August 26, 2013 · 8:00 am
Julio Cortázar was born Aug. 26, 1916 in Belgium and died in 1984 in Paris. But he was raised in Argentina and, with his inventive novels and short stories, he’s considered one of Latino literature’s finest writers.
Cortázar was one of the leaders of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s, along with Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. His best known novel, Hopscotch, celebrates is 50th anniversary this year. The novel may be as well known for its structure — readers can choose to read the chapters in whatever order they want — as much for its plot — about a man dealing with the strange turn of events in his life. (Here’s a great article about the book from the LA Review of Books and here’s an interesting look from The New York Times at the cover design process for the newly designed book jacket.)
Cortázar also wrote the short story “Las babas del diablo” (“The Devil’s Drivel”), which inspired the 1966 movie Blowup and is part of the collection Blow-Up: And Other Stories.
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Amazon.com
August 10, 2013 · 11:00 am
Jorge Amado was born on Aug. 10, 1912 in Brazil and died Aug. 6, 2001. His 32 books won international acclaim for reflecting his homeland’s culture and people, including blacks and working people.
His best known novels are 1958’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, about a migrant worker who changes life in a village with the help of a beautiful cook, and 1966’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, about a widow who finds a new love — and then her first husband shows up. Actress Sonia Braga appeared in the TV version of Gabriela and the 1976 movie of Dona Flor.
His politics were controversial. He was a Communist, and lived in exile in Europe when the Brazilian government banned the party, although he eventually left the party.
But his books were well-loved and were translated in 49 languages. His 100th birthday last year was celebrated with many events, including the reissuing of two novels and other celebrations. The BBC ran this great story about his life and work last year. Here is his obituary from 2001 from The Guardian. And check out the website for the Jorge Amado Foundation.
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, BBC, Amazon.com, Jorge Amado Foundation
April 12, 2013 · 7:00 am
Gary Soto was born April 12, 1952 in Fresno, Calif. The California-based novelist and poet is best known for his gritty portrayal of the lives of Mexican-Americans.
Soto grew up working the fields and living in the barrio, and he used those experiences in his poems – including his first book of poetry, 1977’s The Elements of San Joaquin and his collection New and Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award.
His young adult books depict teenagers in tough situations. The 1996 novel Jesse takes place during the Vietnam War and the 2006 novel Buried Onions shows life in a gang.
He also has a more whimsical side, as seen in his picture books, chapter books, short stories and poetry for children.
Read his poems on the Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation websites. You also can find out more about him by visiting the Gary Soto Literary Museum in Fresno, Calif.
Sources: Gary Soto website, Wikipedia, Amazon.com, Poetry Foundation
September 26, 2012 · 7:00 am
Gloria Anzaldúa was born Sept. 26, 1942, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and died Oct. 4, 2004. Her 1987 book, Borderlands/La Frontera, is considered a landmark book in Chicano and feminist studies.
Anzaldúa worked the fields with her family as a child growing up in South Texas. She received her bachelor’s degree at Pan American University and her master’s and doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin.
She co-edited the book This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Cherríe Moraga. But it was Borderlands that has drawn the most acclaim. In an article for The Week magazine, writer Dagoberto Gilb said, “Anzaldúa transmuted scholarly writing into a kind of poetic prose that was fiercely political,” adding that she “treated the border not only as the physical presence that it is but as a metaphor of both gender and sexual identity.”
A collection of her essays, poetry and other works is compiled into The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Here’s a terrific profile of her from Ms. Magazine.
September 3, 2012 · 9:00 am
Américo Parades was born Sept. 3, 1915 and died May 5, 1999. The scholar is best known for his 1970 book, With His Pistol in His Hand.
Parades grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and, inspired by the corridos he heard, he wrote poetry and other stories. He taught folklore and creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation on Gregorio Cortez.
With His Pistol in His Hand tells the story of Cortez, a ranchhand who kills a Texas sheriff after a case of mistaken identity and then spends his life running from the law. The book was made into the 1982 movie, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, starring Edward James Olmos.
Texas singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa wrote the song, Con Su Pluma en Su Mano (With His Pen in His Hand), in honor of Parades. His name appears on schools in Austin and Brownsville, Texas. He was awarded the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989.
The University of Texas has a great website devoted to his life and work.
August 24, 2012 · 6:30 am
(Update: Oscar Hijuelos passed away in October 2013. Here is his obituary from The New York Times.)
Oscar Hijuelos was born August 24, 1951 in New York City. His 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love became the first novel by a Latino author to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
Hijuelos was raised by his Cuban parents in New York City – a childhood reflected in his first novel, 1983’s Our House in the Last World.
His next novel was Mambo Kings. The book, which depicts the lives of two Cuban brothers who pursue their musical dreams in New York City, was made into a 1996 movie staring Antonio Banderas.
Mr. Ives’ Christmas, published in 1996, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Here’s a great review of the book from NPR’s Ray Suarez. He also wrote 2000’s Empress of the Splendid Season and 2008’s Dark Dude. His most recent book is his 2011 memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes.
It’s a great day for Latino writers: Jorge Luis Borges and Paulo Coelho also celebrate birthdays today.
August 12, 2012 · 7:00 am
Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born Aug. 12, 1866 in Madrid, Spain, and died July 14, 1954. The playwright won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Literature – one of only 12 Latinos to win the award – for his comedic works that poked fun at society. He had written 170 plays in his life. His most famous play was 1907’s Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest), which focuses on a man who manipulates others.
July 12, 2012 · 7:00 am
Pablo Neruda was born July 12, 1904, and died Sept. 23, 1973. He is Latino literature’s best known poet, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
He grew up in Temuco, Chile, where he knew future Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral, and started writing as a young boy. He wrote his poetry while serving as a diplomat and in the Chilean Senate. While best known for his love poems, Neruda’s Communist viewpoints are reflected in works such as Canto General.
His popularity has made him the subject of two novels. In Antonio Skarmeta’s Il Postino, he inspires an Italian postal carrier to write poetry to woo a young lady. The book was made into the 1994 Academy Award-nominated movie. (The DVD includes a 30-minute feature about his life, with celebrities such as Madonna and Samuel L. Jackson reading his works.) In Roberto Ampuero’s excellent The Neruda Case, Neruda is shown in the last days of his life – reflecting on his past loves as he is dying of cancer and the Chilean government is about to be overthrown.
If you want to introduce children to Neruda, check out Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s award-winning The Dreamer.
Read more about Neruda on the Poetry Foundation website and the Poets.org website.
June 26, 2012 · 7:00 am
Luis Valdez was born June 26 in 1940. He is regarded as the father of Latino theater and the playwright of perhaps the most famous Latino play of all time – Zoot Suit.
A former migrant worker, the California-raised Valdez was inspired to go into theater after a teacher cast him in a school play, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He didn’t perform in the production, but the experience led him to study drama at San Jose State University.
In the 1960s, he marched with United Farm Workers leader César Chávez. He founded El Teatro Campesino – with shows performed on flatbed trucks and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike.
The company later moved to San Juan Bautista, Calif. In 1977, the theater performed Zoot Suit, which was inspired by the 1940s riots in Los Angeles. The play was a smash – going on to Broadway in 1979 and becoming a movie, which Valdez directed, in 1981.
Valdez also directed the 1987 movie La Bamba, about music great Ritchie Valens. His theater company continues to produce plays today. He recently talked about his career in this radio interview.
May 11, 2012 · 6:30 am
Camilo José Cela was born on this day in 1916 in Iria Flavia, Spain, and died in 2002. He is only one of a dozen Latinos to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he received in 1989.
Cela wrote in a variety of genres and styles, but he is best known for his 1942 novel La Familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte), about a murderer who feels no remorse for his crimes, and the 1951 novel La Colmena (The Hive), which depicts the lives of hundreds of people in Madrid in the 1940s and was made into a movie in 1982. He also was known for his sometimes outrageous personality.