Category Archives: Features

A look at Afro-Latino writers

February marks Black History Month. Here is a look at some prominent Afro-Latino authors:

Veronica Chambers, who is of Panamanian and Costa Rican-Jamaican descent, has written the Marisol and Magdalena series about two Latina tweenagers. She also wrote about her experiences as an Afro-Latina in this Essence article.

• Dominican Junot Díaz, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, talked about growing up Afro-Latino to Fox News Latino.

• The late Nicolás Guillén, known for his poems about social justice that he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, was the national poet of Cuba. He will be honored at Cuba’s International Book Fair Feb. 9-19.

• Brazilian author Paulo Lins wrote the 1997 novel City of God, which became a 2002 Academy Award-nominated movie. He talked to the Hispanic News website about growing up in the poor neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro with blacks and immigrants.

Sofia Quintero has written the Black Armetis hip hop series and other novels, such as Divas Don’t Yield and Efrain’s Secret. In this 2009 article with The UBS.com, which also features other black Latino writers, she talks about her Puerto Rican-Dominican heritage.

• Puerto Rican-Cuban-American poet Piri Thomas, who died last year, wrote the classic Down These Mean Streets, about his life growing up in Spanish Harlem. The New York Times had a great obituary.

The blog Writing to Insanity has a great list of other Afro-Latino writers, as does The Woynigi Blog. Latina magazine has good coverage of the Afro-Latina community. And other celebrities, such as Soledad O’Brien, discussed their Afro-Latino heritage in this video.

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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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Resolutions for the New Year

Hey, happy new year! Today is the day set aside to recover from last night, watch football and make resolutions. I’ve got a few of my own for my blog. 2011 was a great year for Latino literature but, with just a few exceptions, most of the books I reviewed were by male authors. So I’m declaring 2012 year of the Latina writer. Each month, I’ll review a classic book from a woman author. Here’s my schedule:

• January – Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

February – Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

• March – Ana Castillo, So Far From God

• April – Denise Chavez, Loving Pedro Infante

May – Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

• June – Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban

• July – Lorraine López, The Realm of Hungry Spirits

• August – Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

• September – Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican

• October – Michele Serros, Chicana Falsa

• November – Alisa Valdes, The Dirty Girls Social Club

• December – Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus

As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t include some prominent writers. I’ve read most of Sandra Cisneros’s books, and I hope she will have a new book out soon that I can review. I also decided not to include academic Gloria Anzaldúa or poet Gabriela Minstral because I wanted to focus on novels or memoirs. I do plan to profile them on their birthdays, as I did for Cisneros.

Besides reading these books, I also hope to attend more plays for my “At the Theater” feature (which I kicked off last month with 26 Miles) and cover lectures by authors (I have tickets to a Luis Alberto Urrea talk in January). Of course, with all resolutions, things don’t always they turn out as planned, so all items are subject to change. I’ve also decided to scale back on my postings from three times a week to twice a week to make things a little easier on myself (and get to work on my own novel). I’m also in the midst of moving the headquarters of The Hispanic Reader, so I’m giving myself a break for a couple of weeks. See you in 2012!

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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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