Category Archives: Non-Fiction

In the news: New books by Cisneros; book festivals; and tons of links about Junot Díaz

(Note: This post was updated to include the Junot Díaz award from the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s October, and that means news books, book festival season and Dias de los Muertos. Find out more below:

Already out: Sesame Street actress Sonia Manzano’s young adult novel The Revolution of Everlyn Serrano depicts a Puerto Rican teen growing up in Spanish Harlem in the turbulent 1960s. Manzano talked to the TBD website about the book.

• Oct. 1: Guadalupe García McCall, author of the Pura Belpre winning book Under the Mesquite, releases Summer of the Mariposas, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey through the eyes of five sisters.

Oct. 2: Sandra Cisneros writes about her missing cat in the illustrated book, Have You Seen Marie?

Oct. 9: In the young adult novel A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Díaz Gonzalez, a 12-year-old girl is caught up in spying during the Spanish Civil War.

Oct. 16: Benjamin Alire Saenz releases a collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. In The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Cesar Aira, a doctor discovers he has superhuman powers.

Junot Díaz alert:

Junot Díaz was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Award” on Oct. 1. The honor is given by the MacArthur Foundation to outstanding individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Need a Junot Díaz fix? Lots of people do since his collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, was released last month. Nearly a thousand fans crammed into a New York City Barnes and Noble, causing a near riot, according to the ColorLines website. He chatted with The New York Times Magazine’s recent “Inspiration” issue about what has influenced his writing, and a nice slideshow is included. He talked about the main character’s game to NPR; his Dominican background to NBC Latino; genre fiction to Capital New York; and the perceived sexism in his book to The Atlantic. He also went bar-hopping with Grantland. But wait, here’s more articles from Latina magazine, the NPR radio show Latino USA, Huffington Post, the Good Reads website and CNN. Here’s some podcasts from The New York Timesand the Brooklyn Vol. 1 website, where Díaz discusses his passion for comic books. He talked about his love for the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame) to the NPR radio program Latino USA. Still can’t get enough of Díaz? Check out his Facebook feed or the new fan website, Junot Díaz Daily.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 1-6: The San Diego City College Int’l Book Fair will include Reyna Grande (left), Gustavo Arellano, Rudy Acuña, Matt de la Peña and Herbert Sigüenza.

Oct. 13 – The Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will feature Victor Villaseñor and Luis J. Rodriguez.

Oct. 27: The Boston Book Festival will feature Junot Díaz and Justin Torres, right.

Oct. 27-28: The Texas Book Festival in Austin will feature Gustavo Arellano, Nora de Hoyos Comstock, Junot Díaz, Reyna Grande, Diana López, Domingo Martinez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, René Saldaña Jr., Esmeralda Santiago, Ilan Stavans, Duncan Tonatiuh, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Ray Villareal and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Literary magazines:

Aztlan Libre Press has released the book Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology of Poetry, which was influenced by Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Caracol and Nahualliandoing.

• Here’s an interesting article from Ploughshares literary magazine from Jennifer De Leon (no relation) about whether to italicize foreign phrases in literary works, with a mention of Junot Díaz (him again!).

Events:

• Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include  Sonia Manzano, Lyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

• The Festival de la Palabra, which includes discussions and readings from from Rosa Beltrán, Ángel Antonio Ruiz Laboy and Charlie Vásquez, takes place Oct. 9-11 in New York City.

Other news:

• The Southern California public radio station KPCC covered a reading of Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Chicano Literature, written in response to the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

• Poet Lupe Mendez was named one of the Houston Press’s top 100 creative people.

Héctor Tobar’s 2011 novel The Barbarian Nurseries may be adapted into a movie, according to ComingSoon.net.

• The film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima premiered in El Paso, according to the El Paso Times.

• A new film based on Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America is being released.

Justin Torres, author of 2011’s We the Animals, was named to the National Book Founationa’s 5 under 35 list of emerging authors.

Also this month:

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, right, on Oct. 19.

• The Nobel Prizes will be announced this month, and Book Riot has its predictions. (It’s not likely a Latino or an American will win this year.) Here’s a look at Latinos who’ve won the award.

• Looking for some books for Dias de los Muertos? Here’s The Hispanic Reader’s round-up from last year.

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Filed under 2012 Books, Events, Fiction, Movies, News, Non-Fiction, Young Adult Books

Book review: Carlos Andrés Gómez’s “Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood”

Carlos Andrés Gómez wants men to stop acting like Superman.

In his memoir, Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood (Gotham), the spoken word poet uses his own personal experiences to show how men should be open to expressing their personal emotions, including crying and asking for help and forgiveness. As he writes:

“I was taught to wipe my tears and steady my expression as a kid. Don’t talk about what’s rumbling inside of your chest. Stay stoic and quiet. It’s part of the unspoken male code. ‘Toughen up, son,’ ‘suck it up,’ ‘man up’ – this is how we learn to process emotion. This is the cause of our emotional illiteracy. No wonder so many men bury their wounds and insecurities in alcohol and drugs and violence.”

Gómez has an interesting background. His father was from Colombia and worked for the United Nations, moving his family around the world when Gómez was young. His mother is a “traditional Southern WASPy American” with a doctorate in linguistics. His parents divorced when he was young, but Gómez earned good grades and served in leadership positions in the high schools he attended on the East Coast. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked as a social worker and teacher.

Even more interesting is the chapter called “Sex: F—king, Making Love and F—king Up.” Earlier in the book, Gómez says he’s only slept with six women in his life. But then he describes various encounters of “hooking up” in vivid detail – how Clinton-esque of him. The chapter comes across as self-serving and hypocritical – although he later concedes that he was using “the girls.”

But the book provides some interesting insights and it becomes stronger in the end, thanks to Gómez’s well-written, easy-to-read prose. Take this passage in which Gómez describes how he healed his relationship with his father:

“When I started studying acting at twenty-three it was turning point, and I realized how impersonal all of my poems had been. Why was I so passionate and loud in my delivery of all of them? … And one day it clicked: all of those poems were about my father. I had been getting up on stage for years yelling at my father. These poems had been a vehicle to heal from the hurt I felt from our relationship. From the broken promises and the move and changing schools and the family being split apart, I was screaming with such intensity, making my throat go hoarse, because I wanted to acknowledged. More than anything else, I just wanted to be heard.”

I also enjoyed his poetry – which is included in the beginning of each chapter – and I wished the book included more of his work.

Man Up is a great book for young men to find themselves – and for women to understand a little bit about men.

More about Carlos Andrés Gómez:

Gómez has performed his spoken word poetry at more than 200 colleges around the world. He appeared in the 2006 movie Inside Man and in Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. Check out his performances here.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy Birthday, Gloria Anzaldúa!

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.

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Book review: Joy Castro’s “Hell or High Water” and “Island of Bones”

Class and cultural identity are two topics that don’t get as much attention as much as they should, but Joy Castro tackles the issues in her suspense novel Hell or High Water and a book of essays, Island of Bones.

Hell or High Water (St. Martin’s Press) begins with an intriguing premise. A young woman is kidnapped from a restaurant in broad daylight. The book then turns to Nola Céspedes, a Cuban-American newspaper reporter who’s assigned to investigate sexual predators in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

The book only devotes a few passages to the kidnapping that hooks the reader. Instead, it delves into the Nola’s long interviews for her article and her personal struggles. Nola is supposed to come off as ambitious and sarcastic, but I found her snobby and pretentious, especially when she talked about her job.

“I’ve got no intention of sticking around,” she says. “The plan is to write a few knockout features, get noticed, pack my bags and then take my clips to some real newspaper in some real city.”

Well, aren’t you special? In 2008, the year the story (somewhat randomly) takes place, and even today, she would have been lucky to have any job in newspapers.

I also wanted the book to be more about the potential killer on the loose than on Nola. And as a former newspaper reporter, I found the newsroom scenes could have been so much more – which may by why I’m more critical of this book than if Nola had been a police detective or a private investigator.

Fortunately, Castro writes clearly, so the book was an easy read. And Castro is terrific at bringing up class issues that many other writers ignore. In one scene, she talks to two lower-income women about sexual predator laws.

“Neither of the women has heard of Megan’s Law. Neither knows she can access a sex-offender registry online. Neither one owns a computer.”

At the end of the book, I understood more about the decisions that Nola makes. But I wished I could have liked her more.

I liked Island of Bones (University of Nebraska Press) much better. The collection of essays covers Castro’s personal life, including a horribly abusive childhood, and her career working as the rare Latina in academia in the Midwest.

The title essay examines the stereotypes people have about Latinos, such as their faith and looks. Another great essay, “Fitting,” discusses the subtle barbs of female friendships and the importance of a good spouse.

Like her novel, Castro excels when she discusses class issues. Coming from a poor background, she is amazed at the food spreads in the faculty meetings at the college at she works.

In one of the best essays, “On Becoming Educated,” she points out how academia doesn’t reach out to everyday Latinas.

“I’m a first-generation college student, here by fluke on fellowship, and the theorists’ English seems foreign to me, filled with jargon and abstractions at which I can only guess. They say nothing about wife-beating or rape or unequal wages or child molesting, which is the charge that finally got my stepfather sent to prison. They say nothing about being a single mother on ten thousand dollars a year, which is my own situation. The feminist writers respond to male theorists – Lacan, Derrida – whose work I haven’t read. I can’t parse their sentences or recognize their allusions, and I don’t know what they mean or how they’re helpful to the strippers and dropouts and waitresses I know, the women I care abut the most, to my aunt Lettie who worked the register at Winn-Dixie and my aunt Linda who cleaned houses.”

Fortunately, in Castro, women like Lettie and Linda have someone that’s writing about them.

More about Joy Castro:

Joy Castro’s first book was the 2005 memoir The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses. She is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Source: I checked Hell or High Water out of the library. I received a review copy of Island of Bones from the publisher.

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Book review: Las Comadres Para Las Americas’ “Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships”

Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships (Atria) is the perfect gift to give to your best friend.

The book of essays was put together by the non-profit association Las Comadres Para Las Americas and edited by Adriana V. Lopez. In a dozen essays, 11 prominent Latinas – plus Luis Alberto Urrea – talk about the power of female friendship. Some of the friends make extraordinary gestures. Carolina de Robertis, author of Perla, edits a deceased friend’s book. A teacher offers shelter to Reyna Grande, in an excerpt from her memoir The Distance Between Us, after she faces a bad family situation. Lorraine López receives advice from writer Judith Ortiz Cofer to pursue her literary career – leading to such books as The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

But two of the best essays are those that acknowledge that a best friend can often be your worst enemy. In “Anarchy Chicks,” Michelle Herrera Mulligan describes how adolescent friends go weeks without talking to each other, then become best friends again with a single phone call. In “The Miranda Manual,” Sofia Quintero nails all the subtle gestures and actions that can destroy a relationship:

“There were no betrayals or putdowns, no angry emails or shouting matches, breaches of confidences or rehashing of past misdeeds. Neither of us committed a gross act of deliberate hurt against the other. Rather, we engaged in tiny yet relentless acts of thoughtless toward each other. The little digs, constant interruptions and the passive listening typical of mere acquaintances that’s easy to ignore. When the person is usually mindful and considerate best friend, it hurts like hell.”

Most of the essays are excellent. Dr. Ana Nogales’ essay is too general to make an emotional impact, but she describes the health benefits to friendships. But Teresa Rodríguez sums up the power of friendship in her essay about activist Esther Chávez Cano:

You see, a comadre is not necessarily a close friend, but a person whose example is etched in your heart. The one you’d like to emulate, that friend who gave so much of herself and asked for nothing in return.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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Book review: Reyna Grande’s “The Distance Between Us”

Reyna Grande’s memoir The Distance Between Us (Atria) should come with a box of tissues.

Grande grew up in the 1970s in Iguala, Mexico, a small town whose mountain has a mysterious force on its other side that residents call El Otro Lado – the United States.

Grande’s parents left Reyna and her two older siblings behind with their grandparents so they could work at better paying jobs and build a new home in Iguala. But as Grande describes it, the separation took a toll on the family as the children live in squalor.

“… the banks lined with trash and debris floating in the water, the crumbling adobe houses, the shacks made of sticks, the children with worm-pregnant bellies running around with bare feet, the piles of drying horse dung littering the dirt road, the flea-bitten stray dogs lying under the shade of trees, flies hovering above them. But what I saw back then I saw through the eyes of a child – a child who had never been anywhere, a child who was still innocent enough to see past the things later in life she could not. What I saw the were the velvety mountains around us, the clear blue sky, the beautiful jacaranda trees covered in purple flowers, bougainvilleas crawling up fences, their dried magenta petals whirling in the wind. … I continued to think that there was beauty everywhere around us. … But when … I saw mothers and fathers strolling about holding hands with their children, I realized that it didn’t matter what I thought of Iguala. Without my parents here, it was a place of broken beauty.”

At age 10, Grande and her siblings crossed the border illegally and moved to Los Angeles to be with her parents. But life is just as tough there as her mother ignores her and father becomes abusive toward her and her siblings.

But her father also was her best motivator, emphasizing the importance of a good education. Grande earned good grades and became a top musician in her school’s marching band. Federal legislation in 1986 enabled her to become a legal citizen.

A teacher in junior college encouraged her to write – leading Grande to write this incredible book. Told in simple, easy to read – yet descriptive – prose, my heart broke as I read about all that Grande suffered through. The Distance Between Us is an inspirational book for young Latinos or anyone who has faced adversity. Just keep those tissues handy.

More about Reyna Grande:

Reyna Grande is the author of the novels Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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When you’re fifteen …: A look at quinceañeras in literature

The recently released Quince Clash by Malín Alegría is the latest book in the Border Town series for young adults, and it’s latest book that has featured quinceañeras – the elaborate celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday – as a major plot point. Here’s a look at some other books that cover the unique Hispanic tradition.

Alegría knows quinceañeras well. In her 2007 novel, Estrella’s Quinceañera, the title character is almost embarrassed to have the celebration, especially since she is  attending an elite private school. According to this NPR story, the book is considered a classic among Latino youth and Alegría shows up at book readings in a ruffled quinceañera dress and tiara.

Quinceañera Means Fifteen, by Veronica Chambers, is part of a series featuring Marisol and Magdalena, two Panamanian best friends who live in Brooklyn. In this 2001 book, Marisol and Magdalena find their friendship strained as they plan their parties. The celebration is also featured in Chambers’ Amigas series – in Fifteen Candles and Lights Cameras Quince.

Belinda Acosta provides an adult perspective in her Quinceanera Club series. The main characters in 2009’s Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and 2010’s Sisters Strangers and Starting Over are organizing quinceañeras for reluctant teenagers. Acosta cited Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories, a book of essays edited by Adriana V. Lopez, as a great resource.

For a non-fiction take on the big event, try Julia Alvarez’s 2007 Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. She visited several quinceañeras as research for the book, which covers the tradition’s history and its financial costs. Ilan Stavans examines the religious, gender and class aspects in the 2010 anthology of essays he edited, Quinceañera (The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization).

Other books about quinceañeras include (with a hat tip to Louisville Free Public Library): the Pura Belpré Award-winning The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales; Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin; and Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. And check out Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

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Filed under Culture, Features, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Young Adult Books

A look at LGBT Latino writers

June is Gay Pride Month. Here’s a look at some Latino writers who have written about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered experience:

• Poet Francisco X. Alarcón, right, is best known for his Pura Belpré Honor Award-winning book Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera, but he has written about the gay experience in his numerous poems and is working on an anthology of gay Latino poetry.

Jeanne Córdova, left, was on the forefront of the gay rights and women’s movement in the 1970s. Her most recent book, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love & Revolution, was partly written in Mexico. The book recently won the Lesbian Memoir/Biography prize from the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

• The late Manuel Puig, right, 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 – which became a play, a popular 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez, left, wrote the 2011 book Chulito, about a young gay man growing up in the Bronx, and co-edited the book From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction with Charlie Vázquez. Vásquez is active in promoting gay Latino poetry, and has created poetry readings for gay Latino writers in the East Village in New York City.

Alex Sanchez, right, has won numerous awards for his young adult novels about being gay. His books include Rainbow Boys and Boyfriends with Girlfriends. His website offers resources and other book selections for LGBT teens.

Anybody I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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Filed under Features, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Young Adult Books

In the News: New books from Alegría, Sheen and Estevez, Arte Público

It’s May! It’s time to celebrate one of the Latino community’s favorite holidays – Cinco de Mayo – and read some good books. Here’s what’s coming up on the bookshelves:

May 1: Border Town: Crossing the Line by Malín Alegría, author of the popular Estrella’s Quinceañera, focuses on two teenage girls who live in fictional Dos Rios, Texas. The novel is the first in a Sweet Valley High-like series, with more books, such as Quince Clash and Falling Too Fast coming out later this year.

May 8: Father-and-son actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez will release a joint memoir, Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son with Hope Edelman. The book focuses on their faith and includes their thoughts on the making the 2011 movie The Way, about a man’s pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

• May 31: Arte Público has several bilingual children’s books coming out, including A Day Without Sugar by Diane Deanda, Sofía and the Purple Dress by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Alicia’s Fruity Drinks by Lupe Ruiz-Flores.

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