Monday, January 30, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Marta Acosta’s debut novel is Happy Hour at Casa Dracula forthcoming this summer from Simon & Schuster Pocket Books. It's a comic novel about a young woman who desperately yearns to be taken seriously as a writer, human being, and girlfriend. And, yes, vampires do figure in the plot. Acosta was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. At six, she learned to read and she liked it so much that she still reads today. She remembers her excitement when she was seven and her father brought home a box of used books. Growing up with three brothers, Marta learned how to throw a ball, how to express an opinion, and how to tell a joke. She received a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Stanford University and is a frequent contributor of humor, gardening and design columns to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Contra Costa Newspapers. She's had too many jobs to recall, none of which she enjoyed as much as writing at home. Marta lives with her husband, son, and ancient dog. An avid gardener, she likes independent films, funny novels, loud music and lively conversation. She is highly skeptical about the paranormal, even though she can tell when her mother is calling by the way the phone rings. You may visit her at her website.

POETRY AND ART SHOW: “Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse” is a collaborative project sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts, initiated by the Center for Women's InterCultural Leadership at Saint Mary's College and the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The interdisciplinary project will present the work of both established and emerging poets as inspiration for the creation of original artwork, allowing Latino/a artists to enter into "dialogue" with the work of Latino/a poets. The inaugural exhibit opens at the Moreau Art Galleries at Saint Mary's College, January 27, 2006. Subsequent shows are slated for New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit the show’s website.

UCLA CHICANO STUDIES RESEARCH CENTER EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: The UCLA Department of Political Science Recruitment Committee for Race, Ethnicity & Politics invites you to a Candidate Presentation by Lisa Garcia Bedolla of University of California, Irvine:

“Fluid Borders: Latino Power, Identity, and Politics in Los Angeles”
Monday, January 30, 2006
12:00 noon - 1:30 p.m.
UCLA, 4357 Bunche Hall
A light lunch will be provided

Drawing from one hundred in-depth interviews, Lisa García Bedolla compares the political attitudes and behavior of Latinos in two communities: working-class East Los Angeles and middle-class Montebello. She finds Latina women the most engaged in politics and considers how the experience of social stigma affects the collective identification and political engagement of members of marginal groups. Asking how collective identity and social context have affected political socialization, political attitudes and practices, and levels of political participation among the foreign born and native born, her analysis suggests resources other than simply socioeconomic status may play an important role in political engagement within marginal communities.

To learn more about the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, visit its website or send an e-mail.

ENGAGING AND LIVELY: Lidia Torres’s book of poems, A Weakness for Boleros (Mayapple Press), has recently been reviewed by NewPages. The reviewer, Kathy Fretz, says, in part:

“Engaging and lively, the reader is introduced to Torres’s passion for her culture and music. Her keen eye and ear for crafting beauty out of the ordinary is showcased throughout as are her lyricism. Sentimental without being maudlin, she touches on themes of death and love, taking the reader on a journey at once mournful and celebratory.”

NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González reviews a new novel by Margarita Cota- Cárdenas, Sanctuaries of the Heart/Santuarios Del Corazon: A Novella in English And Spanish (University of Arizona Press). González is an award-winning writer and associate professor of English and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

OPTIONED FOR FILM: Isabel Allende’s children's trilogy, beginning with City of the Beasts (HarperTrophy), to Walden Media, with Barrie Osborne (The Lord of the Rings) producing, and David Rothenberg adapting and co-producing.

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Mario Acevedo Interview and Justo Vasco

Manuel Ramos

Mario Acevedo says that highlights in his life include artist-in-residence for Arte Americas in Fresno, California, serving in Operation Desert Storm as a combat artist, teaching art to prisoners at the Avenal State Prison and organizing art fundraisers for various pet rescue groups. Now he can add one more highlight - the publication of his first novel, Nymphos of Rocky Flats (Rayo HarperCollins, March, 2006). And what a wild read it is. Private eye Felix Gomez has returned from Iraq confused and depressed. He's also become a vampire. Felix is hired to investigate a strange outbreak of nymphomania at infamous Rocky Flats. Meanwhile he has to fight off rival vampires and bloodthirsty (I couldn't resist) vampire hunters. Mario has inked a three book deal with Rayo, and I see nothing but a bright future for this writer. He's in that enviable position of first-time novelist, the babe in the woods thing, so I thought La Bloga readers would find his story interesting and a nice follow-up to last week's interview with Lucha Corpi, a veteran writer.

Once you accepted that you are a writer, did your life change? If so, how? When did that happen?
Mario: I got The Call (from my agent telling me he had sold my book) on November 17, 2004 at 2:46 PM. The call lasted 6 minutes and 46 seconds. So yes, I remember. Materially and outwardly my life hasn’t changed much (unfortunately). Now that this novel is coming out and I have to work on the sequels I’ve become a lot more focused on my writing career.

You are waiting on the publication of your first book. What’s your writing history?
Mario: I’ve always been a bookworm. When I was a kid in Las Cruces, NM, my mother would call the library and tell them to send me home. In college I did miserably in English because my writing was bad. I had to redo a class and opted for Tech Writing. The instructor showed us that good writing wasn’t about flowery language or lofty ideas but about getting your message across as clearly and simply as possible. The light went on in my head and I’ve enjoyed writing since. I’ve had a few essays published. My favorite was The Chicano Chronicles, Part I, published in The Exquisite Corpse literary journal edited by Andrei Codrescu of NPR fame.

And what are you working on for the future?
Mario: I’m polishing the sequel, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, and then start book three in the Felix Gomez series. I’ve also got a backlog of other stories rumbling in my head.

We often hear how difficult it is to get published these days. How tough was it for you?
Mario: I’ve never heard anyone say, “Back when, it was so easy to get published.” Getting published today is as tough as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. The path to publication is different for every writer. I’ve collected my share of rejection letters: Dear writer, you suck.

How long has it taken you to get to this point?
Mario: One day I bought a computer from Radio Shack and started writing a novel. Seventeen years later I signed a contract. Don’t follow my example. Find a shortcut

Does it matter in the big scheme of things if you are acknowledged as a Chicano novelist?
Mario: Very much so. Actually, I’d like to be known as a successful and prosperous Chicano novelist.

Now that your book has been accepted for publication, what other goals do you want to accomplish as a writer?
Mario: Write great stories. There are many outstanding writers I admire and their novels have set a high standard. Plus I want to help other writers and get more Chicanos published.

Can you single out a person or event or situation that moved your writing forward, in terms of getting published or other recognition of your work? If so, who or what was it?
Mario: The one event that turned things around was joining Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting writers of novel-length genre fiction. I got to mix with real, royalty-earning writers and learned much about the business of getting published. My RMFW critique group helped pummel my manuscript into shape.

Your first novel has private eye, vampire and thriller elements. This may be an entirely new genre. What are the reasons behind your choice of subject matter?
Mario: I originally started to write big political pot-boilers thick with crap about “important” issues. The stories bored even me. My novels evolved into historical narratives and I kept hearing from my critique group, “Mario, write to your strengths--you’re a low-brow smart-ass, go from there.” So I invented a story that lets me work in a little bit of sarcasm. I enjoy mystery stories as they allow a writer to weave edgy, oddball characters into a lurid story with a lot of plot movement. Since mysteries deal with society, you get to comment in an oblique way on social and cultural issues. In all my manuscripts, even the first sucky ones, the protagonist was an outsider so a private eye was a natural development. I was never a big vampire/fantasy fan. You want horror? Read history. Nymphos grew from the most ridiculous premise I could think of: a Chicano vampire private detective investigates an outbreak of nymphomania at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. The vampire mythos has morphed into an interesting direction. At first the vampire was a fearsome monster in league with Satan, then became a sadder, world-weary character, and is now the hero.

I’ll bet that you are going to get tagged with some genre label: mystery, horror, private eye, ethnic mystery/horror/private eye, whatever. How do you feel about that and about labels on your writing in general?
Mario: Labels haven’t hurt my favorite authors. Carl Hiaasen, satirist. Harlan Coben, thriller. Laura Lippman, mystery. Dennis Lehane, noir. The one label I want is the most important one: Mario is a good writer and he tells great stories.

This must be an exciting time for you. Describe what it’s like to know that one day very soon you can walk into a bookstore and there on the shelves you will have a space, along with all your favorite books and authors.
Mario: Yes, I am excited and getting more so every day as the launch day approaches. Seeing my book on the shelves will encourage me to write better and work harder on the next stories.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received or that you want to give to other writers?
Mario: One. Read as much as you can. And write. Don’t wait for inspiration. The muse works for you. Go club her on the head and make her help pay the rent. Two. Get involved with writing groups whose goals support yours. Three. Have faith. You won’t know when you will get published but if you quit, it will never happen.

Thanks, Mario - good luck with the book. Mario's launch party for Nymphos is set for March 23 at 7:30 PM at the Tattered Cover (Denver, LoDo). See you there.

On January 22, 2006, Justo Vasco, one of the founding members of the International Crime Writers Association, died from a stroke. He was 63. Cuban by birth, Justo moved to Gijón, Spain in 1996. He is survived by his son Enrique, his wife Cristina Macía, and Laura, his three-year-old daughter. Justo wrote crime fiction, la novela negra, and was friends with and had befriended many of the world's best crime fiction writers. He helped with the organizational and administrative responsibilities of the annual Semana Negra crime fiction literary festitval in Gijón. That's where I met Justo and I remember him as a gracious, affable man committed to crime fiction as literature. Rest in peace.


Monday, January 23, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Blas Manuel De Luna was born in Tijuana, Mexico and raised in Madera, California. He received an M.A. in English from California State University, Fresno, where he studied with Peter Everwine, Connie Hales, C.G. Hanzlicek, and Philip Levine. He received his M.F.A. from the University of Washington, where he studied with Rick Kenney, HeatherMcHugh, and David Wagoner. While at the University of Washington, he was the 1995-1996 Klepser Fellow, and, later, a teaching assistant. During the 2000-2001 academic year, he was the Ruth and Jay C. Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he taught creative writing. His poetry collection, Bent to Earth, was published in 2005 by Carnegie Mellon University Press, and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. Rigoberto González recently reviewed Bent to Earth for the El Paso Times. Currently, he teaches high school English in Firebaugh, California. Here is one of his poems:

Into America

By Blas Manuel De Luna

If there is a rumor
of a new hole in a fence,
one that is safer
to pass through,
the families will gather
and wait until
the darkness offers cover.

My father
has told me of a man
who was beaten with a hammer
when he was caught, until his leg cracked,
until his femur
was in pieces. Now, that man's leg
is bolted together.

My mother
knows a girl
who was left to wander
on the frontera,
when her parents were
caught without her. Now,
she is our neighbor.

When it is late,
when there is, maybe, an hour
until daylight, those who have waited,
out of fear
or out of patience,
will have to decide if it is better
to cross, or if it is better, somehow,
to live with desire.

A LITTLE MORE POETRY: Eduardo C. Corral holds degrees from Arizona State University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He received a "Discovery"/The Nation Award in 2005 and a MacDowell Colony residency in 2006. Here is his poem, “To a Mojado Who Died Crossing the Desert”:

After a storm saguaros glisten
like mint trombones.
Sometimes a coyote leaps
over creosote.
The sand calls out for more footprints.
A crack in a boulder
can never be an entrance
to a cathedral
but a mouse can be torn open
like an orange.
The arroyo is the color of rust.
Sometimes a gust of snow
floats across the water
as gracefully as a bride.

NUEVO LIBRO PARA LOS NIÑOS: Abuelita's Secret Matzahs / Las Matzas Secretas de Abuelita (Emmis Books) by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. From the publisher:

Abuelita's Secret Matzahs tells the fascinating but little-known story of the Cyrptojews, Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition who secretly maintained their Jewish faith and customs throughout the ages - often revealing the secret to only one person per generation. Jacobo loves to visit his grandmother, Abuelita, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in an adobe house hidden by juniper and pinon trees. When Jacobo befriends David, a Jewish child, he starts to notice that David's family observes many of the same traditions as Jacobo's grandmother: they avoid pork, they light two candles on Friday nights, and they eat unleavened bread during Passover. When Jacobo asks Abuelita about this discovery, she offers him the chance to be the keeper of traditions for his generation - and Jacobo realizes that he will one day have to make a choice between the Christian beliefs he has been raised with and the Judaism of his ancestors.

HA-HA…I’VE GOT IT AND YOU DON’T!: I just received my advance review copy (“ARC” to those in the know) of the forthcoming The Nymphos of Rocky Flats (HarperCollins/Rayo, March 2006) by first Mario Acevedo. I’ve a few chapters in and already I’m hooked. How can you beat a Chicano war veteran who is also a P.I. and a vampire? More later…

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Lucha Corpi Interview

Manuel Ramos

Lucha Corpi has published books of poetry, a "mainstream" novel, short stories, and several Chicana detective novels. Here's a selected bibliography:

Palabras de Mediodia/Noon Words (1980, 2001)
Delia's Song (1989)
Variociones Sobre una Tepsted/Variations on a Storm (1990)
Eulogy for a Brown Angel (1992)
Cactus Blood (1995)
Mascaras (1997)
Where Fireflies Dance/Ahi, Donde Bailen los Luciernagas (1997)
Black Widow's Wardrobe (1999)
Crimson Moon: A Brown Angel Mystery (2004)

Lucha has achieved critical acclaim for her work- National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Prize in Fiction, the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Book Award of Excellence in Adult Fiction, etc., as well as popular acceptance. She has been included in numerous anthologies and she is recognized as a leading poet who gave voice to a strong and independent Chicana perspective. Lucha is, of course, one of the founding figures in Chicana/o detective fiction and I think I'm safe in saying that Eulogy For A Brown Angel has achieved "classic" status. Her books are used widely on college campuses and she often is called on to speak and present her point of view at conferences, seminars, and classes devoted to literature of all kinds. For more information about Lucha and her work, visit the page devoted to her at Voices from the Gaps: Women Artists and Writers of Color.

We met years ago when I was fairly new to the publishing game and she immediately became a friend and ally. Whenever I get the opportunity to spend time with Lucha I am always struck by her overwhelming generosity and sincerity, and her deep commitment to writing. Recently, she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for the readers of La Bloga.
Once you accepted you were a writer, did your life change? If so, how? When did that happen?

Lucha: My life changed the moment I began to write poetry, sometime towards the end of 1969. I had moved to Berkeley, California from Mexico five years before. I had a two-year-old son and was going through a very painful divorce. Out of necessity and curiosity, I had learned English fast, enough to navigate cultural locks and canals to ensure my son’s and my survival. But I had no family in California and very few friends to confide in.

I turned to poetry then, mostly to make sense of my inner and outer worlds. I wrote “confessional” poetry for awhile. But then something interesting happened. When I wrote The Poems of Marina, I became aware that I had transcended my own personal experience and had moved onto another plane. It happened that I read those poems to a friend, who introduced me to Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto. Catherine and I became friends and collaborated on a translation of the poems into English for The Other Voice, an anthology of world women’s poems in translation, published by Norton.

Just before authorizing the publishing of the poems, I panicked. I almost withdrew the poems. Until that time, I had been a private person writing poetry. Once the poems were published, I would become a public person. Was I ready for the pressure, for people looking into my private affairs, for negative criticism both from critics and my own family? Did I have the kind of ego that could withstand all that and still continue writing? I faced my worst fears then decided to jump into the murky waters.

The criticism, positive and negative, came as expected. I was writing and publishing lyrical poetry at a time that “protest” poetry was considered the only kind of poetry worth labeling “Chicano,” when the Chicano, not Chicana, poet was the voice of the movement. I was writing in Spanish, for which there were but a few U.S. publishing venues. But I kept on writing, as it became clear to me that writing itself had become as vital for me as eating and breathing.

In the process of facing my fears, I became fearless. I wrote to please myself, to challenge myself. Since that time, I have never had a problem exploring new forms of expression, writing in English as in Spanish, going into “genre” writing with my mystery novels, always willing to meet the next challenge, to go anywhere I want through my writing.

Did it matter in the big scheme of things that you were acknowledged as a Chicana poet and novelist?

Lucha: I think it mattered, maybe still matters, to others, who seem to have a hard time categorizing or labeling my work. In over 35 years I’ve been writing, I’ve been asked many questions about my cultural and linguistic identification and the content in my work. Am I a Mexican or a Chicana poet? Should I be considered either? Am I being opportunistic by using as background for my novels events in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement? Shouldn’t I stick to writing only poetry in Spanish because that’s what I do well? Did I know that writing mystery novels—“genre”—would prevent me from ever again receiving recognition as a “literary” writer?

To be honest, I hear the questions but I don’t particularly care to explore the issues in them. I was, am and will continue to be a Chicana poet and fiction writer by choice, and beyond that and most importantly, because of the two cultures that have formed me, which are reflected in my work in one way or another.

Acknowledgement? To some degree or another, all writers who publish want recognition and acknowledgement. I’m not the exception. And I am forever grateful to everyone who has supported me in my literary endeavors. But I never lose track of the real reasons I write.

What is the one thing you want to accomplish as a writer that you haven’t pulled off yet?

Lucha: To write a good play and a Chicana sit-com.

If you had asked me this question before 1990, my answer would have been different. At the time, I was working towards fulfilling my dream of writing at least one mystery/detective novel featuring an amateur Chicana detective.

I must confess, however, that, buried deep in my black trunk, where I keep everything I’ve ever written, there is a very poorly written play. I don’t remember now when I wrote it. Perhaps I’ll dig it out and send it to the archives at U.C. Santa Barbara, where my papers are housed, just to show aspiring playwrights how not to do it.

Can you single out a person or event or situation that moved your writing forward, in terms of getting published or other recognition of your work? If so, what was it?
Lucha: I really can’t single out an event or situation. Fellowships from the NEA and the Oakland Cultural Arts Division, the PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Award, the Irvine and Palabra Nueva Prizes and other teaching awards were all important. But more important are the people who validated my work by making me the recipient of those awards.

Writing is a solitary experience, one that, like digesting your food, cannot be done for you. But publishing and promoting the work once published takes more than one person. In that respect, I consider myself very fortunate to have many people to thank. I don’t think there is enough room here to acknowledge everyone, who in one way or another, has made a difference in my professional and personal life as a Chicana writer and poet.

What’s the difference in your approach, if any, to writing poetry as compared to writing fiction?

Lucha: Writing the monologues in Delia’s Song I became more aware of the poetic process. My own, as well. And I came to the conclusion that all of us think and feel poetically, that we all walk around with poems in our heads, constantly integrating and disintegrating. The poem takes substance and form from many incongruent elements at different levels of consciousness and sub-consciousness. But poetry is an elusive lover. It requires from us to stop and listen, acknowledge its presence by writing it down or truly memorizing it at the time it comes to us. If we don’t, it is gone and never comes back in the same form as we initially conceived it. That’s why in every room in my house there is always paper and pencil handy.

Writing narrative, on the other hand, is a process of organization. Unlike the poem, the story begins with a “What if…” question. Then reason takes over, and reason always wants to know who, when, where, how and why. Its aim is to organize and elaborate on the answers to those questions. So the narrative writer has to deal with character development, setting, plot—time, fragmented or linear, etc.

Beyond that, all I can add is that writing poetry is like having a love affair; writing fiction, especially novels, is like being married with children.

Do you intend to continue writing children’s books? If so, what can we look forward to?

Lucha: I just finished writing a story, The Triple Banana Split Boy. The title might change, but my computer requires a file name. TTBSB is the story of Enrique, a nine-almost-ten-year-old boy, who has a sweet tooth like you wouldn’t believe. His parents become concerned about his craving and eating sweets all the time. Dad forbids him to eat any sweets at all. Mom tries to find a way to help him curb his cravings so he can continue to enjoy sweets from time to time. It’s a sweet story, lots of fun to write. It’s loosely based on my son Arturo’s experience as a child and mine as his mother.

I emphasize the word loosely because my son--now an associate professor and researcher in Psycholinguistics and Neuropsychology--objects to the word factual when attributed to literature. Science deals with facts. I don’t particularly disagree with his views. Literature interprets facts and transcends them. Any self-respecting story-teller will not stick to facts only, not if he or she wants to tell a good tale. That’s why someone (I forget who) said that autobiography is the greatest work of fiction. Curiously enough, both researcher/scientist and fiction writer begin with the same question: What if…?

At any rate, I recently sent the English version of the story to Nick Kanellos at Arte Público Press for consideration. I plan to start work on the Spanish version as soon as I can take a break from Death at Solstice, my new Gloria Damasco adventure in California’s Gold Country.

Why do you write detective/crime fiction? And how did you come to writing in this genre?

Lucha: I’ll answer the second question first. I believe you’re familiar with my personal essay La página roja,which I read at the La Página Roja Chicano Detective Fiction Conference in Albuquerque some years ago. This essay is included in Uncommon Detectives, an anthology edited by Susan Stall in Chicago and scheduled for publication this year.

In that personal essay, I talk about how, as a young girl, I became fascinated with crime stories by reading “la página roja—the crime page” of the regional newspaper. I developed a liking for true crime, but more than that, the kind of crime behind which there was someone’s “intelligence” at work. At the time, I also learned about the system of law and how justice is not always its end result. Justice depends a great deal on who writes, interprets and enforces the law, and by who I mean those in power—a case of Pax Romana in the U.S. perhaps otherwise known as internal colonization. Take your pick.

“There is no justice in this world,” my grandmother used to say. What she said definitely impacted my very young mind at the time. So to answer your first question, I think that both my great love for the detective story and my strong desire to bring about justice, even if poetic, are the main reasons I write detective fiction.

Do you ever feel limited by the genre label on your work?

Lucha: I honestly don’t. If I ever feel limited by any label others impose on my work, I might as well stop writing. But now that my mortality looms closer, I’d like to explore other forms of expression. As I said earlier, I’d like to write one good play, a Chicana sit-com, finish my collection of personal essays, The Orphan and the Bookburner. I write lyrical poems and I would like to explore the narrative voice in poetry.

Maybe I won’t achieve all of my goals, though I’m a very determined person. Whatever happens, I won’t have any regrets. I don’t believe in regret, and fear for me is only a means to knowing, to understanding. But I certainly don’t intend to die saying, “I could have written.”

Is there a future for Chicana/o literature in the publishing world, or …?

Lucha: Funny you ask that. I will be attending the International Conference on Chicano Literature in Madrid this year. The conference organizers are asking presenters to focus on the future of Chicano literature in the new millennium. I’m preparing a paper on the future of the Chicana mystery/crime/detective novel.

Once Rolando [Hinojosa] (first of course), Rudy [Anaya], you and I opened the doors, many Chicanos and Latinos have begun writing and publishing mystery novels and/or stories, some published by major publishing houses. I think the future of Chicano detective fiction is already ensured. But what about the future of Chicana detective fiction?

For a long time, Carolina García-Aguilera, the author of the Lupe Solana series, and I were respectively the only Latina/Chicana writing detective fiction. With the publication of Desert Blood: The Ciudad Juárez Murders, Alicia Gaspar de Alba has joined the ranks. I recently had the opportunity of talking with her, and she tells me she has decided to write at least one other mystery novel. Although I haven’t read any of her novels yet, Michele Martínez, a lawyer in New York also has a series featuring Melanie Vargas, a lawyer as well.

Chicanas seem to be more tentative about writing mysteries than Chicanos. Why? I’ll make my findings available to you when I finish my research and write the paper. Then, perhaps, we can revisit the subject.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received, or you want to give to other writers?

Lucha: If you want to be a good writer and poet, read. That’s what someone once told me. It makes sense. As a teacher, I have learned my craft by observing other teachers then applying and reshaping what I’ve learned from them to fit the needs of my students. As a writer and poet, I have learned my craft by reading the work of other writers and poets, not just for pleasure, but also with a critical eye. It has helped me to develop my own criteria about my work, to be honest about my limitations, that is, to be humble enough to accept that I still have a lot to learn to be the best writer I can be.

I don’t know that I’ve learned enough about the craft to give expert advice. As a poet and writer, I ask of myself two, three essential things, that I continue to respect my art and craft by apprenticing when I don’t know how, that I remain open and faithful to the voices of my characters, who speak to me at times in English, at others in Spanish or in both, and that I allow them to be who they are, not who I want them to be.
Thank you, Lucha, for sharing your insights and experience with La Bloga. And great news that you have many writing projects coming out soon or in the works.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Review: In Perfect Light. Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

New York : Rayo, 2005. ISBN 0060779209

Michael Sedano

Benjamin Alire Sáenz writes a darned good story that anyone who comes upon the novel
will be glad for--a complex story rich with character, a sense of foreboding.

In Perfect Light refers less to vision than to perception, not to illumination but rather self-illumination. Sáenz brings us a welcome taste of inspiration with the hardest of edges, Grace and Andrés’ relationship.

The story springs from a confluence of randomness. Grace is middle-aged psychologist, diagnosed with cancer, she wants to refuse treatment and simply die. A widow and estranged from her son-- named Mister-- Grace pours herself into her counseling work hoping to save one more life as hers ends. Andrés comes to Grace in the middle of a lifelong tragedy, recommended by Dave, an El Paso lawyer whom Grace counseled as a teenage manslaughter driver who orphaned
four kids, including Andrés.

Andrés’ story is pure despair and self-destructive pain. Trapped in the criminal system after a blind rage fatal beating of a stranger, Andrés is obliged to undergo counseling. He finds Grace and her work compelling. Dave sees Grace for her miraculous spirit, and he has brought Andrés to Grace to heal Andrés, and himself.

Grace has never recovered from the early death of her husband, Sam. Nor has Mister. Grace has lived her life a prisoner of her memory of Sam. The title comes from her need to see Sam again in perfect light.

Andrés is trapped in his memories of death and degradation. Denied a father, Andrés’ surrogate is the older brother, who sequesters the family in Juárez, where the teenaged sister becomes a prostitute after Mando is killed in prison, and the eight year old sister is disappeared to parts unknown by an old Juárez whore, the employee of the brutal pimp who wants to put the child to work.

Sáenz’ writing power makes the melodrama disappear in urgency. He gives the story fast pacing, treating each chapter as a theme, advancing a character’s story in a flashback. In “Lost Files,” for example, we see Andrés at work as a computer fixer, irritated by a co-worker’s aftershave. The next paragraph recalls an argument between Andrés’ older brother, Mando, and their father over dad’s cologne. Andrés yearns to be able to delete the memory like he would a computer. In “Night,” the writer parallels the stories of Grace, Andrés, Mister, Dave, and a pederast named William Hart.

Sáenz doesn’t succeed entirely. Some tactics don’t work, such as the names. Sáenz introduces Andrés Segovia’s name with a bit of fanfare but other than three of four paragraphs, never develops a story out of the artist’s name. And I wonder if there’s not a similarly undeveloped connection between the blind orphan Mister is adopting, and Homero, the foul Juárez shit who owns Yolie, Andrés, and Ileana. Some will not like how Andrés and Grace’s stories conclude, though others will find them completely satisfying.

La Bloga bounced around Salvador Plasencia’s disparagement of a literary barrio some publishers and readers make of “Chicano Literature.” In Perfect Light furthers that discussion.

Certainly,in some readers’ experience, Chicano Literature revolves around unrecognized issues of language, code switching, geography, exclusion, national identity. Couple incomprehension to xenophobic intolerance of ambiguous nationality, and Plasencia’s happiness is clear: his novel would free from being stereotyped as Chicana Chicano Literature.

Chicana Chicano Literature is distinctively itself, yet not readily distinguished from “mainstream” United States Literature, in the hands of a master like Sáenz.

The artist takes the bare bones story of how Grace, Andrés, Dave, and Mister come together and fashions a masterly novel that is about none of those stereotypes, yet it embraces them. Almost entirely in English, even when the characters speak Spanish, In Perfect Light’s setting against the El Paso – Juárez border often disappears against the foreground of intense humanity.

Some of the action could have occurred only to Chicanos, and only in Juárez to Mexicanos, but that fact is irrelevant in the face of the novel’s dreadful predictability keeping a reader at the edge of the chair:

At the top of the Santa Fe Bridge, he looked back at Juárez, then looked toward El Paso. He wondered if he would ever have a country. Americans, they were always so sure of themselves—even Chicanos. So secure, as if the very country that was their home gave them a purpose. . . . The light of dawn brought so little comfort. p. 211

Andres has just resisted his instinct to pummel a pimp.

So they made tamales and Ileana mostly made a mess, but she laughed all day and she was so happy and beautiful and Andrés thought that whatever her heart was made of, it burned, and it was the only light in the house that mattered. p. 232

By now, Homero the pimp has the family firmly in his grasp and the children’s lives are about to become grimly lethal.

In Perfect Light will keep book groups lucky enough to select it actively discussing its merits. English majors one day will write papers on Sáenz, so today’s active readers will be able to tell their kids, “Saenz? Sure, I’ve been reading him forever.”


Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday's Post by Daniel Olivas...

On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had been graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955 In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.

In 1954, Martin Luther King accepted the pastorale of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.

In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "I Have a Dream", he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

POETRY MAGAZINE TAKEN TO TASK REDUX: We recently noted that the New York Sun published a letter by Francisco Aragón where he took to task Poetry Magazine for its failure to cover Latino/a poets. He revisits this issue in a letter published yesterday in the Boston Globe (in italics):

Reading between the lines at Poetry magazine

January 15, 2006

I APPRECIATED Wesley Yang's informative and objective portrait on the work the Poetry Foundation is attempting to do with its ample financial resources (''Poets, Inc.," Ideas, Jan. 8).

Among the points he conveys is how the president of the foundation, John Barr, ''doesn't hesitate to use the language of corporate marketing to talk about his outreach efforts, speaking of 'demographic groups.' "

Yang also quotes the magazine's editor, Christian Wiman, who says there should ''be a broad band of poetry available to common readers."

In the September 2005 issue of Poetry, Wiman, explaining which books get assigned for review, states: ''We try to cover a range of books."

It is troubling, therefore, that to the best of my knowledge not one book by a Latino or Latina author has been reviewed since he took over.

Titles by Latino and Latina poets continue to appear in the magazine's online list of books received but have not garnered a single word of commentary.

So much for representing the mosaic of American poetry.

Notre Dame, Ind.
The writer is director of Letras Latinas, the literary component of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González reviews Ray González's most recent poetry collection, Consideration of the Guitar (BOA Editions). He notes that "this rich and significant book reads like an epic love poem to the Southwest and the Texas borderlands."


News from CSRC Press:

I Am Aztlán: The Personal Essay in Chicano Studies. Scholars, writers, and artists reflect on the role of the “I” in Chicano and Latino culture and the diverse ways in which personal voice and experience inform their research. Praise for for this new book of essays:

Book News (August 2005): "These twelve essays … approach the subjects of exile and going home, home and work, family, and testifying by sharing memories of first learning English and white culture, what [the authors] thought of their parents' role in culture in the past and how they perceive it now, how family secrets that transcend culture still become involved in it, how life as a Chicano/Latino is confined or liberated by conflicts in culture, how machismo is machismo, sometimes, how finding a kindred spirit in print can save a life, and how professions can be created or broken on perceptions of others. Field reports from the classroom and the U.S. Hispanic market are included, along with a bibliography of autobiography and personal essays in Spanish and English.”

Early Chicano Art Documentaries. This DVD combines two pioneering documentaries about Chicano artists of East Los Angeles during the crucial decade of the 1970s. Library Journal says: “Highly recommended for Latino and culturally diverse collections.”

CSRC Press Information:
If you are interested in buying books, click here.
If you are interested in buying DVDs, click here.
If you are interested in subscribing to the CSRC journal, email your postal address to

Information about all CSRC Press publications is available at the CSRC Press website.

NUEVO CUENTO: The new issue of Del Sol Review includes my cuento de fantasma, Chock-Chock. Drop on by and take a peek at the other stories, poems and essays from an array of authors.

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

2005 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award Winners
From the Gustavus Myers Center website:
"The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights, founded in 1984, was named in honor of Gustavus Myers, the pioneering historian who authored History of Bigotry in the United States, (Random House, 1943).
The annual Gustavus Myers Award, initiated by James R. Bennett, recently retired University of Arkansas professor, commends works published in a given year which extend our understanding of the root causes of bigotry and the range of options we as humans have in constructing alternative ways to share power."

The winners of the 2005 award make up an outstanding list, mostly non-fiction. You can find all the winners here.

La Bloga readers might find these award recipients especially relevant (summaries provided by the Myers Center):

Abraham Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, and Helen Toribio, The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons, (T'Boli Publishing, 2004). Mainstream cartoons carried the story a century ago of the intertwining of racism and empire-building in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war. This history has much relevance to the continuing story of "America as world leader."

Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, Elena R. Gutierrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, (South End Press, 2004). The authors tell how progressive women of color have long been active countering oppressive conditions, and lucidly demonstrate the spiritual and organic nature of reproductive justice.

The Honorable Mention category includes:

David Bacon, The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border, University of California Press.

Dennis Banks with Richard Erdoes, Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement, University of Oklahoma Press.

Adrian Castro, Wise Fish: Tales in 6/8 Time: Poetry, Coffee House Press.

Gerald Horne, Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, NYU Press.

Peter Laufer, Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border, Ivan R. Dee.

Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, Princeton Press.

Victor M. Rodriguez, Latino Politics in the U.S.: Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender in the Mexican American and Puerto Rican Experience, Kendall Hunt.

American Book Awards
Another award winner from 2005: The Horse In The Kitchen: Stories of a Mexican-American Family, Ralph M. Flores (University of New Mexico Press, 2004), won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. These awards, established in 1978, "recognize outstanding literary achievement by contemporary American authors, without restriction to race, sex, ethnic background, or genre. The purpose of the awards is to acknowledge the excellence and multicultural diversity of American writing." A list of current and past winners is posted here.

Here's what UNM Press says about this book:
"Born in 1908, two years before the start of the Mexican Revolution, Rafael lives in the village of San Cristóbal, in northern Sonora, Mexico, where his father, the village comisario, owns a bar, pool hall, and grocery store. This is a ranching town where vaqueros are heroes, and horses and bulls, as well as coyotes and rattlesnakes, provide thrills and teach lessons that Rafael and his brothers will never forget. The boy's earliest memories are of mounted revolutionaries riding through town and commandeering horses for Pancho Villa's campesino army. When his parents lose their life savings in the revolution, the family crosses the border to Arizona. Life in the north is a struggle, and young Rafael must put aside his dreams of education and work with his brothers picking lettuce wherever laborers are needed. "

UNM Press, Spring, 2006
Now that we've mentioned UNM Press, let's take a look at the Spring, 2006 catalog from that publisher.

In January, Tiempos Lejanos: Poetic Images From The Past, by Nasario García. "These poems, presented in Spanish and English, take us back to the village of Ojo del Padre, now called Guadalupe, New Mexico, in the late 1940s and 1950s, when such villages were about to leap from the preindustrial era into a postindustrial world. García able captures the landscape of his childhood, the village and its people, the birds and animals - domestic and wild, just before they are extinguished forever."

Coming in February, a new trade paperback edition of Alburquerque by Rudolfo Anaya."Alburquerque portrays a quest for knowledge. . . . [It] is a novel about many cultures intersecting at an urban, power-, and politics-filled crossroads, represented by a powerful white businessman, whose mother just happens to be a Jew who has hidden her Jewishness . . . and a boy from the barrio who fathers a child raised in the barrio but who eventually goes on to a triumphant assertion of his cross-cultural self."World Literature Today.

February also is the month of publication of a new paperback version of Hoyt Street, the classic autobiography by Mary Helen Ponce.

March brings us The Eyes of the Weaver: Los Ojos del Tejedor by Cristina Ortega, illustrated by Patricio E. García. A book for reading level 10 years and up. "Cristina Ortega is the granddaughter of Juan Melquiades Ortega, a master weaver of northern New Mexico’s Chimayó Valley. Chimayó’s roots are in early Spanish Colonial times and has long been famous for its unique weavings. Juan M. Ortega was taught to weave by his father in the early days when weavers sheared their own sheep and spun and dyed the wool for their blankets. El Tejedor (The Weaver) continued weaving until he was one hundred years old, when his eyesight failed him. In The Eyes of the Weaver, Cristina shares her memories of visits when she was ten years old with Grandpa in the village of Chimayó, where he taught her how to weave. She also recalls how Grandma helped her husband choose color combinations for his Chimayó blankets. It was during these visits that Cristina learned how important it is for a child to listen to and learn from his or her relatives."

March also marks the publication of Healing With Hebs and Rituals by Eliseo "Cheo" Torres, described as an "herbal remedy-based understanding of curanderismo and the practice of yerberas, or herbalists, as found in the American Southwest and northern Mexico."

In May the press publishes a revised edition of Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, by Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez. This book won a Gustavus Myers Award as an outstanding work on intolerance and violation of basic rights when it was originally published. The book "focuses on the experiences of individuals forced to undergo the tragic ordeal of betrayal, deprivation, and adjustment. This revised edition also addressed the inclusion of the event in the educational curriculum, the issuance of a formal apology, and the question of fiscal remuneration."

Finally, June brings Corridos in Migrant Memory by Martha I. Chew Sánchez, a book about the ballads that "express the immigrant experience: exploitation, surveillance, and dehumanization stemming from racism and classism of the host country. The corrido helps Mexican immigrants in the United States to humanize, dignify, and make sense of their transnational experiences as racial minorities."

There are, of course, many more excellent books in the catalog. Contact the press for your own copy.

Author Appearances
Lorna Dee Cervantes reads as part of the Café Cultura program at the Inner City Parish, 9th Avenue and Galapago Street, Denver, January 13 at 7:30 P.M.

Luis J. Rodriguez reads from the new and revised Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., at Libreria Martínez, Plaza Mexico , 11221 Long Beach Blvd., #102, Lynwood, CA (310-637-9484) January 18 at 7:00 P.M.

Mario Acevedo sent a note that his Nymphos of Rocky Flats (Rayo) hits the streets in a few weeks and that his launch party is set for the Tattered Cover, LoDo (Denver) on March 23, at 7:30 P.M.

Support the writers - attend the readings, buy a book.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Christmas Sin . . .

. . . . Books.

Michael Sedano

I look forward every gift season to brightly wrapped packages revealing books people want to share. December 24th and 25th came without unwrapping any of those tell-tale rectangular packages.

No harm done. January arrives in full force and I’m contenting myself with Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Saenz’ In Perfect Light, along with Littell’s Legends, when the mail brings me Calaca’s 2005 collection, mahcic.

El movimiento comes alive in Riley’s hand. This is work that might have been of that earlier era. Riley’s barrio is a lost and ruined homeland, peopled by junkies,winos, and people of little hope.

Reading Riley is to find a writer about to burst into full voice. That Riley is a poet in transition is seen those pieces where the poet turns for subject to language, poetry, or autobiography. Riley uses poetry like an artist uses a camera to capture moody landscapes and hard-focused portraits of his hometown. “Gray Grease” subtitled, “For Raulrsalinas” acknowledges Riley’s most obvious poetic influence. “X. You Didn’t Come Gently” uses Dylan Thomas’ words to launch the fullness of Riley’s meditation on fatherhood.

As much as I enjoyed seeing connections between Tomas Riley’s work with the consequently ongoing tradition of Chicano movimiento poetry, there is some material I simply do not understand:

spins 360
let the beat drop
into uprock
toward the center
of ciphers come lately
flair kick
scissor slicing
hooded heads
with ash
and empty bottles
off the r.p.m.

Must be I don’t dance anymore. There’s more than enough gratifying writing to make an hour with these eighty-two pages rewarding. There’s the huge surprise in the mundane domestic repartee that breaks out in a homicidal daydream before settling back into uncomfortable reverie in “V. Good Neighbors.” Riley catches my eye with the image of billboards taking effect in the masterful, “Barrio Logan. Under the Bridge” that echoes la Logan of Alurista’s work.

Calaca Press is a notable independent Chicano publisher. To get your hands on mahcic., don’t wait for next Christmas because you might be shut out like I was. Contact Calaca at Calaca’s excellent spoken word series is fast going out of circulation. Already, Raza Spoken Here I and When Skin Peels are gone. Two gems of chicana chicano poetry available only by pirate and snippets at Calaca’s website. macic is readily available today.


Monday, January 09, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Ray González is the author of Memory Fever (University of Arizona Press, 1999), a memoir about growing up in the Southwest, Turtle Pictures (Arizona, 2000), which received the 2001 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, and a collection of essays, The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape (Arizona, 2002), which received the 2003 Carr P. Collins/Texas Institute of Letters Award for Best Book of Non-fiction, was named one of ten Best Southwest Books of the Year by the Arizona Humanities Commission, named one of the Best Non-fiction Books of the Year by the Rocky Mountain News, and selected as a Book of the Month by the El Paso Public Library. He is the author of other books of poetry, including four from BOA Editions: The Heat of Arrivals (1997 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award), Cabato Sentora (2000 Minnesota Book Award Finalist), The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande (2002 nominee for The Pulitzer Prize, recipient of a National Book Critic's Circle Award Notable Book Citation, and a 2003 finalist for The Texas Institute of Letters Award in Poetry), and Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems (2005).

González is also the author of two collections of short stories, The Ghost of John Wayne (Arizona, 2001), winner of a 2002 Western Heritage Award for Best Short Story and a 2002 Latino Heritage Award in Literature), and Circling the Tortilla Dragon (Creative Arts, 2002). His poetry has appeared in the 1999, 2000, and 2003 editions of The Best American Poetry (Scribners) and The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses 2000 (Pushcart Press). His non-fiction is included in the second edition of The Norton Anthology of Nature Writing (W.W. Norton). He is the editor of twelve anthologies, most recently No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets (Tupelo Press, 2002). He has served as Poetry Editor of The Bloomsbury Review for twenty-two years and founded LUNA, a poetry journal, in 1998.

González is a Full Professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. His awards include a 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award in Literature from The Border Regional Library Association, a 2002 Loft McKnight Fellowship in Poetry, a 2001 Minnesota Book Award in Poetry, a 1993 Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Excellence in Editing, and a 1998 Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts.

The following piece appears in the fall/winter 2003 issue of Wed del Sol’s Double Room, an online journal of flash fiction and prose poetry:

The Third Hand
By Ray González

The third hand rose in the year of the body, gave itself an eye plucked out of harmony and what was touched by the lost child. The third hand resolved to hold onto justice before the river of the disenchanted world swept it away. This meant strange evolutions and tattoos on proud skin, guides toward ecstasy involving great relationships among individuals who previously distrusted each other.

The third hand assumed the physical space of the master, made a fist in response to the ocean approaching from the west, shadows and monuments flowing as if their foundations were being questioned by the hand opening its fist and spreading its fingers, palm upward, the arm extended in the air as if someone was being arrested.

The third hand developed a pattern of comfort that appeared in the books when they were studied. Tranquility was a hand signal that awoke the shadows in the vein of the wrist, made it revolve around a softening touch. The darkness in the knuckles meant a hidden thing would be revealed. The third hand obeyed and was caught between the left and the right hands, a moment when it prevailed in stark confusion and contrast to the pair of hands that folded into themselves and let the vine climb through the arms.

NUEVO LIBRO: This month, the University of Texas Press publishes With Her Machete in Her Hand: Reading Chicana Lesbians by Catrióna Rueda Esquibel. From the publisher:

With the 1981 publication of the groundbreaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa ushered in an era of Chicana lesbian writing. But while these two writers have achieved iconic status, observers of the Chicana/o experience have been slow to perceive the existence of a whole community—lesbian and straight, male as well as female—who write about the Chicana lesbian experience. To create a first full map of that community, this book explores a wide range of plays, novels, and short stories by Chicana/o authors that depict lesbian characters or lesbian desire. Catrióna Rueda Esquibel starts from the premise that Chicana/o communities, theories, and feminisms cannot be fully understood without taking account of the perspectives and experiences of Chicana lesbians. To open up these perspectives, she engages in close readings of works centered around the following themes: La Llorona, the Aztec Princess, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, girlhood friendships, rural communities and history, and Chicana activism. Her investigation broadens the community of Chicana lesbian writers well beyond Moraga and Anzaldúa, while it also demonstrates that the histories of Chicana lesbians have had to be written in works of fiction because these women have been marginalized and excluded in canonical writings on Chicano life and experience.

SOMOS PRIMOS: The January issue of Somos Primos is out. Edited by Mimi Lozano, Somos Primos is dedicated to “Hispanic Heritage and Diversity Issues.”

MELANIE VARGAS IS BACK: Michele Martínez has published her second suspense novel starring Melanie Vargas. In The Finishing School (William Morrow), as two beautiful teenagers lie dead under suspicious circumstances, prosecutor Vargas embarks on a wild chase that leads her from the rarefied world of New York's elite private schools to the darkest recesses of the city's nightlife and, ultimately, into a fight for her life with a devious killer. Read an excerpt.

SPRING RELEASE: I get word that the paperback version of Luis Alberto Urrea's brilliant novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter (Little, Brown), will come out this April. I reviewed it last year on The Elegant Variation and also had the opportunity to interview Urrea concerning his novel. More later.

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Max Martínez

Manuel Ramos

Max Martínez died in November, 2001. I'd like to belatedly commemorate the anniversary of his death by reprinting a short piece I wrote about Max for the 2002 San Antonio Inter-American Bookfair & Literary Festival.

"A few years ago for a review I wrote: 'White Leg grabs the reader by the throat almost from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last gunshot when the reader finally must gasp in relief with a worried, nervous shake of the head. ... Martínez has injected his own droll humor and warped vision in the book, and his characters speak with validity about their dead-end lives, cheap betrayals, and misplaced values. ... Played against a backdrop of Texas small-town politics, family scandals, and the pillars of greed and racism, White Leg definitely is not a casual stroll through literary lane.'

Max’s life was at least as colorful and hard-boiled as that of any of his characters, yet I remember that he treated my wife and me with utmost respect, and a gentle graciousness. My wife loved the man, if for nothing more than that they shared a passion for greasy, sloppy food smothered with chile and Mexican attitude; sly, underdog humor; and music that makes you want to dance.

When we traveled to San Antonio he showed us his town, and we learned not only about his writing and his extensive knowledge of Chicano literature, but also about puffy tacos, his favorite bar, the best place to listen to Chicano music, and his own brand of chisme.

I will always see San Antonio through his eyes–the eyes of a man who drank and smoked too much, a man who knew too much, who wanted too much out of life but who lived it on his own terms, and, so, he suffered a bit. He didn’t achieve the literary fame that rightfully belongs to him, but he wrote exactly the kind of books and stories he wanted to write. He wasn’t the center of attention at a party or any other kind of gathering, but he certainly was among the most interesting people anywhere. At the end of his life, he lacked what we sometimes use to measure success: wealth, fame, power. But at the end, Max had friends who remembered him with cariño and respect, who wished they had spent more time with the guy, and who were actually fond of him. He also left an enduring legacy in his writing–his articles, novels and the stories that only he could tell. Max, I can only say that your writing nailed it, bro."

Martínez wrote three novels, Layover (Arte Público Press, 1997), White Leg (Arte Público Press, 1996) and Schoolland (Arte Público Press, 1988), and two collections of stories, The Adventures of the Chicano Kid (Arte Público Press, 1982) and A Red Bikini Dream (Arte Público Press, 1989). It appears as though all except Adventures of the Chicano Kid are still available from the publisher.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Jasmine's Book Shelf

Happy New Year!

I was going through my granddaughter Jasmine's bookshelf yesterday looking for something to write about and I was amazed at how many books we've collected since she was born in 2003. I thought I'd take this week's post as an opportunity to recommend a year's worth of reading. Most of these books are older but definitely all are requirements for the well-read little Xicanita or Xicanito. Some I've already written about and I'm going to do my best to write about them all in the weeks to come. I'm sure I'm going to miss some and hope my compadres here at La Bloga will add to my list. I encourage everyone to add their favorite books and I challenge all of you to read these great little books with Jasmine and I this year. I've listed the books in the order Jasmine and I found them on her shelf.

How Tia Lola Came to Stay - Julia Alvarez
Finding Miracles - Julia Alvarez
Dona Flor - Pat Mora
The Night the Moon Fell - Pat Mora
The Secret Footprints - Julia Alvarez
Agua, Agua, Agua - Pat Mora
The Bakery Lady - Pat Mora
A Birthday Basket for Tia - Pat Mora
Confetti: Poems for Children - Pat Mora
Pachanga Deliciosa - Pat Mora
The Desert is My Mother - Pat Mora
The Gift of the Pointsetta - Pat Mora
A Library for Juana - Pat Mora
Love to Mama - Pat Mora
Listen to the Desert - Pat Mora
Maria Paints the Hills - Pat Mora
Pablo's Tree - Pat Mora
The Race of Toad and Deer - Pat Mora
The Rainbow Tulip - Pat Mora
Las Mejores Alas - Antonio Malpica
Napi - Antonio Ramírez
A Summer Life - Gary Soto
Baseball in April and Other Stories - Gary Soto
Too Many Tamales - Gary Soto
Chato and the Party Animals - Gary Soto
The Skirt - Gary Soto
Chato's Kitchen - Gary Soto
Chato Goes Cruising - Gary Soto
I Don't Want to Melt - Alma Flor Ada
How the Rainbow Came to Be - Alma Flor Ada
Pin, Pin, Sarabin - Alma Flor Alda
Waiting for Papa - René Colato Laínez
From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Stories - Francisco X. Alarcon
In My Family - Francisco X. Alarcon
Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems - Francisco X. Alarcon
Harvest - George Ancona
A Movie in My Pillow - Jorge Argueta
Pablo Remembers - George Ancona
My Diary From Here to There - Amada Irma Perez
My Very Own Room - Amada Irma Perez
The Upside Down Boy - Juan Felipe Herrera
Mi Casa - George Ancona
Serafina's Stories - Rudolfo Anaya
The Farolitos of Christmas - Rudolfo Anaya
Friends From the Other Side - Gloria Anzaldua
Prietita and the Ghost Woman - Gloria Anzaldua
Pelitos - Sandra Cisneros
Gathering the Sun - Alma Flor Ada
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun - Rosalma Zubizarreta
Calling the Doves - Juan Felipe Herrera
In My Family - Carmen Lomas Garza
Uncle Nacho's Hat - Harriet Rohmer
Arrorro Mi Nino: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games - Lulu Delacre
My Pal Victor - Diane Gonzales Bertrand
The Empanadas That Abuela Made - Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Grandma and Me at the Flea - Juan Felipe Herrera
Featherless - Juan Felipe Herrera
The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child - Francisco Jiménez
The Christmas Gift - Francisco Jiménez
La Mariposa - Francisco Jiménez
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida - Victor Martinez
Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan
Becoming Naomi Leon - Pam Munoz Ryan
A Crazy, Mixed-Up Spanglish Day - Marisa Montes
Mice and Beans - Pam Munoz Ryan
It Doesn't Have to Be This Way - Luis J. Rodriguez
Benjamin and the Word - Daniel Olivas
America Is Her Name - Luis J. Rodriguez
A Gift From Papa Diego - Benjamin Alire Saenz
Grandma Fina and Her Wonderful Umbrellas - Benjamin Alire Saenz
The Adventures of Connie and Diego - Maria Garcia
Antonio's Card - Rigoberto Gonzalez
Super Cilantro Girl - Juan Felipe Herrera
Where Fireflies Dance - Lucha Corpi
Xochitl and the Flowers - Jorge Argueta
Soledad Sighs - Rigoberto Gonzalez
Angels Ride Bikes and Other Stories - Francisco X. Alarcon

We have some fantastic illustrators and authors out there mi gente!

Hasta pronto,

Gina Marysol Ruiz

Monday, January 02, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Poetry will soon celebrate its centennial (an early cover is reproduced to the left). As its website notes, when Harriet Monroe founded the magazine in 1912, “American poetry remained stuck in the twilight of the nineteenth century and an exhausted Romanticism inherited from England….” This was true despite the fact that “the texture of daily and cultural life already felt recognizably modern: new building materials and methods produced the first skyscrapers, five million Americans went to the movies every day, and the boundaries of acceptability in art and music were being redrawn by the likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Picasso, and Matisse.” So when the first issue of Poetry first appeared in October 1912, “the fifty-one-year-old Monroe could not have foreseen the magazine's impact. But it was exactly as if a bomb had exploded, and nothing would ever look, or sound, the same in American poetry again.” The great strength of Poetry (and it’s open secret for success) was its “ecumenical approach” that “avoided the dangers of a too-narrow adherence to any one agenda or fashion.”

In 2002, something rather remarkable happened: Ruth Lilly made Poetry a bequest worth more than one hundred million dollars which, according to Poetry’s website, “ensur[ed] the magazine's existence in perpetuity.” This has led to what some might call a “rebirth” of the magazine in terms of format, design and gift-giving.

Adam Kirsch wrote of this rebirth in his recent article in the New York Sun where he noted:

But the real news about Poetry today is in the pages of the magazine itself. Under its new editor, Christian Wiman, Poetry has done what long seemed impossible: It has reclaimed its place at the center of American poetry. More, it has become one of the most interesting literary periodicals of any kind published today. Traditionally, only poets read Poetry; thanks to Mr. Wiman's innovations, it has become indispensable reading for anyone who cares about American literature. And the numbers show that the word is spreading: Today the magazine's circulation is at 27,000, up from 11,000 since Mr. Wiman's first issue in October 2003.

In the December 29, 2005 issue of the New York Sun, Francisco Aragón responded to Kirsch’s article. Aragón’s letter reads in full:

As a practitioner and editor of verse myself, I read with great interest Adam Kirsch's article on December 20, 2005, regarding the rebirth of Poetry Magazine ["Poetry Magazine's Rebirth," Page 1].

I agree with most of Mr. Kirsch's assessment and think the magazine is more lively and engaging since its current editor took over a little over two years ago. And I would also concur that the back of the magazine has been what has been most refreshing for what I'll call its "tone" and "bite."

There continues, however, to be a glaring omission that the magazine itself seems to be in denial about (they declined to publish a very very brief letter on the subject). But the numbers speak for themselves:

In the two or so years since the new editorship has been in place, Poetry Magazine has reviewed - never mind whether negatively or positively - a Grand total of 0 books by poets of Latino/Hispanic descent.

You will find books by Latino poets in their "Books Received" section online. But not one of these books has garnered a single word of commentary - negative or otherwise.

The editor, in a piece not too long ago, stated that Poetry Magazine's aim was to review a "range of books." I continue to wonder how much longer our most visible journal of verse will continue to render invisible such a sizable and growing portion of the United States population.


I think that Aragón’s letter speaks for itself. I’ve enjoyed Poetry magazine throughout the years; it’s available at most chain and independent bookstores, which is a feat in and of itself. But if Poetry wishes to maintain its cutting edge approach to American poetry, it must expand its coverage of Latino/a poets. Period.

SPEAKING OF LATINO/A POETRY: Letras Latinas, the literary component of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, would like to remind you that the deadline for the second edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize is just around the corner: January 6, 2006.

Named after the late Chicano poet, the prize carries a $1000 cash award, a book contract with University of Notre Dame Press for a first book of poetry, and an invitation to read, with the final judge, at the University of Notre Dame. There is no entrance fee. For complete guidelines, please visit:

Any further questions can be addressed to:

Francisco Aragón
Director, Letras Latinas
Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
(574) 631-2882

NEW CHAIR OF THE STANFORD ENGLISH DEPARTMENT: Professor Ramón Saldívar has been appointed as the new Chair of Stanford University’s Department of English replacing the retiring Professor Rob Polhemus. Saldívar’s teaching and research areas at Stanford have concentrated on the areas of cultural studies, literary theory, modernism, Chicano narrative, and Post-colonial literature. He is also interested in the history of the novel and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British and American comparative studies. With a degree in Comparative Literature, his publications reflect the variety of his interests. His first book, Figural Language in the Novel: The Flowers of Speech from Cervantes to Joyce (1984), was a study of the authority of meaning in selected canonical European and American novels. His second book, Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference (1990), is a history of the development of Chicano narrative forms. His forthcoming book, titled The Borderlands of Culture: Social Aesthetics and the Transnational Imaginary of Americo Paredes (2005), is a study of the modern American borderlands, transnationalism and globalism and their role in creating and delimiting agents of history.

Saldívar has served on the Board of Governors of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, on the Editorial Board of American Literature, and Modern Fiction Studies and on the national council of the American Studies Association. He is a past recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a National Council on Chicanos in Higher Education grant, a Danforth Doctoral Fellowship and various University of Texas Research Institute Faculty Awards. At Stanford, he has received Irvine and Bing curriculum development grants. He is the 1994 recipient of the Lillian and Thomas B. Rhodes Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at Stanford, the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Distinctive Contribution to Undergraduate Education in 1998, and is the Hoagland Family Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Milligan Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.


Lecture with Professor Michael A. Olivas of the University of Houston Law Center
Friday, January 13, 2006
12:00 noon
Haines Hall room 179, UCLA Campus

Professor Olivas will discuss the litigation history of Hernandez v. Texas, the 1954 US Supreme Court case that was decided within 10 days of the Brown v. Board decision; they are side by side in the 1954 Supreme Court Reporter. The case involved jury selection in Jim Crow Jackson County, Texas, following the 1951 shooting of Joe Espinosa by Pete Hernandez in Edna, Texas.

When Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life imprison by an all-white jury, his lawyers argued that he had not been tried by a jury of his peers, and that no Mexican American had ever been called to jury duty in the County. While the State's highest court of Criminal Appeals sided with the State, attorneys John Herrera, James deAnda, Carlos Cadena, and Gus Garcia took the case to the US Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. This was the first case ever tried by Mexican American lawyers in the US Supreme Court.

Because it was overshadowed by the glare of the greater Brown case, many people do not know this case, decided fifty years ago. But in many respects, it is more significant than even that magnificent case. First, it contains extraordinary anti-subordination language, perhaps better even than that in Brown. Second, it reveals the extent to which a nascent minority group organized itself, without legal organizations or ethnic machinery such as that created by Blacks to attack segregation. Third, it reveals Jim Crow conditions for Mexicans in the South, and had resonance for the larger issue of how minorities fare in the criminal justice system. Finally, it is a fascinating tale in its own terms.

The University of Houston Law Center held the only national conference on the 50th anniversary of this case, and published the papers in the Spring 2005 special issue of the UCLA Chicano-Latino Law Review. To see the conference website, click here. A full-length book will be published by Arte Público Press in 2006, and will contain the papers and extensive materials on the case.

[I again note that, as far as I know, I am not related to Prof. Michael A. Olivas though the Professor and my father share the same name including the middle initial. The only other connections are that I am a lawyer and, while at UCLA Law School, I served as editor-in-chief of the UCLA Chicano Law Review (before its more inclusive name change).]

ON THE RADIO: On January 4, Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., I will be a guest on Jordan Rosenfeld's book show, Word by Word, on KRCB, public radio. You may listen online. It was taped in early December at the KQED studios in San Francisco. Jordan is a wonderful interviewer: thoughtful, respectful and articulate. You should take a listen to her prior shows which can be heard as podcasts. One of my favorite shows has as a guest Laila Lalimi, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!