Tag Archives: Veronica Chambers

Happy Independence Day, Panama!

Panama declared its independence from Colombia on Nov. 3. The Central American country is best known for the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Here’s a look at its writers:

Carlos_Russell• The blog Life and Literature in the Caribbean Diaspora, put together by a 2012 English class at Vanderbilt University, examines the works of literature from its residents, including poet Carlos Russell, left, a former United Nations ambassador. The blog A Year of Reading the World reviewed the Juan David Morgan novel The Golden Horse (El Caballo de Oro), which has not yet been translated into English.

VeronicaChambersVeronica Chambers, right, who is of Panamanian and Costa Rican-Jamaican descent, has drawn upon her heritage for the Marisol and Magdalena series about two Latina tweenagers, as well as her 1997 memoir Mama’s Girl and the 2005 novel Miss Black America. She also has written the Amigas series and the children’s book Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, as well as several non-fiction books.

CristinaHenriquezCristina Henriquez, left, who is half-Panamanian, is the author of The World in Half and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which both take place in Panama. Her next novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, about a Panamanian boy who falls in love with his Mexican next door neighbor, will come out in June 2014.

Sources: A Year of Reading the World, Voices From Our America, Life and Literature in the Caribbean Diaspora

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The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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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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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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All about the children

As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I read the Little House on the Prairie, Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume books, and hung out with Strawberry Shortcake. You can’t get any whiter than Laura Ingalls Wilder and Strawberry Shortcake.

Fortunately, the book and toy industry discovered Latinos after I grew up. Nowadays, Hispanic children have Dora and Diego. Girls can play with a ridiculously overpriced American Girl doll that looks like them. Half-Puerto Rican Carmen Lowell is a character in the popular The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares.

Unlike teenagers, children seem to have more options when it comes to books. Here’s a list of some great resources:

• The great children’s writer Pat Mora features a list of Hispanic children’s writers on her website, in addition to her own books. She created El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children’s Day/Book Day Dia, a day devoted to Hispanic children’s books. The event, which takes place at the end of April, celebrated its 15th anniversary this year.

• The prolific Gary Soto has at least a dozen children’s and young adult books listed on his website.

Pam Munoz Ryan have written books for younger students, including Esperanza Rising.

• For tweenagers, Veronica Chambers has written the Marisol and Magdelena books about two Panamanian best friends.

• Legendary Latina author Julia Alvarez has gotten into the children’s book business with her Tia Lola books, about a Dominican woman who takes care of her extended family, according to this AARP VIVA article.

• The Association for Library Service for Children rewards the Pura Belpré Award to a “Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

• Here are some good lists of children’s books from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the website Latino Stories, and Scholastic.

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