Category Archives: Poetry

Let’s play Lotería!: Books about the classic Mexican game

The game of Lotería is hot this year. The game is similar to American bingo, but uses images — such as el gallo and la dama —  instead of numbers and letters. This year, Mario Alberto Zambrano won acclaim with his book Lotería, earning the cover of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2013. Then the Texas-based fast food chain Taco Cabana co-opted it for a promotion, and Texas artist Karina Garza used the cards as inspiration for a political poster for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. But the game always has been a classic in Mexican households — and a popular subject for Latino writers. Here are some books featuring the game:

PlayingLoteria• In the 2005 children’s book Playing Lotería/El Juego De La Lotería by René Colato Laínez, a young boy learns to speak Spanish and grows closer to his abuela when he visits her and starts learning the riddles in the lotería cards.

LoteriaCardsandFortunePoems• Poet Juan Felipe Herrera created poems for each card and artist Artemio Rodriguez created contemporary lithographs as illustrations for the 2001 book Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives.

Loteria by Stavans, Villegas• The 2004 gift book ¡Loteria! features an essay about the culture of the game by noted Mexican-American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrations by Teresa Villegas. Villegas’s website has a great section about the game, including its history.

LoteriaRubenMendozaCarambaNineMarieMartinezLotería and Other Stories by Rubén Mendoza is a 1998 collection of short stories structured around the game. In the 2005 novel ¡Caramba¡ by Nina Marie Martinez, the card game is used to illustrate two women’s adventures in getting a deceased father’s body back from Mexico.

Loteria• Released this year, Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano, shows how a teenager communicates about the abuse in her family through the game. Each chapter begins with a gorgeous, full color illustration, done by Jarrod Taylor, that differ from the traditional lotería game, but carry the same spirit.



Filed under Children's Books, Culture, Features, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Nation profiles, Poetry

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.



Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Nation profiles, Poetry

Happy Independence Day, Paraguay!

On May 14, 1811, Paraguay declared its independence from Spain. The South American country’s turbulent history has made it a great topic for its writers.

AugustoRoaBastosAugusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005) won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, for his body of work about life in his country. I, the Supreme depicts the life of dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, while Son of Man covers the Chaco War. Bastos lived in exile from Paraguay for most of life. Read more about him in The Culture Trip and BBC News.

pla_josefina• Poet Josefina Pla (1903-1999) was born and raised in Spain, but she lived in Paraguay for much of her adult life. Another poet, Hérib Campos Cervera (1905-1953), became the leader of the “Generacion del 40” literary movement along with Bastos, Pla and others. The Spanish-language website Los Poetas features the works of Pla and Cervera.

The_News_from_Paraguay_by_Lily_Tuck_t250• And check out American Lily Tuck’s novel The News from Paraguay, which shows the relationship between dictator Francisco Solano López and his Irish mistress in the 18oos. The book won the National Book Award in 2004. Tuck received such a great response from the country that she established the PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature to honor the country’s writers.

Sources: CIA Factbook, Encyclopedia Britannica,, The Culture Trip, BBC News, Wikipedia,, National Book Foundation,

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Nation profiles, Poetry

In the news: New releases by Arana, Rodriguez, García

May brings out plenty of books, ranging from historical biographies and fiction to new novels from Linda Rodriguez and Cristina García.

Bolivar-1003Already out: Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana, author of American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, explores the life of one of South America’s most iconic figures. Arana talked about the book to NPR and The Huffington Post.

• In the novel The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell, Carlos Rojas imagines the Spanish poet in hell.

AutobiographyofmyHungersMay 6: Rigoberto González explores his life in a series of essays in Autobiography of My Hungers.

May 7: Pura Belpré Award-winning author Duncan Tonatiuh uses immigration as an allegory for his children’s picture book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. The book was featured in US News and World Report.

every+broken+trust• Linda Rodriguez is back with detective Skeet Bannion, who is solving a series of murders and her own personal problems in Every Broken Trust.

• In Amy Tintera’s young adult novel Reboot, Texas teenagers are forced to be slaves. Here’s the trailer, which was posted on Entertainment Weekly, and an interview in Latina magazine.

IAmVenusMay 16: Spanish painter Diego Velázquez becomes intrigued with one of his subjects in Barbara Mujica‘s novel I Am Venus.

May 21: In the Cristina García novel King of Cuba, a Cuban exile living in Florida is determined to get rid of a Fidel Castro-like figure.

MidnightinMexicoMay 30: Journalist Alfredo Corchado describes life in his native country in Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness.

June 4: Three pre-teens go back to the time of the Mayans in the Matt de la Pena book Infinity Ring: Curse of the Ancients, part of the Infinity Ring series.


The nominees for the 2013 International Latino Book Awards have been announced. Nominated authors include Joy Castro, Leila Cobo, Reyna Grande, Linda Rodriguez and Gwendolyn Zepeda, as well as the anthology Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhood and Fierce Friendships.

Junot Díazs This Is How You Lose Her is up for the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. The winner will be announced in June.


• The Spanish language LeaLA book fair will take place May 17-20, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Other features:

The remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda are being examined to see if he was poisoned, according to The Daily Beast.

Rosemary Catacalos has been named the first Latina Texas State Poet Laureate, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Gwendolyn Zepeda was named the city of Houston’s first poet laureate.

Isabel Allende, author of the newly released Maya’s Notebook, shared her reading habits with The New York Times and the five books that most influenced her to The Daily Beast.

Alex Espinoza, author of The Five Acts of Diego León, talked to NPR about how Tomas Rivera’s book … And The Earth Did Not Devour Him influenced him. He also discussed his book to the Los Angeles Times.

• Also in the Times, Dagoberto Gilb talked to Héctor Tobar about his literary magazine, Huizache, and the Latino Lit scene.

Manuel Ramos discussed his novel, Desperado: A Mile High Noir, to the Denver newspaper Westword.

Alisa Valdes is releasing a chapter a day of her book Puta.

• Eight Latino poets shared their favorite poems to NBC Latino.

• NPR covered the popularity of Venezuelan novels and visited the Ciudad Juarez club that inspired Benjamin Alire Saenz’s award-winning book, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club.

The New Yorker published a short story by the late Roberto Bolaño.

• Here’s a few interesting podcasts: Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman at a Radio Ambulante podcast in February and a few events from the Lorca in New York festivities.

• California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera gave his playlist to website on NPR.

• Got an ereader? Now you can download Sandra Cisneros’ books on there, according to Publishers Weekly.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2013 Books, Awards, Children's Books, Fiction, News, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Young Adult Books

Happy birthday, Gary Soto!

gary_sotoGary 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,, Poetry Foundation

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Profiles, Fiction, Poetry, Young Adult Books

Classic book review: Michele Serros’ “Chicana Falsa”

chicana-falsaMichele Serros can say a lot in just a few words.

In the 88 pages of her 1993 book of poems and stories Chicana Falsa, she writes about cultural identity, adolescent angst and the quirks of human relationships. In one poem, she shows the consequences of gang violence in just 37 words.

Her poetry is easy to read and, even better for a challenging genre, fun to read. Her poems feature great characters that you would know in real life – the lone Chicana in the gym who “the whole time/I am thinking of/that double-cheese/Chimichanga Supreme/I’m gonna pick up/On the way home”; a worker who gets what she want, including larger cubicle space and extended lunches; and a Chicana who’s yearns to speak Spanish so “I’ll be a perfected ‘r’ rolling/tilde-using Spanish speaker/A true Mexican!”

But her stories are universal. Serros understands the neurotic tendencies of humans very well. In one story, the narrator sticks with some friends just for the free stuff she gets from them. Another story features a family that holds grudges against each other over petty incidents.

The book begins and ends with stories about Serros’ mother, who encouraged her to be a writer – even buying her a desk. Serros grew up wanting to be an author, and she finally starting writing after her mother’s death at an early age. “The purpose? To make someone happy, inspired.” Serros succeeded because reading this book will make readers feel that way.

Michele SerrosMore about Michele Serros:

A California native, Serros has written the books How to Be a Chicana Role Model, Honey Blonde Chica and ¡Scandalosa! A Honey Blonde Chica Novel, as well as for The George Lopez Show TV show and other publications.

Source: I won this book in a giveaway on Serros’ Facebook page for my random knowledge of Santa Barbara, Calif. Thanks, Michele!

Note: This book is part of my series of books by Latina writers that I began last year. Yes, I know I’m way behind. Next up: Alisa Valdes’ The Dirty Girls Social Club.


Filed under Book Reviews, Classic Books, Fiction, Poetry

Meet novelist and poet Linda Rodriguez, author of “Every Last Secret”

Linda Rodriguez is the author of the recently released mystery novel Every Last Secret, but she’s also one of the most passionate advocates for Latino literature and other writers of color. Rodriguez’s blog features “Books of Interest by Writers of Color” and interviews with writers such as Joy Castro. She is also vice president of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City.

Every Last Secret won St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and was touted by Barnes & Noble as a mystery must-read for April. She also writes poetry and she recently edited Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriqueña Poets Look at Their American Lives (Scapegoat Press). She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Tell me about your latest book, Every Last Secret.

A: Half-Cherokee Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion thought she was leaving her troubles behind when she fled the stress of being the highest ranking woman on the Kansas City Police Department, a jealous cop ex-husband who didn’t want to let go, and a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father. Moving to a small town to be chief of the campus police force, she builds a life outside of police work. She might even begin a new relationship with the amiable Brewster police chief.

All of this is threatened when the student editor of the college newspaper is found murdered on campus. Skeet must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. In the midst of her investigation, Skeet takes up responsibility for a vulnerable teenager as her ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Time is running out, and college administrators demand she conceal all college involvement in the murder, but Skeet will not stop until she’s unraveled every last secret.

Every Last Secret is the first in a series with Skeet Bannion as the protagonist. Skeet, like most of us, has some internal issues she has to learn to deal with. Each book is a complete mystery novel in itself, but I see the entire series as a kind of meta-novel following Skeet’s growth as a person. I like Julia Spencer-Fleming’s categorization of “traditional mystery-thriller” as a description. Every Last Secret is, indeed, a traditional mystery set in a small town, but the small town is right outside a big, dangerous city, and there’s a darker edge to this character, this book, and the series as a whole.

Q: What inspired you to go into writing?

Writing saved my life. I had a troubled childhood with parental involvement in violence and substance abuse. I’ve seen the sad ends of many who came from similar backgrounds. Reading books and writing poetry and journals made a difference for me, I’m sure. I come from several long lines of storytellers. The oral tradition was rich in my family, though they were poor in so much else. Writing was a door that opened for me at a young age.

I write crime fiction because it’s one genre of literature that is looking at the problems in our society—where they come from and what they do to us. As a child, I lived at close quarters with evil. I know too well that the possibility for it is inherent in each of us. I’m interested in exploring why some people fall into it and others in the same circumstance don’t and what this society does to and for people.

Now that the second Skeet Bannion book is in production, I’m working on a new series as well. This one will look at the Chicano community in Kansas City. The Skeet books are about being a mixed-blood Indian living a life surrounded by Anglo culture and the difficulties of remaining Indian under those circumstances, circumstances that many live under in American cities far from the reservations and their people. The new series will look at a vibrant Midwestern Chicano community that few people elsewhere even realize exists. Its protagonists are living in the heart of their community, and although at times that frustrates them, they draw real strength from it, even as they are faced with questions of assimilation and success in the Anglo world.

Q: Your blog encourages readers to read writers of color. What can we do to encourage more people to read Latino literature?

The first thing we can do is to bring the names and work of more Latino writers to the public. I started the series, “Books of Interest by Writers of Color,” because as a member of the Latino Writers Collective, after our readings I was often asked by parents, teachers, and librarians how to find out about Latino writers for their kids and their own reading. These were people of good will, often Latino themselves, but they couldn’t find much beyond the big names like Sandra Cisneros and Junot Díaz.

Latino writers are not published as much and are not reviewed as much as Anglo writers. This is changing, but very slowly. We actually have a large number of fine Latino writers, but if they’re published, it will usually be by one of a handful of small presses or university presses. These presses deserve all our gratitude and support. But they usually don’t have the budgets or staff to do much in the way of promotion. So a relatively few number of people actually hear about these books when they’re published. Trying to make Latino literature more visible are a handful of projects like Letras Latinas and The Latino Poetry Review run by Francisco Aragón out of the University of Notre Dame and run by Jose B. Gonzalez—and of course, The Hispanic Reader. Also, we are fortunate to have the gifted writer and critic Rigoberto Gonzalez, who reviews many Latino authors and who campaigns for more Latino writers to review the books of others.

One thing readers can do is to tell others about good Latino writers when they find them. They can also go on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads websites and write short reviews of the books by Latino authors. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been reviewed in all the major review publications and over twenty newspapers across the country, but my publishers tell me that those reviews don’t sell as many books as a simple review on Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads. A third thing readers can do is to ask their library systems to order the books of Latino authors—and then check them out and get others to check them out. Also, support those small and university presses that have supported our writers, so they can continue to bring to us the best new Latino writers.


Filed under 2012 Books, Author Q&A, Fiction, Poetry

Happy birthday, Pablo Neruda!

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 website.

1 Comment

Filed under Author Profiles, Children's Books, Poetry

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.


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