Category Archives: Nation profiles

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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Happy Independence Day, Argentina!

Argentina declared its independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Pope Francis and soccer player Lionel Messi call the South American country home. The country boasts a romantic image (the tango) and a tumultuous history (the Dirty War, when thousands of young Argentines disappeared in the 1970s) that makes it perfect fodder for its writers. (Face palm. I somehow forgot about Julio Cortázar when I first wrote this. Here’s his profile.)

Jorge_Luis_BorgesJorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) has become one of the most beloved writers of all time thanks to his short stories, which are collected in the books The Aleph and Ficciones. He won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish-language writers. Another Cervantes winner, Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999), wrote the science fiction novel, The Invention of Moral, which was called “perfect” by Borges, a frequent collaborator.

Ernesto_Sabato_circa_1972• Other Cervantes honorees include Ernesto Sábato (1911-2011), left, who tackled psychological issues in books such as The Tunnel, and poet Juan Gelman, whose relatives who went missing during the Dirty War, inspiring  his political activism. The Dirty War is the focus of Carolina DeRobertis’ novel Perla.

puigManuel Puig (1932-1990) wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together. The novel became a play, a popular Oscar-winning 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Mempo Giardinelli• Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, one of Latin America’s most prestigious literary awards, are Abel Posse for Los perros del paraíso; Mempo Giardinelli, left, for Santo oficio de la memoria; and Ricardo Piglia, for Blanco nocturno.

JuliaAmante• Other writers with Argentine roots include Julia Amante, right, author of Say You’ll Be Mine; Annamaria Alfari, whose latest novel, Blood Tango, features Argentina’s most famous political couple, Juan and Eva Peron; quirky novelist César Aira; and Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize winner author of Enrique’s Journey.

Sources: Britannica.com, Wikipedia. Hat tip for Joy Castro for the Borges quote on Casares.

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Happy Independence Day, Venezuela!

The country of Venezuela declared its independence from Spain on July 5, 1811. Political leader Simón Bolívar, baseball player Miguel Cabrera and actor Wilmer Valderrama claim heritage to this South American country. Here’s a look at its most prominent writers:

Rómulo_GallegosRómulo Gallegos (1884-1969), right, was not only a novelist, but the president of Venezuela. His best known novel, Doña Bárbara, depicts a woman who uses her powers of seduction to control her ranch. One of Latin America’s most prestigious literature awards, the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, is named after him.

• One of those prize winners was Arturo Uslar Pietri (1906-2001), who used his writings to critique the government. He won the award for his book La visita en el tiempo.  

• Book critic Marcela Valdes wrote this terrific article for NPR about Venezuela’s literary history, featuring a list of 10 great Venezuelan novelists.

Sources: NPR, Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia

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Happy Independence Day, United States of America!

On July 4, 1776, the United States of America declared themselves free from Great Britain. Thanks to its diverse population, the United States is one of the world’s great superpowers. And, by 2050, some scholars project it will boast the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. Here’s a look, by region, at some of America’s great Latino writers.

LuisValdezCalifornia: Luiz Valdez, right, the father of Latino theater and playwright of “Zoot Suit,” began presenting plays during the Delano farmworkers strike. The plight of farmworkers in California have been the subject of books by Helena María Viramontes and Pam Muñoz Ryan. Other Californians include Gustavo Arellano, Margarita Engle, Alex Espinoza, Reyna Grande, Gilbert Hernandez, Lorraine López, Luis J. Rodriguez, Michele Serros, Gary Soto, Héctor Tobar and Victor Villaseñor.

Rudulfo AnayaNew Mexico: Native son Rudolfo Anaya, left, considered the father of Chicano literature, has set his novels, including his beloved Bless Me Ultima and Sonny Baca mysteries, in this state. The state also served as the setting for novels by Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez and Alisa Valdes.

esmeralda_santiago_163x179_1Puerto Rico: The Caribbean island joined the United States in 1898. Esmeralda Santiago, right, wrote about her personal history in When I Was Puerto Rican and the island’s history in the novel Conquistadora. Other authors of Puerto Rican heritage include Lyn DiIorio, Sarah McCoy, Piri Thomas, Justin Torres and Willliam Carlos Williams.

Rolando HinojosaTexas: Life on the border has served as fodder for books by Rolando Hinojosa,  left, of the Rio Grande Valley, and Sergio Troncoso of El Paso. Sandra Cisneros, originally from Chicago, set her books Woman Hollering Creek and Have You Seen Marie? in this state. Other Tejanos include Dagoberto Gilb, Manuel Gonzales, Diana López and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

JunotDiazThe country’s most prestigious literary award, the Pulitzer Prize, has been given to Cuban-American Oscar Hijuelos and Dominican-American Junot Díaz, right, in the fiction category; Cuban-American Nilo Cruz and Quiara Alegría Hudes, who is of Puerto Rican descent, in drama; and numerous journalists. Eduardo Lalo won the 2013 International Rómulo Gallegos Prize for Fiction, becoming the first American to win one of Latin America’s most prestigious literary awards. The Pura Belpré Award, given by the American Library Association, honors books written for young readers.

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Happy Independence Day, Cuba!

Cuba declared its independence from Spain on May 20, 1902. The Caribbean country has had a turbulent history – making it a rich topic for its writers.

nicolasguillenNicolás Guillén (1902-1989), once the national poet of Cuba, is known for his poems about social justice that he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. The country’s winners of the  Miguel de Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, are playwright Alejo Carpentier, poet Dulce María Loynaz and novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

OscarHijuelosOscar Hijuelos, who was born in New York City to Cuban parents, became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Loveabout two Cuban brothers who pursue their musical dreams in New York City. Hijuelos also wrote the novels Our House in the Last World and Mr. Ives’ Christmas and the memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.

CristinaGarcia Two writers who were born in Havana and immigrated to the United States have used Cuba as a setting for their novels. Cristina García, left, showed one family’s life in Dreaming in Cuban and describes the effects of dictator Fidel Castro’s regime in the just released  King of Cuba. The Castro government plays a key role in the characters’ lives of Elizabeth Huergo’s The Death of Fidel Pérez.

Margarita_Engle.2California-raised children’s writer Margarita Engle draws on Cuba’s history for her free verse books, including The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda; The Surrender Tree, about a nurse who helps those while war rages in Cuba in 1896; and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

Carlos EireCarlos Eire was airlifted from Havana during Operation Pedro Pan, a CIA operation in which thousands of Cuban children were taken to the United States in the early 1960s – an experience he wrote about in Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. His follow-up book was Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.

Other writers with Cuban roots include Meg Medina, Caridad Piñeiro and Alisa Valdes.

 

 

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