Monthly Archives: September 2011

In the News

• Writer Sandra Cisneros (pictured at right) will be featured in HBO’s documentary, The Latino List, which premieres tonight. Other Hispanics profiled in the show include former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, actress Eva Longoria and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer.

Cristina García, as well as dozens of other young adult novelists, will appear at the Austin Teen Book Festival Saturday. Garcia’s latest book, The Dreams of Siginificant Girls (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), was released earlier this year.

Héctor Tobar’s critically acclaimed novel, The Barbarian Nurseries (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), comes out on Tuesday. The Hispanic Reader will post a review the same day.

• Also on Tuesday, Luis J. Rodriguez will release It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone), a sequel to his book, Always Running.

• Rodriguez will be one of several speakers during the 6th Annual San Diego City College Int’l Book Fair Monday-Oct. 8. The event will also include a discussion on “Chicano Poetics: the Enduring Experience and Perspective,” with poets Manuél J. Velez, Angel Sandoval and Manuel Paul López.


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Filed under 2011 Books, Events, News, Young Adult Books

Meet novelist Guadalupe Garcia McCall

The seeds for Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s career as a novelist began in school, when her teachers encouraged her to become a writer. McCall’s first young adult novel, Under the Mesquite, was published earlier this month by Lee & Low Books.

McCall was born in Mexico and grew up in Eagle Pass. She is working on a second young adult novel and her poetry has been published in several literary journals. She also works as a junior high English teacher.

Q: Tell me more about your book, Under the Mesquite.

Under the Mesquite is a novel in verse, which came about because my editor, Emily Hazel, came across a small collection of poems I had submitted to Lee & Low. The poems were nothing more than small vignettes, glimpses of my life on the border, but Emily loved the poems so much she asked if I would work with her on turning the collection into a book. I agreed and thus began a three-year journey. Through several revisions, Emily and I decided to make it a work of fiction to allow for more freedom in the creative process.

Under the Mesquite is the story of Lupita, a young Mexican-American girl living the American dream, trying to fit in, dealing with normal teenage angst, until she learns her mother has cancer. The news devastates the family, but Lupita is determined to do whatever it takes to help Mami get better, and that includes taking on the role of parents while her parents travel to Galveston for her mother’s treatments. Unfortunately, life gets harder and harder, and Lupita’s journey is long and painful. However, because she is strong in love and faith, Lupita learns to cope and ultimately survive this difficult time in her life.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

Both my parents were an inspiration to me. They were hard-working people, with little education, so they always stressed education for us. My parents wanted great things for each and every one of us. They always made sure we saw how special and talented we were. From an early age, they looked for and fostered our “qualities” or talents.

However, my teachers played an integral role in my desire to become a writer. My third grade teacher, Mr. Hernandez, read a story I wrote in Spanish and asked me if I was going to become a writer. That planted the seed. Then, in high school, Ms. Garcia and Ms. Urbina were convinced I had the talent to become published. Even Ms. Moses, my mentor and math teacher, wanted that for me. I’ll never forget that she gave me a Writer’s Digest book for my high school graduation. I have all my wonderful teachers to thank for this beautiful dream I am living. They planted and nurtured the seed within me. All I had to do was believe them.

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

There are so many authors I admire. I love Sandra Cisneros and Gary Soto and Julia Alvarez. As far as fiction is concerned, the author I love reading is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love his One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve read and reread that book so many times, and yet, every time, it feels like the first time because there is so much depth to that book. Someday, I want to grow up to write just like him. However, I am especially fond of Pat Mora, who has such beautiful lyrical poetry for children. I love her Dizzy in Your Eyes. She is my inspiration and my idol and “Dia de los Ninos” (her celebration of family literary) is close to my heart.


Filed under 2011 Books, Author Q&A, Fiction, Young Adult Books

News from Latino authors

Chilean Ariel Dorfman (pictured at right) and Brazilian Paolo Coelho will release new books on Tuesday. Dorfman’s book, Feeding on Dreams (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), discusses his exile from Chile after the Pinochet coup. He will make several appearances across the country, including at the New York Public Library tonight. Coelho’s book, Aleph (Knopf), is a novel similar to his megabestselling, The Alchemist. The New York Times has a great article on Coelho, who discusses how Jorge Luis Borges inspired his work and why he loves Twitter.

• Author Sergio Troncoso writes about his life – from growing up on the El Paso/Mexico border to studying at an Ivy League college –  in his new book, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays (Arte Público Press), out on Friday. He spoke with KUHF, the Houston NPR station, about the book.

Outside the Bones, a mystery with Afro-Carribbean elements written by Puerto Rican Lyn Di Iorio, will be published Friday by Arte Público Press.

• The West Hollywood Book Fair will take place Sunday. David A. Hernandez, Melinda Palacio, Felice Picano, Héctor Tobar, Justin Torres and Marcos M. Villatoro are scheduled to speak.

Kami Garcia (pictured at left), co-author of the Beautiful Chaos books, will speak at the Orange Country Children’s Book Festival on Sunday in Costa Mesa, Calif. Beautiful Darkness, written with Margaret Stohl, came out earlier this month in paperback.

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The write stuff

Only one Latino is listed as an author on the 35 books on the Sept. 29 New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. The literary world needs more Hispanic authors, but the writing industry requires time, discipline and a tough skin to handle rejection.

But a few people are hoping to make things easier.

Corina Martinez Chaudhry created a website, The Latino Author, to encourage Hispanics to pursue a writing career. The website covers everything from the elements of writing a story to getting it published.

“A reader can actually read the articles and get a good sense of how to get started in the business,” she said.

Chaudry has always loved reading and writing, but couldn’t find many works by Latino authors as a child because many of them were not promoted in schools or the book market.

“It’s important that this ‘new’ generation of Latino and Hispanic writers get the same necessary tools and breaks that all other groups have acquired,” she said, “and I want to do my part to help with this effort.”

Arnaldo Lopez Jr., author of ChickenHawk, also tried to do his part by organizing a Latino Authors and Writers Conference, scheduled for Oct. 1 in New York City, but had to cancel it due to lack of interest.

“I wanted to do this because I have been to many writers conferences over the years and have always found there to be almost no Latino agents, editors, publishers, or aspiring authors,” he said. “I wanted to give aspiring or self-published Latino(a) writers the same information and opportunities that writers at these other conferences were getting.”

While the writing field can be difficult, Chaudry encourages Latinos not to give up. After all, she succeeded in the technical engineering environment field – making decisions and overseeing $300 million in contracts every year for an Orange County, Calif., government agency – with a business degree and a minor in English.

“I truly believe that we all have the ability to do anything we want to in this life – it’s just moving forward and understanding that failure is how we learn to get to the next step,” she said. “It is this failure in life that will make us successful in the end.  It is never giving up no matter how many rejections we get or how many obstacles are thrown our way.”

Here are some other resources for Hispanic writers:

• Hispanics have formed writers groups, such as the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio and the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, Mo.

• Writer’s retreats are also available, including the Macondo Foundation created by Sandra Cisneros and Las Dos Brujas workshop founded by Cristina Garcia.

• Ecuadorian Marcela Landres, a former book editor, offers advice on her website.

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News from Latino authors

Here’s some news happening this week with Latino authors:

• Cuban-American author Alisa Valdes (formerly Valdes-Rodriguez) released her third book in The Dirty Girls Social Club series, Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith, this week. She’s selling the novel by e-book and paperback through an online merchant instead of through traditional bookstores. An excerpt of the book can be found in the October issue of Latina magazine.

The Guardian reported that Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez’s 1996 book, News of a Kidnapping, has been selling out in Tehran because it has drawn similarities to kidnappings in Iran.

• Puerto Rican writer Justin Torres continues to get critical acclaim for his book We the Animals, and, as this Reuters article points out, he has made it to the New York Times bestsellers chart.

• A campaign to bring a Latino-oriented bookstore, called La Casa Azul, to East Harlem has drawn attention from the Shelf Awareness e-newsletter and the Huffington Post. The owner hopes to raise $40,000, which an anonymous donor will match.

• Brazilian Paulo Coelho, (pictured at right) author of one of the mega-bestselling book, The Alchemist, will release his latest novel, Aleph, on Sept. 26.

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Festival time!

Hispanic authors will be making their mark at book festivals this fall.

The Brooklyn Book Festival begins this weekend, and other festivals across the country will follow in the coming months. The festivals feature readings, question-and-answer panels, and autograph sessions by the writers. Here’s a list (not definitive) of some of the major festivals:

• The Brooklyn Book Festival, which starts Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-18, will include Juan Gonzalez, Sigrid Nunez, Esmeralda Santiago (pictured at left) and Justin Torres.

• Esmeralda Santiago will speak at the National Book Festival Sept. 24-25 in Washington, D.C.

• The West Hollywood Book Fair, which takes place Oct. 2, will feature David A. Hernandez, Melinda Palacio, Felice Picano, Héctor Tobar, Justin Torres and Marcos M. Villatoro.

• Julia Alvarez and Carlos Eire are scheduled to speak at the Boston Book Festival Oct. 15.

• The Southern Festival of the Books will take place in Nashville Oct. 14-16. Lisa D. Chavez, Lorraine López, Helena Mesa, Justin Torres (pictured at right) and Marisel Vera are on the schedule.

• The Texas Book Festival, which runs from Oct. 22-23 in Austin, will feature Sarah Cortez, Kami Garcia, Dagoberto Gilb, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Artemio Rodriguez, Mary Romero, René Saldaña, Jr., Alex Sanchez, Hector Tobar, Justin Torres, Sergio Troncoso, and Richard Yañez – not to mention 250 other writers. Wow! Just goes to show, everything is bigger and better in Texas.

• Sadly, the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 8-9, has been canceled due to budget issues.

• Luis Urrea (pictured at left) will speak at the Louisiana Book Festival Oct. 29 in Baton Rouge.

• The Miami Book Fair Festival International takes place Nov. 13-20. A list of authors had not been posted on its website yet.

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Hispanic literature’s greatest hits

Today marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through Oct. 15. Want to catch up on some great Latino literature through the centuries? Here are some good starting points:

The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature compiled the greatest works of four centuries of Hispanic literature. Smithsonian magazine wrote about the project last year.

Latina magazine offers an excellent and comprehensive list called 25 Books Every Latina Should Read. (And happy 15th anniversary to Latina magazine!) They list books from 24 Hispanic authors, as well as The People’s History of the United States by badass historian Howard Zinn.

• The Association of American Publishers and Las Comadres, a national Latina organization, has formed a National Latino Book Club that discusses Hispanic books once a month in cities across the country. They have a great list of selections on its website.

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Filed under Classic Books, Fiction

Book Review: Justin Torres’s “We the Animals”

Justin Torres’s debut novel, We the Animals, can be described in one word – wow.

The book is a series of short vignettes about three brothers – half-Puerto Rican, half-white – growing up in upstate New York. The narrator begins the book using “we” as he describes the boys’ exploits around their neighborhood. The title’s metaphor is perfect, as demonstrated in the book’s opening lines:

“We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV til our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more,” he writes in the poetic first story, “We Wanted Everything.”

The book starts out with stories that are funny and innocent, just like the boys. But life gets tougher for the children, especially as their young mother and father experience stressful jobs and marital problems. Torres’s dialogue and descriptions are so real that you feel like you’re in the room with the family.

Sometimes, the scenes can get stark.

“You talking about escaping?” Ma asked.

“Nobody,” Papa said. “Not us. Not them. Nobody’s ever escaping this.”

As the boys get older, the narrator uses “I” instead of “we” as he emerges as the smarter, more responsible brother. But the book – and the title’s metaphor – takes on an unexpected and disturbing tone as the family discovers a secret about the narrator.

We the Animals is a thin book – only 125 pages – that readers will zip through in a couple of hours. But the memories of the book will last with them.

More about Justin Torres:

• An interview with Torres and excerpt from the book can be found on “The Diane Rehm Show” website.

• Torres talked about his short story, “Reverting to a Wild State,” to The New Yorker.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

On the silver screen

Latino writers are seeing their words on the big screen as two Hispanic-oriented film festivals open this month.

• Seven culturally diverse movies will be featured in the Maya Indie Film series. The movies include Without Men, about an all-female society, staring Eva Longoria and Oscar Nunez (from The Office). The movie was written and directed by Argentenian Gabriela Tagliavini and based upon the book Tales from the Towns of Widows by Colombian James Canon. The festival will run from Friday, Sept. 9 to Thursday, Sept. 15 in Chicago; Sept. 16-22 in Dallas and Miami and Sept. 23 in San Francisco.

• The Cinesol Film Festival will present a variety of Latino-oriented movies, as well as panels and seminars, from Saturday, Sept. 10 to Sept. 23 in Edinburg and Harlingen, Texas. Machete co-screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez and film scholar Rogelio Agrasanchez Jr. will discuss “The Golden Age in Mexican Film” Sept. 17. Agrasanchez will also speak Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg for the kickoff of the yearlong exhibit, “La Epoca de Oro: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema in the Rio Grande Valley,” which features trailers, posters and other memorabilia.

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Meet journalist Edgar Sandoval

In his 1982 song “Allentown,” Billy Joel sang about a town that factory workers were leaving to find new opportunities. Since then, Latinos have immigrated to the Pennsylvania city and make up 25 percent of Allentown’s population. New York Daily News reporter Edgar Sandoval wrote about the change in the community in his 2010 book, The New Face of Small Town America.

Sandoval, who grew up in Zacatecas, Mexico, has worked for The (McAllen) Monitor; the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Allentown Morning Call before working as a general assignments reporter for the Daily News.

What inspired you to write the book The New Face of Small Town America?
I wrote most of the book without knowing it as a reporter for The Morning Call. I was hired to write a comprehensive look of the Latino community of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and its surrounding areas. Years later, while working as a reporter in South Florida, I met a literary agent visiting New York and she liked my stories, which were written in a narrative style. I tuned them into essays and wrote several new ones for the book. The result was The New Face of Small Town America published Penn State Press. It was all a pleasant surprise.

What kind of reaction have you gotten?
Most of the reaction has been positive, especially in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I have also been pleasantly surprised to see my book has been added to prestigious university libraries, such as Rutgers, and positive feedback from some newspapers and blogs. Of course, there were a few not so upbeat reviews. But, that’s the biz.

What Hispanic authors/books have inspired you?
Since I was a teen, I always admired many Latino writers like Victor Villasenor and Sandra Cisneros. Both are so inspirational and such genuine people. I never thought I would meet either in person. I remember when I met Villasenor during one of those NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) conferences. He sensed my less that bright aura and made me scream, “I believe in myself,” in the middle of the crowd. I made sure to wave from afar from that day each time I run into him at such events. Then, through a friend of mine, I met Sandra Cisneros when I moved to New York a few years ago. I was a bit nervous walking up to the party where Sandra was a guest. Immediately, she made me feel at ease when she handed me a fan and said, “I like you. Fan me.” I have seen her a few times after that and it’s always hard to believe I’m talking to Sandra Cisneros!, and she’s so down to earth to me. She treats me like a regular person, unlike that waiter at Red Lobster.


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Filed under Author Q&A, Non-Fiction