Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Review: Chicano / Latino Literary Prize Anthology

Michael Sedano

The Chicano/ Latino Literary Prize. An Anthology of Prize-Winning Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Stefanie Fetta, Ed. Houston: Arte Publico, 2008.
ISBN: 1558855114

I have this vision of massed poets, short fiction writers, novelists, dramatists relentlessly circling University of California Irvine, brandishing signs like "UCI Gives So Much Too Little!" or "¡Escasez Vale Madre!" or "Does UCI Love Trees More Than It Hates Writers?"

OK, so it's a wild fantasy, but it is borne of frustration that so superb a collection must limit its pages to the paucity of 288. That's the page count divided among the 48 winners between 1974 to 1999 included in editor Stephanie Fetta's coverage of UCI's important literary award.

How daunting a task Fetta has undertaken. Impossibly daunting, in fact. Since inaugurating the prize, UCI has entertained the artistry of hundreds of writers, recognizing some as first, second, third, or honorable mention achievement.

How then to select a representative lot for presentation in such a collection?

To her immense credit, Stephanie Fetta doesn't choose an "easy" way to resolve the problem--choose only the Firsts. Indeed, the reader presents the range of prize winners, such as Luis J. Rodriguez' Second Place short story, "Sometimes You Dance With a Watermelon," and Alfred Arteaga's Honorable Mention poetry, "Cantos". Some years are represented by a single winner, other years Fetta presents a range of prizes. All in all, a highly rewarding endeavor, both in the collecting and the reading.

Frustration is built into such an endeavor, but reward at the same time. Excerpts of longer work raises expectations for characters and plots, only to be suspended in mid-act. Worse, many of these writers have not been independently published, so what you see is what you get and that's all you get. Reward comes from having at one's fingertips such a far-ranging history of Chicana Chicano Latina Latino writing. The synoptic perspective has frustrations of its own, along the lines of "whatever became of..." But there are rewards again, in recognizing names from the 70s or 80s who have a presence today in our literary landscape. For example Juan Felipe Herrera wins a Second in poetry in 1978-79, then a Second again in 1984-85 for Short Story, is recognized as one of the 100 notables by the NYTimes in 2008. 

Reading this collection provides a wonderful adventure in "yesterday, today, tomorrow" rumination. Marvel at the progress of writers like Herrera from the 70s, and look at the writers winning more recently--the collection stops at 1999--and wonder, where will these writers (and literatura chicana) be in 2010? 2020? 

The Chicano/ Latino Literary Prize. An Anthology of Prize-Winning Fiction, Poetry, and Drama makes an excellent companion collection to The floating borderlands : twenty-five years of U.S. Hispanic literature, editor Laura Flores' stellar collection of work published in Revista Chicana-Riqueña and its various identities, and Romano and Rios' El Espejo: The Mirror, plus Romano's El Espejo. In these anthologies lies the "I know it when I see it" answer to that most controversial of questions, "What is Chicana Chicano Literature?"

Celebrating Carlos Fuentes

La Bloga friend Gregg Barrios passes some good words about the 80-year-old Mexican writer, Carlos Fuentes. Gregg writes in The San Antonio Express-News:

Carlos Fuentes, the most prominent living Mexican writer, recently returned to his native Mexico as a conquering literary hero.

The festive occasion was part of a national celebration honoring Fuentes on his 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his groundbreaking first novel “Where the Air is Clear.”

Today, Fuentes is the author of more than 20 novels, including “The Old Gringo” (his only best-seller in the United States), “My Years with Laura Diaz” and “The Death of Artemio Cruz” (my personal favorite).

Mexican President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the monthlong series of events on the author's birth date (Nov. 11), declaring a National Read Carlos Fuentes Day. “The best way to celebrate Fuentes is by reading his work,” Calderón said.

Becoming an octogenarian can be daunting, but for Don Carlos, life apparently begins at 80.

Read the entire piece

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