Thursday, May 31, 2007

Proyecto Latina, Tianguis, and Women Who Love Words

Tianguis books|libros 2003 S. Damen Chicago, IL 60608

Continuing with this month's focus on Chicago Latino literary life, this week's column will take a look at Proyecto Latina, one of its constituent groups , Tianguis, and one of its organizers, Irasema Gonzales.

About Proyecto Latina

Proyecto Latina is a collaborative between Teatro Luna, Tianguis, and Mariposa Atomica Ink. We are excited about showcasing Latina talent and are always seeking outgoing Latina poets and performers for our monthly open mic series. Proyecto Latina takes place the third Monday of every month. Its an open mic so everything's game: Poetry, spoken word, music, monologues, shorts y en el idioma que prefieras. And if you're too shy to get on stage come and be one of the lucky spectators.

Proyecto Latina -- Recent and upcoming performers/2007 Calendar

January 15th: Diane Herrera
February 19th: Luna Blues Machine
March 19th: Silvia Rivera
April 16th: Sylvia Manrique
May 20th: Paloma Martinez-Cruz
June 18th: Lisa's shameless self promotion, forgive me.

...more dates coming soon...

Proyecto Latina's 2006 featured performers were: Belinda Cervantes, Maritza Cervantes, Tanya Saracho, Norbella Peña, Teatro Luna w/ Piece of Ass, Diana Campos, Achy Obejas, Coya Paz, Lupe Martinez, Yolanda Cardenas, Diana Pando, Irasema Gonzalez, Magda Banda, and Alicia Ponce.


Know someone we should feature? Is it you? We are always looking for established and emerging talent. Is it your mom, sister, bff, novia or vecina? Drop us a line, send us a sample of your work to: proyectolatina at tianguis dot com. Or sign-up for the open mic and show us what you got.


It's a pleasure to talk to someone who's love of the written word is so deep and who's made a commitment to offer a literary showcase in the heart of the Mexican community here in Chicago. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Chicago. I began getting in trouble in fifth grade for reading books during class. Around the same time, I got the urge to write and began drafting stories in my notebooks. My parents noticed and when I was in 8th grade my dad bought me a typewriter for my birthday. I attended a public grammar school and a Catholic High School. Drama and writing activities at school were always my favorite outlets. In 1995, I entered Columbia College Chicago. Simply getting into college was a miracle since I had minimal guidance from my high school counselor, and as a first generation college student I was for the most part on my own.

I’m still a book lover and writer, and now also a blogger, and merchant. In 2006 I unveiled Tianguis, a cultural shop featuring books and work by Latino writers.

A few months later in January 2007 I helped co-found Proyecto Latina, a monthly open mic featuring emerging and established Latina talent. I meet with my writing group monthly for writing, chisme, and sangria, and in 2007 we published the chapbook, “Afternoon Wine: Vicios, Suenos y confesiones.”

My work also appeared in the anthology, “Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest, published by March Abrazo Press, 2000. I live with my wonderful husband and two cats in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. When I grow up I wanna be a mommy, live on a goat farm and get a dog—-and not necessarily in that order.

Irasema--Tell us about Tianguis. Some people would say: "A tea room in a Mexican neighborhood? No way!" What's your response to them?

Well, we are not exactly a tea room. I think the word tearoom carries a certain connotation of formal afternoon teas or elaborate tea ceremonies. I’ve incorporated what I enjoy the most from tea and books into my concept—it was the kind of place I always wanted to frequent.

I am by no means an official spokesperson but tea definitely has its role in Mexican culture. There is Lemongrass or te de limon, manzanilla or chamomile, jamaica or hisbiscus tea is used to make an agua fresca, which is really an ice tea. And I’ve always enjoyed te de canela with a touch of milk.

You also represent one of three groups that came together to found Proyecto Latina. Talk to us about those groups, how they came together, and the purpose and focus of the project.

When I first opened my store last year my friend, Diana Pando came to me with an idea that her and Coya Paz, from Teatro Luna had been talking about.

The idea was to have an open mic that would be by, for and all about Latina talent—we would feature established and emerging talent. I loved the idea and we’ve done it ever since. Every month we pick a Latina and we try to keep the features diverse, we’ve had actresses, musicians, comedians, poets, and writers. There is always eight open mic slots for interested participants. There are no hang-ups on language, the programming is bilingual and we’ve had Spanish, English and Portuguese work featured. Most recently we had a teacher that made a suggestion and ultimately inspired the chisme box.

That has been a really fun element to incorporate—people drop in anonymous chismes and we read them in between participants, the winning chisme gets posted on Proyecto Latina’s myspace account.

Who are the artists so far that have performed? Do you see a thread connecting their work? Is there a a general direction Proyecto Latina is attempting to forge? If so, what would that be, and how does that relate to the Chicago poetry/arts scene, and the Latino writing and arts community here in the city.

All the women that have been featured have such presented phenomenal work, they include emerging and established talent. Some of last years highlights included Achy Obejas, Coya Paz and Teatro Luna ensemble, Diana Campos, Silvia Rivera, the Luna Blues Machine, and Lupe Martinez.

As for a common thread connecting their work I would probably have to say its the seriousness which all the women, including performers and our audiences members take the work. Its great to hear and identify with each others work without there being hang-ups on language or cultural nuances.

As a former writing student that sat in classes where many times, I was the only Latina, its empowering and exciting to see so many of my peers making such wonderful contributions—it’s a monthly reminder that we are in good company. I am one to definitely encourage an artist to create their own opportunities instead of waiting for the mainstream’s approval or permission—I think Proyecto Latina can help encourage that. And perhaps the result of those efforts will mean more visibility, or the initiative of even more creative projects by Latinas in this city.

What's the importance of Latina space for the development and presentation of writing?

A Latina space is very important, it was something that was definitely missing. There are stories, songs, skits, that only we can tell. We hope to nurture and inspire others, and if nothing else at least provide an opportunity for fraternity and networking.

How would you say Proyecto Latina offers something different than the slam/spoken word scene, particularly as it seems that slam is now a pigeonhole for many writers of color?

Most if not all, of our feature performers are working on very exciting projects. I personally am always asking for demo cd’s or encouraging self-publication of chapbooks, or online blogs—anything to get our work out there. We are always making a ton of announcements about other events, we are most definitely a busy crowd. We are writers and artists of color but we’re not letting that hold us back.

Who would be in your dream line-up and why?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one. There is so much to pick from. Would this be a one hour event or a four day festival?

Where do you see Tianguis and Proyecto Latina ten years from now?

Tianguis will hopefully have more bookshelves, cover a lot more square footage, and have the resources stock more books and host more readings by Latino writers. Proyecto Latina will still take place the third Monday of every month, and a new generation of Latinas will be making their contributions.

bookshelf photo credit: Cindy Mosqueda aka Cindylu/

Irasema Gonzalez
2003 S. Damen
Chicago, IL 60608


More news from Teatro Luna

For Immediate Release
May 29, 2007

Coya Paz (773.315.2575/

Teatro Luna and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum collaborate in


a new performance series

Teatro Luna and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum join forces to showcase new works by emerging, Chicago-based performing artists. Curated by Teatro Luna’s Co-Artistic Directors/Co-Founders Coya Paz, Tanya Saracho, and Managing Director Carol Ng, this unique series, named OYE- LISTEN!, features 2 to 3 artists or performance groups each month, followed by a half-hour post-show discussion at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

This collaboration between Teatro Luna and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum aims to provide women artists of color a space to share personal stories and reflect on contemporary social issues facing their community. OYE- LISTEN! will be an opportunity for both professional and practicing performing artists who show extraordinary talent to share and exchange their work. By remaining true to the lives and experiences of women of color, this series creates bridges among Chicago ethnic communities.

Place: Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Residents’ Dinning Hall (800 S. Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607)

Date: June 4, July 30, September 24, November 26 (Mondays)

Time: 7:00pm – 8:30pm Performance, 8:30pm – 9:00pm Post-show discussion

Performing artists: Lani Montreal, Yolanda Nieves, Sandra Santiago-Posadas, Gesel Mason, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Anida Yoeu Ali, Cristal Sabbagh, Francis Allende-Pellot, and more!

This event is FREE.

Light refreshment will be provided at the event.

Reservations are recommended. Call Jane Addams Hull-House at 312.413.5353

About Jane Addams Hull-House Museum:

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum is part of UIC College of Architecture and the Arts and serves as a dynamic memorial to social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jane Addams (1860-1935) and other resident social reformers whose work influenced the lives of their immigrant neighbors as well as national and international public policy. The Museum's exhibits and public programs preserves and develops the original Hull-House site for the continuation of the historic settlement house vision, linking research, education, and social engagement.

About Teatro Luna:

Teatro Luna is Chicago’s first and only all-Latina theater company. Founded by Tanya Saracho and Coya Paz in 2000, Teatro Luna is dedicated to expanding the range of Latina/Hispana representation on the Chicago stage and beyond. Previous shows include Generic Latina, Dejame Contarte, Kita y Fernanda, The Maria Chroniclesm Solo Latinas, S-e-x-Oh!, Quita Mitos, and Lunaticas.

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Help Tia Chucha!

La Vida en las Sombras

Murder, memory, loss, anguish--all the stuff of crime fiction and tragedy. It is the subject matter of novelist James Ellroy, whose literary career has garnered him praise from the national press, and whose novel, L.A. Confidential, became a critically acclaimed film. But in My Dark Places, Ellroy throws the reader an unexpected twist.

This book is about the killing of his own mother, whom Ellroy lost when he was 10. It was the single incident that propelled Ellroy through a life as an introverted child, a teen criminal, a con, a drug addict, and finally a writer. But even as Ellroy dredges his tortured life from the ashes, his mother's ghost is never far behind. He longs for her, dreams about her, and she insinuated herself into every waking moment of his life.

My Dark Places is memoir, crime story, love song and a cry in the dark. Jean Ellroy was very much like a character in a noir novel. A woman of duplicity, torn between two lives, she was subdued and distant with her son, and acted more as a disciplinarian., rather than loving mother. In her other life she was a secret alcoholic, habitually drawn to anonymous sex with violent men. One of those men killed her on June 22, 1958. It was the single experience that rent the fabric of James Ellroy's life. He spent the next 36 years both running from her ghost, and recreating her life.

As soon as he was able Ellroy disappeared into the underworld. He was his mother's son, after all. She drank, he grew up and did eight balls and speed. She hung with criminals, he became one. She picked up men in bars and had one-night stands, he met women, screwed them, dumped them and moved along. When the drugs and the sex and the crime failed, Ellroy even reconstituted himself as a sober, successful writer. Nothing healed that wound that was his mother. He desired her, despised her, finally decided to investigate the case himself, hoping in this way, to reclaim her. What happened was an odyssey of obsession, redemption, but not peace.

Despite a kind of resolution, James Ellroy will never be a peaceable being. He ends My Dark Places with these words: I can hear your voice. I can smell you and taste your breath. You're brushing against me. You're gone and I want more of you. Then he lists the name and number of the detective who is still looking for leads, still looking for the killer.

Why is this so compelling for me? I was drawn to read this book after hearing an interview with Ellroy, feeling shocked to hear him talk about the tragedy in words that were my own. My own writing about mother-loss echoes Ellroy's: I am looking for you mother, looking for you everywhere. In the corridors of dreams, windowless, empty. I look for the door that will lead me to you. I look, but I never find it.

I ran from my own childhood holocaust, escaped anyway I could. I, too, reworked, re-envisioned, and reshaped my life by writing. That wound has never completely healed. Maybe it never will, if my own intuition and Ellroy's cautionary words mean anything. But we write, we keep digging up the past, we keep afloat.

On a purely stylistic note: this is riveting writing. The book is crafted with a staccato rhythm, the use of simple, clean phrasing, and icy-hot imagery. I hope I can use it to shape a trilogy of performance I'm working on about personal and pop culture violence, Bury the Bones. Maybe Ellroy would enjoy the title.

ISBN-10: 0679762051

Lisa Alvarado

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review: Yellow Face at Mark Taper Forum

Michael Sedano

Gente in Los Angeles have until July 1 to get to the Mark Taper Theatre for a performance of David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face." Hwang's covering miles of political and theatrical territory in this inspired farce, including the unintended conclusion that there's not a lot of difference between chicano and chinese identity satire.

Real-life David Henry Hwang won Tony awards and Pulitzer nominations for his work, making him a leading role model and spokesperson for Asian teatrical interests. When the mega hit Miss Saigon heads to Broadway, Hwang leads the protest against the European actor cast to play the Asian male lead. Hwang is chagrined to be accused of reverse racism, of stifling artistic freedom of the actor who should be free to play any role, of harming the income of the producers who have to choose the best actor to sell tickets. So the white guy gets to play the Asian guy, in yellow face. It's a familiar refrain when applied to opportunities for Latina Latino actors and roles.

Somewhere between the actual dust-up over the Brit in the lead of Miss Saigon and the Taper's main stage, playwright Hwang becomes a character in his own play. The struggle over the casting of Miss Saigon redounds on poor Hwang, the character. Casting a play and desperate for a leading man--an Asian leading man--Hwang brings in an actor based on his resume. The director is curious about the actor's ethnicity, but distastful of the "what are you?" question that bedevils Asians--and Chicanas Chicanos, too, for that matter--Hwang the character suddenly understands his miscasting in the midst of an interview. Gotta sell tickets, the desperate Hwang the character thinks, so he lies, creating a fantasy history for his actor. The actor's antepasados were Russian Jews, a lot of Jews were sent to Siberia, Siberia is in Asia, hence the actor qualifies as Asian.

Once you have a good lie, stick to it. The outlandish lie works beyond Hwang the character's intention. The actor becomes a major Asian role model and the bane of Hwang the character's existence and the lynchpin to the play's central concern with Asian identity. The white guy as Asian role model makes for loud hilarity in the auditorium and telling irony. The white guy's stardom gives him credibililty to express ideas important to the Asian community. But Hwang the character wants to expose the fraud and accept the consequences. After all, what's more important, the value of the speaker's ideas, or the speaker's DNA?

It's the DNA that seems to make a big difference, Hwang the playwright points out. Using the smear of Wen Ho Lee by the FBI and press as an example, Hwang wants to blow the whistle on a systematic demonization of China and things Chinese. It's a good point but needs to be reworked. This is the one part of the play that slows down the energy and wit that otherwise filled the Taper with good vibrations. By the time the play hits Broadway, I'm sure this part will be excised or slimmed way down to take into account comments like one I heard about poisoned pet food additives from Chinese companies.

Yellow Face runs through July 1 at the Taper in downtown Los Angeles.

Please check out our Sunday guest column, Andrea Sáenz' report from the National Latino Writer's Conference.

And in the upper left hand corner of this webpage is a logo linking you to an opportunity to vote for La Bloga's nomination for a "Blogitzer" for writing, another for Entertainment, and a third for being "about stuff". Stuff, indeed.

June is bustin' out all over, isn't it? See you next week.


Monday, May 28, 2007


Manuel Muñoz is the author of a short-story collection, Zigzagger, published by Northwestern University Press in 2003. He is the recipient of a Constance Saltonstall Foundation Individual Artist's Grant in Fiction and his work has appeared in many journals, including Swink, Epoch, Glimmer Train, and Boston Review, and has aired on National Public Radio's Selected Shorts. A native of Dinuba, California, Muñoz graduated from Harvard University and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. He now lives in New York City, where he is at work on a novel.

Muñoz’s newest book is The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue: Stories (Algonquin Books). Publishers Weekly notes of this collection: “Munoz writes with restraint and without pretension, giving fearless voice to personal tragedies.” And School Library Journal offers this assessment:

“With this collection of related stories, Muñoz invites comparison with Gary Soto and Francisco Jiménez. The stories take place in and around Fresno, CA, showing the lives of those who stay there, those who leave, and those who return. Most of the main characters are young men, some recently out of high school, who are confronting their futures, and their loves. Although these stories deal with grief and loss, they are neither maudlin nor exuberantly uplifting, but quiet and memorable, the characters taking up residence in readers' minds.”

Muñoz kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga.

DANIEL OLIVAS: The ten connected stories in your new collection arise from the unforgiving heat of the Central Valley in California where, as you note, people struggle to find meaning “among the houses either crumbling down at the foundation or boasting a fresh coat of paint.” How would you describe the manner by which the environment shapes your characters’ identities and actions?

MANUEL MUÑOZ: The Valley is special to me—the more I write about it, the more I become dedicated to keeping my fiction set there. It’s a place that doesn’t appear with much frequency in American fiction, even in Chicano/a letters: I always feel I’m reading about Los Angeles or Tejas. Geographically, the Valley lends itself to the notion of walls, being bordered on all sides, being entrapped. It stands as a physical barrier to movement. And I love its paradox: when I was growing up, Los Angeles was the dream destination. Crazy, no? Wanting to leave a place of such fertility and green for puro concrete? That’s all I need sometimes to keep me writing, the endless well of paradox, of metaphor. The Valley does that for me.

OLIVAS: Why did you decide to connect your stories rather than write a novel?

MUÑOZ: I began this collection in September 2002, still a while before Zigzagger had been accepted for publication. Many small presses had turned Zigzagger down, most with weak-kneed reasoning about reader reluctance to Latino fiction, to gay characters, to the short story form, and so forth. But I knew I had a good book on my hands and an ever-deepening faith in the short story. So I kept writing stories, intent on starting a whole new book. To keep myself on task, I started riffing on a mere mention of three triplets on Gold Street in “Loco” from the first book. Three stories right there, I told myself—and that’s where the imagination took over, the clarification of this neighborhood and how it functions, a notion of surveillance, how people watch each other. It never occurred to me that it could become a novel or that it should. I was more interested in the special arcs of the individual stories. A novel would’ve demanded something over all of them at one time and I would’ve had to sacrifice each story’s individual nuance to accomplish that.

OLIVAS: One of the very fine aspects of your stories is your ability to create characters from all walks of life: male and female, middle class and indigent, gay and straight, parents and children. How do you go about shaping characters who are different from you?

MUÑOZ: Again, back to Zigzagger. After the ups-and-downs of its road to publication, I began to believe the many editors who told me that our community wouldn’t be ready for fiction with so many gay characters as focal points. When the book pubbed, I waited for the queer lit community to chime in with some reviews—blog, print…algo. But they were very quiet. I rarely saw my book on their shelves and it was disheartening. Instead, it was the very Chicano/a community that was allegedly unprepared for this content who rose to the occasion. I’m still taken aback by the speed in which Zigzagger has landed on college syllabi, how this community has not pigeonholed the book into any kind of category. I feel proud about the fact that the Chicano/a community treats me like a writer—no adjective needed. I go in to college classrooms and get questions about structure, narrative line, character development: there’s a tremendous amount of respect underneath those questions, the unspoken assertion that you’re a writer first and foremost.

That feeling began to cement itself very much as I progressed with The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue: when you have a community that has faith in your ability in a story, you want to take risks. I began to see the tremendous value in looking at my concerns through various lenses, to challenge myself with points of view and to truly treat these characters like real people. I saw myself broaden as a writer by doing so. I thank the Chicano/a community’s response to my first book from promoting that growth, for taking the time to read me and ask questions: I wish I could have received it from the queer community, too, pero ni modo.

OLIVAS: In the story “The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera,” a young man named Sergio tells us about his glamorous neighbor, Lupe, who has an unending string of handsome suitors cruising by her home or taking her out on dates. Eventually, violence invades Lupe’s life. Sergio, rather than blaming her, tries to make sense out of it: “We all make mistakes—bad luck can ruin everything, even for someone beautiful like Lupe.” Does this reflect your philosophy or is it merely one character’s attempt at understanding what has happened?

MUÑOZ: It’s definitely a little of both. Coming from a place mired in poverty and violence, I still try to make sense of why these conditions are so persistent in my community. During my recent visit to the Valley with Helena María Viramontes, we spoke to a longtime friend of hers, originally from East LA, who is still dumbfounded by the Valley’s general condition as a place to live and work. Did we know, she asked us, that Tulare County was the eighth poorest in the entire country? Growing up in a place like this, I always questioned the fairness of it all, even on a spiritual level. I felt like I lived in a place completely ignored by God (which is one reason why I carry very little religious faith). So much hinged on the whims of nature—a cold snap, a hailstorm, a drought—and suddenly people were out of work and hungry. Growing up like that, you start to look for reasons, however farfetched, and begin to readily accept whatever sounds like the best fit. Sergio, in this story, mirrors that impulse in me—that urge to make sense of the world by shaping a story, even if it’s a lie, until you think the edges have rubbed away.

I think you’ll find this mechanism at work many times in The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue: the mother Connie and her silence with another woman who shares in a tragedy in “Lindo y Querido”; the young troublemaker, Chris, trying to come clean and justify his past wrongdoings in “Señor X”; or the lonelyheart Sebastián, still in love with his adolescent crush on the triplet next door (but unsure which one), in “The Good Brother.”

OLIVAS: One of the most moving and disturbing stories in your collection is “When You Come Into Your Kingdom.” In that story, a father struggles with a family tragedy that grows out of his disappointment with his son. Other stories deal with parental disapproval with their children. What is it about this parent-child relationship that intrigues you as a writer?

MUÑOZ: Ay! I find it so intriguing to have readers point out my compulsions. It really didn’t occur to me that I was doing this, focused as I was mostly on a story-to-story basis. But you’re right.

I suppose I find this relationship so puzzling because of its tremendous incongruities and complications. Take my stepfather, for example: he married my mother when I was four or five—I hardly remember because he was always around. But that should tell you something. Here was a man from Mexico, barely surviving on his own with fieldwork, who took on the shared responsibility of five children who were not his. And he did it! Can you imagine? What is this about: Love? Honor? Compassion? How do I explain my brothers’ initial resistance to him in those early years in the face of this sacrifice? Do you see what I mean by the rich texture of possibility? And that’s just my real life!

Tambien, I have to say that, as a gay man, the likelihood of ever having children of my own produces an immense longing. It’s a measure of privilege for gay men to adopt or to arrange a surrogate. Here again is the power of the imagination, the breaking apart of the myth of what you wish for: parenting, of course, has to be tremendously difficult, and in my personal longings (like heartbreaks), my way out of that sadness is to build a story around my conclusions, to make something out of my concern and my tristeza that has nothing to do with the initial longing and everything to do with story. That’s how and why stories—I think—hit us so hard. We recognize in the ones that touch us the very things that keep us up at night.

OLIVAS: Now that you have two books under your belt, what kind of advice would you offer beginning writers? Any special words for Latino/a writers?

MUÑOZ: Be patient. I know it’s hard to hear, and I was certainly guilty of throwing up my hands in disgust. But we must practice patience. The publishing world isn’t ready to give one of us the whole 25-year-old-wunderkind treatment. Keep our predecessors in mind on those days you get fed up: they had more painful rejections and closed doors than we ever will. Keep writing and make sure you send out only your best work. We are under intense scrutiny now in an ever-tightening market for literature: it isn’t enough anymore to rise from a reading inspired to “tell our stories.” Now we have to exhibit craft, too, to show that we’ve got the literary tools to throw some chingadazos if we have to. It may be 2007, but there are more people out there who think Latinos are at a literary event to take coats or serve drinks (believe me—it happened at a journal launch party to me last year). Buy books (and not used ones, por favor—I work in publishing and can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Latinos don’t buy books!) And you must read voraciously. You can spot a writer who doesn’t read by the quality of the sentences.

OLIVAS: How did you find your agent, Stuart Bernstein?

MUÑOZ: I met Stuart on Helena’s urging. I had actually ignored her advice for several months, having already gone with an agent who ended up doing nothing with my work, but she kept insisting that I at least meet with him. Helena knew of Stuart through Susan Bergholz, the mera mera of agents. Like her, Stuart is proving to be a great champion for our writers and a surprisingly savvy reader. I say surprising because I came up believing that agents serve only the function of mediator between writer and publisher. I’m learning that isn’t the case at all. A book, in Stuart’s eyes, is never over once it’s published. He does quite a bit to keep putting books in front of people.

More than anything, I’ve learned a new respect for the power of my rights as a writer, especially in this age of digital publishing and the desmadre with Google’s attempt to overreach on copyright laws. I’m grateful to have someone in my corner who is patient enough to explain what it all means and has the facility to negotiate terms if need be. For all the work we do as writers, we get very little financial gain from it, and we cannot allow ourselves to be seen simply as “content providers.” Por favor! You create the work, whether written or spoken or commissioned for an anthology: why should you give it away to someone else?

OLIVAS: What are you reading these days? Any books to recommend?

MUÑOZ: So far, it’s been a great year for us in Chicano/a and Latino/a fiction. I just finished Alex Espinoza’s superb first novel Still Water Saints and have others waiting: Daniel Alarcón’s Lost City Radio, James Cañon’s Tales from the Town of Widows, Blas Falconer’s poetry collection A Question of Gravity and Light (because I’m a big poetry reader, you know) and tambien the forthcoming bigshots, Ana Castillo’s The Guardians and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m very anxious to begin dialogues with other writers about Helena’s Their Dogs Came with Them. Move it up to the top of your piles, please! Her novel is a well of innovation, structural composition, and drive—a perfect marriage of story and craft, made deeper, of course, by Helena’s commitment to social justice. But I don’t have anyone to talk to about it yet, so hurry up already.

Next up for me is William Henry Lewis’s short story collection, I Got Somebody in Staunton (ay, what a great title!). I have a great interest in African-American fiction because it serves as a strong guidepost for our literary community. If you haven’t already, take a look at their work from the 1970s, anything from Toni Cade Bambara to Gayl Jones to John Edgar Wideman: you’ll marvel at the riches, the huge leaps of faith they exhibit in their storytelling. We have much to learn from their community and their output: you need only look at the current crop of superb young African-American poets like Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young and Terrance Hayes to see what happens when your predecessors lay out good, solid literature before you like breadcrumbs in the forest. You know exactly where to go next.

Other than that, I always recommend John Edgar Wideman’s Philadelphia Fire, Joanna Scott’s Arrogance, Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven, Joyce Carol Oates’s big-bad Blonde, and any of Edward P. Jones’s work, but my favorite is his standout first collection, Lost in the City. Stop me already: I could go on and on.

OLIVAS: What are you currently working on?

MUÑOZ: I’m currently writing a novel. It’s about a young woman who auditions to sing country songs in a Bakersfield cantina circa 1959 and falls in love. Like all aspiring artists in literature, she’s ill-fated and doomed. Pobrecita. That’s all I’ll say for now.

OLIVAS: Who are your mentors? Are you acting as a mentor to new writers?

MUÑOZ: I’ve talked Helena to the high heavens at this point. I’ve been on tour with her in California since Faith Healer pubbed a few weeks ago and I’m still in awe at how students approach her with such reverence and respect. There are all sorts of reasons for it, of course, but it’s really her warmth, her commitment, the way her voice quivers with passion when she gets that pointed question about why writing matters at all. She’s a phenomenal inspiration and I’m so lucky to be riding her coattails right now. I feel very proud about putting on a good reading while she’s watching, because I know it reflects on her as a maestra, the totality of her presence and influence on our literature. I don’t think I had any real idea about it until I saw the lines of students coming to her with nothing but thanks. So I’ve upped my game, believe me.

I don’t act as a mentor to other writers, mostly because I don’t teach. I have a nine-to-five copyediting/proofreading job in publishing and hardly ever meet students. I gladly read others’ work if approached, but I’m never sure if my readings for them are ever helpful. It can very difficult for me to try to balance being a writer outside of the academy frankly. Around this time of year, I become very jealous of my friends who’ve worked hard for nine months and now have the summer off to concentrate. I know they’re tired, but my work is endless, and the mental strain of reading all day, only to face the desk at night, can be daunting.

I’ve been taken to task for not teaching by a few other writers and I respect their opinion, but I follow Helena’s mantra. There’s more than one way. And mentorship doesn’t always have to be one-on-one, cara-a-cara. I count Gary Soto as a mentor, even though I’ve never met him. Why? Because of the encouraging little note he sent me when he published me through the Chicano Chapbook Series. Because my high school English teacher, Dawn Swift, handed me his Black Hair when I complained that nobody wrote about the Valley. He reached me even before I became committed to becoming a writer. Same for Lorna Dee Cervantes. Helena brought me to read at a Floricanto in Boulder about ten years ago and Lorna said to me after my reading that I wrote like a poet (!). I can’t write poems to save my life, but to have a writer like her toss off a comment like that gave me something, however tiny, to hold onto when I doubted. Mentors inspire you like that. That’s why, as Helena tells me, “Keep working, even though you’re tired. Keep your job if that is what is allowing you to get the work done.” Because in the same way that I became inspired to pick up a pen when I closed those special books, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue might one day do the same for someone else—mentorship by mere example, mentorship by the power of the book itself. [End of interview.]

“Voices from the Other Side” - Launching The Gallery Exhibit

WHEN: Monday, June 4th at 6:00 p.m.
WHAT: Opening night for bids on artwork (bidding continues until 6/8 at 6 p.m.)
WHERE: UCLA Kerckhoff Art Gallery, 118 Kerckhoff Hall. 308 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024 and also online
WHAT: Fundraiser for La Gente de Aztlán UCLA’s Chican@ Latin@ newspaper.
WHO: Expecting 300 guests including artists Gronk, Salomón Huerta, Ernesto Vazquez (EVILL), Hector Silva, Miguel Angel Reyes, Douglas Miles (apache skateboard), Jose Cabrera (Crying Macho Man), Victoria Delgadillo, Javier Hernandez (El Muerto), Sandra de La Loza, Gilbert "Magu" Lujan, Nuke, William Acedo, La Gente Staff, Al-talib newsmagazine, Pacific-Ties newsmagazine, Nommo newsmagazine.

Kerckhoff Hall Art Gallery is located next to Ackerman Student Union; Lot 6 is the closest parking lot to Kerckhoff. Cross streets Strathmore Avenue and Westwood Boulevard.

Brenda Yancor:
La Gente Student Magazine: or 323.514.1401

For more information about La Gente de Aztlán, UCLA Newsmagazines, and programs, visit or call 310.825.9836.

◙ If you missed yesterday’s excellent report from the National Latino Writers’ Conference by our guest correspondent, Andrea Sáenz, you may read it now. Thank you, Andrea!

◙ In yesterday’s El Paso Times, Rigoberto González reviewed Felicia Luna Lemus’ new novel, Like Son (Akashic Books, $14.95 paperback). He says, in part: “A writer with an unparalleled literary style and attitude, Felicia Luna Lemus comes charging full force with her second novel . . . a page-turning account of ‘a most unusual trinity’ of characters navigating through the most universal of themes: love and heartache.” I note that Akashic Books is one of the best independent presses around. I just reviewed one of its newest anthologies, Los Angeles Noir, edited by Denise Hamilton.

◙ If you missed my post of last week regarding the disgraceful manner by which longtime columnist, Al Martinez, was forced out of the L.A. Times, you can read it now and send in an email to the Times to voice your disappointment. Also, you can read Martinez's column in today's Times for Memorial Day.

◙ Finally, speaking of Memorial Day, here’s to all the men and women who have served our country with distinction. Let’s remember their contributions and not forget what they have sacrificed. Here’s an interesting article entitled “Latinos have long tradition of service in U.S. military” by Gary Warth, staff writer for the North County Times, where he notes that “an estimated 500,000 Latino-Americans served in World War II.” Have a safe and healthy Memorial Day! --Daniel Olivas

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Guest Columnist: Report from the National Latino Writers’ Conference

Report from the National Latino Writers’ Conference

Guest Post by Andrea Sáenz

I saw the ad in Poets and Writers’ several months ago. “There’s a writers’ conference for Latinos?” I thought. I ripped out the page and forgot about it until last month. Squeezed by my student budget, I mentioned to my tia Rita that there was a writers’ conference that sounded neat, but that it cost a lot to get to Albuquerque and register. “We’ll pay the registration,” my tia said. I was on my way!

The days before the conference I became very anxious. I had never been to a conference before. I thought of myself as a young, inexperienced writer – several stories published in journals, but no novel or chapbook. Would everyone be friends except me? Would they be more accomplished? On Thursday morning, I walked into the National Hispanic Cultural Center to find out.

Within sixty seconds, I saw that I had been wrong about the participants. I met several women at the same place in their writing as me, and felt relieved. We were welcomed by the energetic Carlos Vasquez, NHCC Director of Research and Literary Arts, the intelligent Eduardo Diaz, the NHCC’s Director, and NHCC Board of Directors Member Juan José Peña, who was a constant fixture at workshops with his shorts and pocket chain.

I went off to a great workshop on publishing and marketing by Yolanda Nava, journalist and author of It’s All In the Frijoles. I was still having a little trouble getting used to so many Latino faces connected with writing. My writing endeavors have all happened since I moved to the East Coast for law school, so seeing this all-Latino writing community was absolutely amazing.

We had lunch and wandered around the beautiful campus of the NHCC. They let us into the Torreón, a small tower marking the entrance to the center, where artist Federico Vigil is painting a breathtaking fresco on the walls and ceiling depicting centuries of Latino history and culture. The fresco was partly done and phenomenal to behold – the ceiling finished, the walls sketched out, and papers and art books everywhere.

I finished gawking just in time to run back for an after-lunch session with author Oscar Hijuelos on autobiography and creative writing. The Pulitzer Prize winner turned out to be an unassuming man in a dirty baseball cap who was deeply interested in the projects we were working on, and invited people to read from the first pages of autobiographical projects. I was thrilled to get my copy of Mambo Kings signed, and also to get the advice to not overthink a possible novel idea I was struggling with. I stayed around for a Q&A with Hijuelos and his wife, writer and editor Lori Marie Carlson, a thoughtful woman with a cascade of blond hair, although many took off for a panel on children’s literature featuring Pat Mora and YA writer Malín Alegría Ramirez.

Dinner hors d’oeuvres followed, and the opening of the NHCC’s art exhibit Poetas y Pintores, in which visual artists created a response to a Latino poet’s work, with the pieces displayed together. Members of the public came and wandered around the exhibit while a guitar-harp duo played. I introduced myself to poet and novelist Benjamin Alire Saenz, and wondered if we were related (our families are both from southern New Mexico), but he didn’t seem to think so.

We were soon called to a performance by writer and performer Beva Sanchez-Padilla, who did small bits from her theater pieces, An Altar for Emma and La Guadalupe que Camina. The day was ended by the first of two open mics – highlights included an over-the-top reading by Malín Alegría Ramirez from her book, Esperanza’s Quinceñeara, and the strange and funny Harry Houdini poems from writer Hope Maxwell-Snyder.

I was completely wiped out from the day – writing, conversation, food, music, art – but as I left, I heard someone announcing a “pirate reading” back at one of the hotels. Some people just can’t get enough!

Friday: It was clear that I couldn’t go to everything I wanted – a short story workshop by Kathleen Azevedo, a session with journalist Alfredo Corchado, and one by Saenz on poetry as a public art were all being offered, but I chose professor and writer Braulio Muñoz’s take on writing with a multicultural voice. He went into wonderful detail about his writing process, creating characters to fit his message, and the challenges of writing for an audience that may or may not be of your culture.

At lunch artist Armando Cepeda displayed his wares, and we had the second open mic. I was first up, read from the short story I have in the current issue of Blue Mesa Review, and got plenty of laughs. Other highlights included the return of proudly Mexican-American poet Juan Perez and the very funny monologue of a woman named Melanie from New Mexico State. Tip for future years: More of the agents and editors were at this open mic than the night ones, and that turned out to be pretty neat when it was time to meet them and they’d already heard me! The incredibly generous Pat Mora complemented my writers’ voice, and I drifted off to the next panel with a big silly grin on my face.

After lunch we had a fantastic panel featuring two literary agents and editors from Arte Publico Press, University of New Mexico Press, and University of Arizona Press. They addressed submissions, publishing, marketing, and anything in between. After that, a discussion on online resources helped authors think about setting up a website and promoting themselves online. La Bloga was mentioned frequently, and was missed!

The evening ended with a lovely banquet, musical performance, and speech from the great poet and activist José Montoya, who had everyone laughing – and thinking. Eduardo Diaz took the podium again and asked us to recommend the conference. “Say good things about us,” he said. I didn’t think it would be very hard to fulfill his request.

Saturday: Some people went home, but most stayed for scheduled interviews on Saturday morning with authors, agents, and writers. It was great of the conference to give everyone opportunities like that before heading out. I met with the incredibly positive Stefanie Sanchez Van Borstel of Full Circle Literary Agency and Gabriela Baeza Ventura of Arte Publico Press, and those brief meetings alone made the conference worth it.

People hugged and exchanged business cards – I really need to get some! – and drifted off into the sunny weekend. I drove off onto the Albuquerque freeways, which are edged with pink and blue to remind you you’re not just anywhere, and headed for the botanical gardens to think about my writing. The National Latino Writers’ Conference is an impeccably executed show of expertise and support, and for this young writer, just the right introduction to the community I never knew I had. I’ll be back.

Blogmeister's note: La Bloga welcomes back guest columnist Andrea Saenz. We're encouraged to learn gente talked about La Bloga. Tan cool.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Interview with Editor Theresa Howell About Authenticity

René Colato Laínez

Theresa Howell is the Editor of Rising Moon and Luna Rising, Imprints of Northland Publishing.

What does a manuscript need to have in order to be multicultural?

Too many stories for children depict characters from the dominant culture. A multicultural manuscript tells the stories of characters outside of the mainstream. These manuscripts tell stories of people from wonderfully diverse cultures. They help readers look at the world from different perspectives.

Of all those manuscripts that you receive in a daily basis how many are real multicultural or have the potential to be multicultural?

I would say that approximately 10% of the manuscripts I receive are multicultural.

What is lacking in these stories? Are they full of stereotypes or misconceptions?

Many of the manuscripts that I receive are filled with stereotypes and misconceptions. Before deciding to publish a multicultural story, we make sure to have it reviewed for stereotypes. I also get stories about themes that I feel are overused and not a fair or complete representation of a particular culture. For instance I get many many manuscripts about tortillas. I feel that the Latino culture extends far beyond tortillas so I tend to turn down those stories.

Can an author write books outside his/ her culture?

I prefer to work with authors who are writing from inside their culture. It's not impossible to write from outside of your culture, but for a very long time, non-dominant cultures have been represented in literature by the dominant culture. I would prefer to the voices from those within the culture.

What do these authors need to do in order to write an authentic multicultural picture book?

People writing from outside their culture need to have an intimate knowledge of what they're writing about. They need to have real connections to people from within the culture. Their stories need to be "approved" by those who belong to the culture they're writing about.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Una Cultura

Manuel Ramos


These three Denver artists -- Carlos Fresquez, Jerry De La Cruz and Tony Ortega -- have been challenging assumptions about "Chicano art" for decades. Make that "art," period. Their combined show at the William Havu Gallery is exciting and diverse. If you haven't stopped by yet, get down there before June 2 when the exhibit ends. And if you don't plan to be in the neighborhood of 1040 Cherokee Street soon, you can get a good sampling of the show on the gallery's website. Call 303-893-2360 for hours, more details.

Meanwhile, now through May 29, Daniel Luna is showing samples of his eye-catching work at the Bonacquisti Wine Company, 4640 Pecos, Denver (yes, the North Side has its own winery.) Daniel is the label artist (nice wine -- and the labels are perfect for the different blends) and also did the cover art for the latest KUVO Cancion Mexicana compilation CD, Raices: Roots Music Volume 1, The Young Turks of New Mexico Music. ( A classic bit of Chicano art, by the way.) 303-477-9463.


Rise, Do Not Be Afraid
Aaron A. Abeyta

(Ghost Road Press, 2007)

The author, an English professor at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, describes his first novel this way:

"It was the last good year for Santa Rita, a town that once thrived in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. But the communidad's fragile bonds of honor, obligation, and love unravel when the devil comes like bad water through the oldest and weakest parts of a place. Embedded in the novel's winding tales, memory and dream mingle and sing, asking us to question our preconceptions about history-whose version becomes truth? Faced with outsider infiltration and greed, Santa Rita's faith rests in the hands of her people, both the living and the dead.

"Today, Santa Rita exists mostly in memory, the only road in blocked by an iron gate and a no trespassing sign. This book is for the people of Santa Rita. It is also for the people of every village and every town that knows the sensation of loss, but also of beauty and perseverance."

The Guardians
Ana Castillo
(Random House, July, 2007)

Ana Castillo is a fearless storyteller. In The Guardians, she addresses the key issues racking our immigrant nation and hemisphere. This brave, unflinching novel shows the tragic consequences that come from not facing what is happening in our communities to those without true guardians to protect them.”
-- Julia Alvarez, author of Saving the World and Once Upon a Quinceañera

The Devil's Mambo
Jerry A. Rodriguez
(Kensington, 2007)

Jerry Rodriguez 's debut novel has been getting quite the buzz, including endorsements from several tough guy writers: Ken Bruen, Gary Phillips, Jason Starr, Mario Acevedo, etc. I just started reading it, and it moves, man. Here's the publisher's rap about the book:

"Nicholas Esperanza couldn’t believe his luck. A winning $30 million lotto ticket took him out of NYPD Homicide and bought him Sueño Latino, a popular salsa club on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Dancing, drinking, partying, women—every day was a good day. The nights with his girlfriend, Legs, are even hotter. But now, Legs needs Esperanza to do her a solid: find her missing 14-year-old niece, Alina. With that, Esperanza’s luck is about to change.

"Before he knows it, Esperanza’s plunged into a dangerous sexual underground of S&M clubs, fetishists, pornography, and murder. Anything can be bought and sold, especially innocence. The most beautiful faces mask the most vicious predators. As the quest gets more personal, and the lines between good and evil blur, Esperanza spirals into the darkest recesses of his soul, to places he never wanted to see. He’s in so deep that turning back is not an option."

The Paterson Prize for Books for Young People is given annually for a book which, in the opinion of the judges, is the outstanding book for young people published in the previous year. A prize of $500 is awarded in three categories: Pre-K - Grade 3; Grades 4 - 6; and Grades 7 - 12. For further information about any of these prizes, contact Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College at (973) 684-6555, mail a self-addressed stamped envelope for the application and guidelines, or visit the website at

The 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, Grades 7 - 12, was awarded to two Latina authors for their recent books:

The Throwaway Piece by Jo An Yolanda Hernández (Piñata Press) received the Chicano/Latino Literary Award from the University of California, Irvine, in 2003, and it continues to gather awards and recognition such as the Paterson Prize. As described by the publisher, it is "a dramatic novel for young adults about a teenage girl forced to live with foster families."

Call Me Henri
Lorraine M. López
(Curbstone Press) "Lorraine López has created a vivid picture of barrio life, filled with honesty, insight, and humor for young adults. She paints a balanced and detailed landscape of Enrique's world. Though Enrique is confused and angered by his mother's refusal to stand up for him against the abuse of his stepfather, he also draws strength from his friend Francisco's supportive and loving family." Professor López also published Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories (Curbstone Press), which won the 2002 Miguel Marmól Prize.

A plug for a homeboy, Rick Garcia and his group, the Rick Garcia Band, Colorado favorites, who recently released their latest CD, Mañana Me Iré. This displaced Texican has found a home in Denver. Rick is an excellent singer and he always surrounds himself with the best talent. On the weekends you can't find a better party than at Rick's Tavern, 6762 Lowell Boulevard, Denver, 303-427-3427. The CD is a mix of old school (Pretend, Kansas City) and kickin' Chicano (Traigo Mi .45). More details about the band, the bar, and the CD at Rick's website.

We received word that La Bloga has been nominated for a Blogger's Choice Award in three categories: Best Blog About Stuff, Best Entertainment Blog, and Blogitzer (Best Writing). Cool, and we appreciate the acknowledgement of our efforts. So, thanks to whoever nominated us. Now, if you agree, go to Blogger's Choice and vote.

In case you missed it, keep reading below for Daniel Olivas's report on Al Martinez's sudden departure from the L.A. Times. As Daniel notes, "
If you’ve enjoyed Martinez’s columns and/or his books and you’re not happy about this, I urge you to write to the Los Angeles Times at: "

Art, books, music. That's a lot of cultura. Go get it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Over at LAObserved, Kevin Roderick reports the unhappy and rather bizarre news that Al Martinez, long time columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is being forced out. Roderick reports:

“Columnist Al Martinez has been with the Los Angeles Times more than 30 years and, despite being exiled to the back of the features section several years ago, is one of the paper's most recognized bylines. He has written for TV and authored many books. We share Angel City Press as a book publisher, and previously shared L.A. Times Books, so I have co-inhabited a few book signing events with Martinez and each time have marveled at the crowds he draws. Well, he revealed in an angry farewell email to his Times colleagues this evening that the editors told him to take the buyout or else. His hurt missive concludes that ‘I think I deserved a better way of ending such a long and honorable career.’ His last column for the Times is June 1.”

Roderick also reports this: “Al Martinez just sent a second email to his L.A. Times colleagues, informing them that the newspaper will de-activate his email address tonight [May 24, 2007]. He included a personal email address, but rather than publish it I'll just say that we'll forward any messages received at LA Observed.”

If you’ve enjoyed Martinez’s columns and/or his books and you’re not happy about this, I urge you to write to the Los Angeles Times at: You can also write to the publisher, David Hiller, at, or the editor, James O'Shea, at I also want to thank Kevin Roderick for reporting on this latest development at the Times.

Also, today Bill Boyarsky over at LAOserved wrote this very fine column regarding the ouster of Al Martinez. He notes in part:

"Of all the stupidities committed by the new owners of the Los Angeles Times, the dumping of Al Martinez is one of worst.

"A newspaper is supposed to reach out to its readers. Al has that unique gift. Even after ignorant editors exiled him far to the rear of feature sections, he retained his big and loyal following.

* * *

"Al is the best known of the buyout targets. Other talented people have been forced out . Some were veterans and others in mid career. Management has cut out the guts of the paper and the readers will suffer."

If you wish to write to Al Martinez, here is his e-mail.

Book of Mornings, Raúl Niño and the Perfect Moment

It isn't often that you find an author who isn't clamoring for publicity. Imagine my surprise and delight in encountering a Chicago area poet who feels that his work should just stand or fall on its own. It took a little wheedling, but I was able to get a bio and a photo from this reluctant writer, Raúl Niño. For the record, the work is strong, deeply felt and beautifully rendered, but I'll say more about that later on in this article.

And as you can see for yourself, Niño doesn't take himself too seriously. Read his bio below and you'll see what I mean.


“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you”

Rumi (1207-1272 CE)

Book of Mornings

Raúl Niño's exquisite chapbook Book Of Mornings is now available through Marcha Abrazo Press. Niño has taken time to meditate over and perfect these gems, and has also designed the portada cover. If you can't make his readings where the chapbook will be available, send a money order for $12.00 to MARCH/Abrazo Press, Post Office Box 2890, Chicago, Illinois 60690. Niño will autograph and dedicate your chapbook, if the buyer includes instructions. His first poetry collection, Breathing Light, was published by MARCHA/Abrazo Press in 1991, ISBN 1-877636-10-X. Copies are extremely rare, also available by mail order for $20.

He was the winner of the Sister Cities Award in 1992, an award that took him to Mexico City on a reading tour to help foster stronger culture ties between Chicago and Mexico City. Niño was the recipient of the Significant Illinois Writers award in 1993, presented by Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois. His poems have appeared in anthologies such as Power Lines, published by Tia Chucha Press, and New Chicano/Chicana Writers, published by the University of Arizona Press.

Niño is currently waiting for his Muse to return from holiday in Barbados (why there? she's got a lovely tan already), at which time they will exchange pleasantries then get down to the important business of editing through his new manuscript, Rough Sutra, and if the sky remains blue, it may be published by MARCH/Abrazo Press in 2008. Raúl Niño lives in Chicago.


My dawn
is your dusk.
Your eyes close,
mine open.

Moon seduces oceans
to fill your shores.
Meanwhile, the gravity of lovers
strolls freely,
corralling history
into the palms of fidelity.
Soft laughter beneath your sky
makes the long journey toward mine.

My dusk
is your dawn.
My eyes close,
yours open.


My hands are restless dreamers
that awaken early,
seeking your geography,
two hardy explorers
hiking over valleys and hills
of your warm terrain.
They need no light,
these faithful adventurers.
Memory guides them
through receding shadows
of familiar textures,
soft nostalgia
their only goal.


Moonless sky begins to change,
hues blend,
merge lines of ocher,
heaven and earth divide.
These palettes of insomnia,
are summer’s solstice hesitant shades.

A restless night of desire is over,
my lover sleeps in her foreign thoughts,
loosely tucked between thin sheets,
with the curve of her spine
exposed to my memory,
while the sovereignty of her bed drifts away.

Landlocked I watch as
navigating light fills her room,
familiar patterns and textures return,
clothes, furniture and floor,
waiting to be touched again.


Days take on the character
of an unmarried uncle,
hesitant to linger too long.
At such an early hour, such a late thought,
as a Moorish moon searches for a prayer,
Nordic clouds descend for a closer look
swift and low.
Overhead a wobbly V formation
falls across the sky like loose string.
I listen to the honks and squawks
of these geese fade away.
And the wind picks,
leaving a rain of leaves to bury my world in ocher.


My son wakes up before me,
so early that robins
still dream.
He crawls over
his sleeping mother
whimpering half words and
scattered phrases.
He pokes my shut eyes,
pulls my ear with a strong grip,
and makes a muffled cry
pointing into the darkness.

I want to sleep a little more,
let my last dream play itself out.
My son has other plans.
He wants to play.
He wants his juice.
He wants me to chase him.
He wants to see the cat eat.
This little person who seems
to have always been,
hugs me, and I hug him down
onto a couch in silence.
Sleep finds him fast, and all I hear
are his deep breaths,
and a robin beginning its day.


Niño captures the radiant, small moments in his poetry, everyday ordinary and transcendent. Elements of Rumi and Rilke, and their mutual love of the stripped down universe of dusk and dawn are woven through this small, but memorable volume. In previous columns, I profiled poets who shake you to the core, who rattle the bones, whose writing is a political wake-up call. We desperately need poets like Neruda, Martín Espada, June Jordan and Margo Tamez. Our need to be re-awakened is always there, our obligation to seek justice is as necessary as breath. But we also need roses with our bread, which is why we need writing like Raúl Niño's.

In many ways I find his choices a fascinating example of the ways free verse can etch those singular, luminous moments with simple, clean language. His directness, his clarity, frames the things he loves and captures them, both as memory and his feelings about them.

I think Book of Mornings says much about mature masculinity. Early on, men need to tilt at windmills, slay the dragon, rescue the maiden. Those battles in the larger world must go on, in different ways, for men and women alike. This book and Niño's sentiments in it, speaks of someone who can now also let himself be rescued by love, by commitment, by children and family.

Book of Mornings is poetry that reflects what a man feels at the deepest level, in a chapbook that strings together those shining, ephemeral moments that make up a life.

photo: Molly Zolnay

Lisa Alvarado