristina Henriquez, left, who is half-Panamanian, is the author of The World in Half and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which both take place in Panama. Her next novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, about a Panamanian boy who falls in love with his Mexican next door neighbor, will come out in June 2014.

Sources: A Year of Reading the World, Voices From Our America, Life and Literature in the Caribbean Diaspora

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Happy National Day, Spain!

Spain, the grandmotherland of Latino literature, celebrates one of its most important holidays Oct. 12 — Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. The European country has given the world one of the literature’s finest works and five Nobel Prize winners.

MiguelDeCervantesMiguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), a former soldier, wrote the most famous work in Latino literature — Don Quixote. The 1605 book tells of a man who pursues his wildest fantasies. It gave birth to a word (“quixotic”) and idiom (“tilting at windmills”). It also inspired a ballet and the musical Man of La Mancha, which became a 1972 movie and produced the classic song, “The Impossible Dream.”

LorcaFederico García Lorca (1898-1936) is known for his timeless plays, such as Blood Wedding and Yerma, and poetry that reflected such issues as politics, sexuality, women’s independence and domestic violence that his country was facing. He was later executed during the National Civil War.

José_Echegaray_y_Eizaguirre• Five men have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most prestigious prize in the literary arts. They are playwrights José Echegaray, right, and Jacinto Benavente; poets Juan Ramón Jiménez and Vicente Aleixandre; and novelist Camilo José Cela. Twenty Spainards have won the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, ranging from poet Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) to its most winner, poet José Manuel Caballero Bonald.

timeinbetweencover• Contemporary Spanish writers include Maria Dueñas, author of The Time in Between; Juan Gómez-Jurado, author of The Traitor’s Emblem; Javiar Marias, author of The Infatuations; Carlos Ruíz Zafron, author of the popular Shadow of the Wind series; Javier Sierra, author of The Secret Supper and The Lady in Blue.

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, Poets.org

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Happy Independence Day, Chile!

Chile declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 18, 1810. The South American country has a turbulent history — and one of the richest literary traditions in the world.

gabriela_mistral• The only Latina to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral (1889-1956) is best known for her poems that touch on the subjects of children and motherhood, such as in the book Ternura (Tenderness). Mistral is the subject of her own children’s book, My Name Is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral, written by Monica Brown.

Pablo_NerudaPablo Neruda‘s (1904-1973) love poems have made him one of the most beloved poets in the world, winning the Nobel Prize. He is featured as a character in Antonio Skarmeta’s Il Postino, which was made into a 1994 Academy Award-nominated movie, and is the subject of Roberto Ampuero’s excellent The Neruda Case, which shows him in the last days of his life as he reflects on his past loves and President Salvador Allende’s government is about to be overthrown.

A._Skármeta• Besides Il Postino, Antonio Skarmeta has written some other memorable works, including the children’s book The Composition, named one of Scholastic Parent & Child’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids, and the play El Plebiscito, a story about the advertising campaign against President Augusto Pinochet that became No, a 2012 Oscar-nominated film.

AllendeIsabel Allende has won worldwide acclaim for her books that depict life in Chile, including The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune and her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook.

roberto-bolanoThe novels of Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) — such as 2666, winner of the National Book Critics Award — have become more popular after his death. He also won the Romulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives.

AlejandroZambra• Winners of the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish language writers, include Jorge Edwards, Gonzalo Rojas and Nicanor Parra. Other contemporary Chilean writers include Alejandro Zambra, right, author of Ways of Going Home.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica

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Happy Independence Day, Mexico!

Mexico declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810. The North American country is the largest Spanish-speaking nation and perhaps the most influential Latin American nation in the world. Its close proximity to the United States has given writers great fodder for literature. Here’s a look at its writers:

OctavioPazOctavio Paz (1914-1998), right, won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Cervantes Prize for Spanish language writers for his collection of poems, including 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 his homeland.

Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), left, had a tremendous influence on writers, including Colombian writer Gabriel Gárcia Márquez, despite releasing only two books, 1955’s El llano en llamas/The Burning Plain and 1955’s Pedro Páramo. Short story writer Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) is known for his humorous writings, which are collected in the book, Confabulario and Other Inventions.

carlos-fuentes• Novelist Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), right, was part of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s. He is best known for 1962’s The Death of Artemio Cruz, about a dying man looking back on his life, and 1985’s The Old Gringo, the story of an American writer in the Mexican Revolution. He also won the Cervantes Prize.

• Other winners of the Cervantes Prize are Sergio Pitol, a diplomat who described his international experiences and his life in Mexico in his 1996 novel El arte de la fuga/The Art of Flight, and José Emilio Pacheco, a poet and short story writer. Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos Prize include Fernando del Paso for Palinuro de México; Ángeles Mastretta for Mal de amores and Elena Poniatowska for El tren pasa primero.

LikeWaterforChocolate• Contemporary Mexican writers include Laura Esquivel, author of the hugely popular Like Water for Chocolate, and Juan Pablo Villalobos, author of Down the Rabbit Hole. Mexican-American writers include (among many others) Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Alex Espinoza, Reyna Grande, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Michele Serros, Luis Alberto Urrea and Victor Villasenor.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Poets.org, Wikipedia

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Happy Independence Day, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua!

On Sept. 15, 1821, five Central American countries declared their independence from Spain. (It also marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, with several Latin American countries celebrating their Independence Days in the next 30 days.) Here’s a look at the writers and books from these nations:

CocoriCosta Rica: Poet and novelist Joaquín Gutiérrez wrote several books, including Cronicas De Otro Mundo; the children’s book Cocori, which has been translated into several languages and produced as a play; and Chinto Pinto, a book of Costan Rican proverbs and songs for children.

RoqueDaltonSmallHoursEl Salvador: Poet Roque Dalton (1935-1975) now is considered a revered figure in his native country for his works, collected in the book Small Hours of the Night. But his left wing politics sent him in exile from his country and led to his death. Héctor Tobar of The Los Angeles Times had a fascinating story about his execution.

asturiasGuatemala: Miguel Angel Asturias (1899-1974), right, won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novels — The President (El Senor Presidente) and Men of Maize: The Modernist Epic of the Guatemalan Indians (Hombres de Maize) — that depicted life in his country. Contemporary novelists Francisco Goldman, Héctor Tobar and Sabrina Vourvoulias have Guatemalan roots.

enriques-journeyHonduras: Novelist Froilán Turcios (1875-1943) is best known for his collection of short stories Cuentos del Amor y la Muerte (Stories of Love and Death). Roberto Sosa (1930-2011) won awards for his poetry. The non-fiction book Enrique’s Journey, based on Pulitzer Prize-winning series by Sonia Nazario, follows a young Honduran boy as he travels to the United States to find his mother.

Rubén_DaríoNicaragua: Poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), right, is considered one of the finest wordsmiths in the Spanish language, with poems that experimented with the language. They can be found in the book Selected WritingsNovelist Silvio Sirias, who was raised in California, drew upon his cultural heritage for such books as Meet Me Under the Ceiba and Bernardo and the Virgin.

Sources: Answers.com, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Poets.org, Los Angeles Times, Vidagranada.com

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Happy Independence Day, Brazil!

Brazil declared its independence from Portugal on Sept. 7, 1822. The country is host to Carnival, the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Summer Olympics — and some memorable writers.

Machado_de_Assis_aos_57_anosJoaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is considered to be one of the greatest writers from Brazil and perhaps “the greatest writer ever produced in Latin America,” according to writer Susan Sontag. His most famous novel is The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, which chronicles one man’s romantic pursuits. Here’s a great article from The New York Times from 2008 about his legacy.

Mario_de_andrade• Poet and novelist Mario de Andrade (1893-1945) was an innovator in many ways — by promoting music, modern art and literature around the country; by using magic realism in his best known novel, Macunaíma; and by writing in Brazilian dialect instead of formal Portuguese in his poems, which are collected in the book Poesias Completas.

paulo_coelhoPaulo Coelho is the author of one of the world’s most read books, The Alchemist, which has been on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 250 weeks. His other books include Veronika Decides to Die, as well as recent best-sellers Aleph and Manuscript Found in Accra. A movie based on his life is in the works.

 Jorge AmadoJorge Amado won acclaim for his 32 books — including Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and  Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands — that reflected his country’s culture and people. The BBC ran this great story about his life and work last year for his 100th birthday and the Jorge Amado Foundation website has a great overview about his work.

paulo-linsPaulo Lins wrote the 1997 novel City of God, which became a 2002 Academy Award-nominated movie. In this New York Times article, he talked about growing up in the poor neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro with blacks and immigrants.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, Encyclopedia Britannica, Matueté

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Happy Independence Day, Uruguay!

Uruguay declared its independence from Brazil on Aug. 25, 1825. The South American country is one of the most progressive nations in the continent, recently passing laws legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage. Its writers are just as progressive:

felisberto+hernandezFelisberto Hernandez (1902-1964) is considered one of the fathers of magic realism, paving the way for other Latin American novelists such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez, who said, “If I hadn’t read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.” His short stories — including his most famous, “The Daisy Dolls” — are collected in the book Lands of Memory.

OnettiJuan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994) won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish language novelists. His novels, including La vida breve (A Brief Life) and El astillero (The Shipyard), feature characters struggling with the meaning of their lives.

cristina-peri-rossiCristina Peri Rossi has added a feminist viewpoint to Latin American literature in her poetry, short stories and novels, including The Ship of Fools. She now lives in Spain, where she works as a journalist.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Village Voice, Amazon.com

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Happy Independence Day, Bolivia!

Bolivia declared its independence from Spain on Aug. 6, 1825. The South American country, named after Simon Bolivar, is located in the Andean Mountains.

Yolanda_Bedregal• Poet Yolanda Bedregal (1913-1999) has published more than 20 books of poetry and novels, including Bajo el oscuro sol, about a woman’s struggles during a revolution. The government of Bolivia gives out a poetry award in her name.

Edmundo Paz SoldanEdmundo Paz Soldán is considered the country’s best-known contemporary novelist, winning awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His novels, including Turing’s Delirium and The Matter of Desire, frequently cover the politics in Latin America. He currently lives in the United States and has taught at Cornell University.

Giovanna Rivero• Another contemporary novelist, Giovanna Rivero has written several novels and short story collections, including Sangre dulce/Sweet Blood. Visit her blog.

Sources: Washington University in St. Louis, Wikipedia, Good Reads, A Year of Reading the World blog

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Happy Independence Day, Peru!

Peru declared its independence from Spain on July 28, 1821. The South American country is best known for Machu Picchu, and actors Benjamin Bratt and Henry Ian Cusick of Lost and Scandal claim Peruvian heritage. Here’s a look at some of its writers:

foto-de-mario-vargas-llosa-7A leader in the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s, Mario Vargas Llosa has won every major literary honor – the Nobel Prize; the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers; and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize. Many of his books — including 1993’s Death in the Andes and 2000’s The Feast of the Goat — cover political issues, but a popular favorite is the 1982 comic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

Marie AranaWashington Post writer Marie Arana, who grew up in both Peru and the United States, drew upon on her bicultural heritage for her memoir, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. Her novels, Lima Nights and Cellophane, take place in Peru. Her most recent book, Bolivar: American Liberator, is a critically acclaimed biography of the South American military leader.

Natalia SylvesterLima-born Daniel Alarcón is the author of several books, including War by Candlelight, Lost City Radio and the upcoming At Night We Walk in Circles. He also runs the Radio Ambulante podcast. Also originally from Lima, Natalia Sylvester, right, will release her first novel, Chasing the Sun, next year. She now lives in Texas. (After I wrote this, I discovered award-winning children’s author Monica Brown is Peruvian-American. Here’s her website.)

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Happy Independence Day, Colombia!

Colombia declared its independence from Spain on July 20, 1810. The South American country can claim Shakira, Sofia Vergara and Juanes as its residents — as well as some great writers.

Gabriel Garcia MarquezOne of the greatest Latin American writers of all time, Gabriel García Márquez has won the most prestigious award in literature — the Nobel Prize. He is a pioneer of magic realism and the leader in the Latin American boom of the 1960s. His novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera frequently pop up on lists of the best books ever written.

Alvaro MutisPoet and novelist Alvaro Mutis is a winner of the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish language writers, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His books and poetry regularly feature the character of Maqroll el Gaviero as he goes through different journeys – whether it’s a trip along a river or caught up s in a war. His poetry often touch on themes of nature.

Manuel_Mejía_VallejoWinners of the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, one of Latin American literature’s most prestigious awards, include Gárcia Márquez; Manuel Mejía Vallejo (1923-1998), right, for La casa de las dos palmas; Fernando Vallejo for El desbarrancadero; and William Ospina for El País de la Canela.

Jaime ManriqueJaime Manrique, a native of Barranquilla, has written numerous novels about South America, including Our Lives are the Rivers and Colombian Gold: A Novel of Power and Corruption, as well as books of poetry.

PatriciaEngel-Photo1Two writers cover the lives of modern day women of Colombian heritage —Patricia Engel, left, whose parents are Colombian and grew up in New Jersey, is the author of Vida and It’s Not Love It’s Just Paris, and Leila Cobo, who grew up in the Colombian town of Cali, is the author of Tell Me Something True and The Second Time We Met.

Sources: Britannica, Wikipedia

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