Monday, March 23, 2009


In 1997, Francis Ford Coppola launched Zoetrope: All-Story, a quarterly magazine devoted to the best new short fiction and one-act plays. It has received every major story award, including the National Magazine Award for Fiction, while publishing today's most promising and significant writers including David Mamet, Ha Jin, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Woody Allen, Susan Straight, and Haruki Murakami among them.

Zoetrope: All-Story is proud to announce a special Latin American issue edited by Daniel Alarcón and Diego Trelles Paz. Alarcón kindly agreed to sit down with La Bloga to answer a few questions about this special issue.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Who came up with the idea for this special issue?

DANIEL ALARCÓN: Michael Ray, editor of Zoetrope: All-Story, first proposed doing a Latin American issue last summer. I liked the idea, but I knew it would be way too much work to do alone, so I contacted Diego Trelles Paz, a Peruvian novelist who had recently edited an ambitious anthology of new writers called El Futuro No Es Nuestro (The Future is Not Ours), which has just been published in Argentina, and is forthcoming in Mexico and Bolivia. I suggested to Michael that Diego and I take on this project together. He agreed, and that’s how we began. It takes a lot of people to make something like this happen.It was a team effort between the three of us, the authors (who demonstrated great patience through the long process), and the excellent translators who did the heavy lifting. I’d like to mention them by name, because translators never get their due: Janet Hendrickson, Carolina De Robertis, Mariana Grajales, Andrea Strane, Francisco Goldman, and Idra Novey.

OLIVAS: How were pieces solicited?

ALARCÓN: We started reading for this collection last September, relying heavily on the work Diego had already done for his anthology, and from a selection made by the Hay Festival in 2007 called Bogotá39. There are many fantastic writers from these two groups, and I’d recommend those who know Spanish go directly to the source and read this work for themselves. Diego and I kept winnowing down the list, until we approached the ten or so that we liked best. In some cases we wrote authors we knew and asked for their newest, best stuff. We relied on the suggestion from friends, and scoured literary magazines like Etiqueta Negra, where I work, and Eñe, edited by my old friend (and ex-Etiqueta editor) Toño Angulo. I was blown away by some of the stories I read, and there were many worthy pieces we couldn’t fit into the issue. I should mention that this isn’t the first collection of new Latin American writing to propose an update like this. Two of note: McOndo, published in Chile in 1994, edited by Alberto Fuguet and Sergio Gómez, and Se Habla Español, published in the US in 2000, also edited by Fuguet, this time with Edmundo Paz Soldán. What’s significant about this issue of Zoetrope: All-Story is that it pushes this overdue conversation along in English.

OLIVAS: Did the issue come out as you expected or were you surprised by the result?

ALARCÓN: When you start putting together something like this, you never really know what to expect. Any anthology is always a bit arbitrary, a snapshot of the editors’ tastes at any given moment, and this one is no exception. Diego and I could have picked another ten stories and been equally proud of this issue. Still, we selected these stories because they moved us, they taught us things we didn’t know. They made us laugh, they made the places we recognized seem new and startling and humane. I’m not really much of a literary critic, but it’s easy to note some overlapping sensibilities among the writers, particularly in regards to the influence of film and music and migration. One striking fact: at least half of these writers live outside the country of their birth, and that’s not counting Diego and I, Peruvians by birth who both live in the US. The most pleasant and reassuring surprise was that no single style reigns. There is no unified voice in Latin America, and I don’t believe there ever was—in a region this large and diverse, how could there be? It seems more likely that the dominance of magical realism was a function of external market forces, a commercial response to the powerful example of Gabriel García Márquez, a novelist so exceptional that most honest writers would never risk imitating him. Could one literary aesthetic really have reigned for so long in an area spanning the better part of two continents and more than twenty countries? Of course not. Other voices, other styles, simply weren’t translated, and in some cases were just ignored. We’re hoping the same doesn’t happen to the next generation of writers.

OLIVAS: What do you hope readers get out of the special issue?

ALARCÓN: Latin America has changed a great deal in the four decades since the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve tired of seeing the vibrant, dynamic literary output of my peers who work in Spanish interpreted through the single, constricting and somewhat outdated lens of magical realism. I say this as someone who has the greatest admiration for García Márquez, someone who, as a young man, devoured his masterworks with revelatory glee. Still, in the marketplace of Latin American letters in the US, this obsession with magical realism has had the unfortunate effect of erasing nuance and glossing over the great diversity of talent and voices that are out there. In Latin America, the literary conversation has already moved far beyond this, but here in the US it seems that we haven’t yet caught up with the times. This is to be expected, I suppose, given the relative trickle of literary translations that make it to the American market, but that doesn’t make it okay. The demographic shifts that have transformed Latin America in the last forty years are stark, and naturally art and literature will reflect these massive changes. There have been great migrations to coastal urban centers, as well as further migrations north to the United States and Europe. Economies have opened up, blossomed, and crashed; nor is the political landscape of today the same as it was in 1970s. There is less ideology, or at the very least, less respect for ideologies, and a generalized fracturing of political parties in many countries. Meanwhile, the rise of a polarizing figure like Hugo Chávez has heightened tensions between some nations, and brought others closer together in unexpected alliances. The explosion of information technology, the Internet, and the relative ease of international communication and travel have necessarily transformed how people see themselves and their communities in relation to the wider world. The small town settings favored by García Márquez’s numerous imitators still exist, but you’re more likely to find young people there online, trading music files with their peers across the continent than sitting around a tree listening to folk tales.

If Americans are still viewing Latin America through the lens of Macondo, they’re not going to get the whole picture. It’s not that people shouldn’t read García Márquez—of course they should, they must—it’s just that he’s not the only writer they should read. I was thrilled to hear that Bolaño’s 2666 won the NBCC this year. I’d like to think it will spur American readers to search out more Latin American voices. And if you don’t know where to look, start here. These are exceptionally talented writers, folks I admire and look forward to reading for years to come.

OLIVAS: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga and congratulations on a wonderful and important project.

[You may learn more about Zoetrope: All-Story including the authors featured in the special Latin American issue, subscription rates, and submission guidelines by visiting here. Pictured from top to bottom: Daniel Alarcón, Diego Trelles Paz and Francis Ford Coppola.]

◙ Just a little reminder about a group reading of the landmark Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press). This collection brings together 60 years of Los Angeles fiction by 34 Latino/a writers. The contributors at this reading will include Manuel Ramos, Lisa Alvarez, Conrad Romo, Alejandro Morales, Sandra Ramos O'Briant and Victorio Barragán. The anthology's editor, Daniel Olivas (moi), will moderate. After a reading and discussion, a signing will follow.

WHEN: Saturday, March 28, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.

WHERE: Librería Martínez, 1200 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701

COST: Free with refreshments thrown in for fun!


And don't miss my special appearance on KPFK at 90.7 FM tomorrow, at 4:20 p.m. where I visit with Gustavo "Ask a Mexican" Arellano as we talk about this upcoming Latinos in Lotusland reading. You may listen online at This just in: Over at the OC Weekly, Andrew Tonkovich (editor of the Santa Monica Review and host of KPFK's Monday book show, Bibilocracy), gives a nice preview of our upcoming reading.

◙ And now, the latest stories from

Stepping Up with Paul Ramirez - LatinoLA's Liza Z chats with the owner and producer, Lobo Video Productions by Lisa Zion, contributing writer

I feel it's time to bounce..... by mia soto

Cuba Swift: On a Mission - Grand opening of hip-hop dance studio and launch of DVD series for kids, teens and adults with the goal of improving Latino health

Top 10 Signs Your Chihuahua is Nuts by Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor

Funes Elected as El Salvador's President - Political, entertainment, financial and industry news from LatinoLoop

Save Peter Case - LIke so many artists who can't afford medical insurance, he needs our help by Slowjoe

Mendez v. Westminster Case at Center of New Curriculum - Children across California could soon learn about desegregation, migration, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and more by Theresa Cisneros

Watching the Old Dudes Dance by Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor

Rick Najera's Double Shot of Comedy by Susie Albin-Najera
By George, It's George Lopez! - "America's Mexican" gives LatinoLA's Lisa Z the lowdown on kidney disease by Lisa Zion, contributing writer

Opportunities for Tax Relief to Burdened Americans - The current recession offers the best opportunity for individuals and businesses to address their tax issues by Mike Habib, EA

Changing the Face of History - HOPE's 18th Annual Latina History Day conference celebrates historical accomplishments of Latinas by Lisa Zion, contributing writer

Salvadoran Elections Provoke Cautious Optimism On U.S. Relations by Roberto Lovato, New America Media

◙ That purveyor of darkly droll yet insightful prose and poetry, Andrei Codrescu (creator of the literary journal, Exquisite Corpse, and regular commentator on NPR), has kindly published a couple of my little fictions over the years. His kindness has caused me to dub him an honorary Mexican. Well, Andrei has published a new book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess (Princeton University Press). I've just ordered my (autographed!) copy and plan on being surprised, amused and maybe a little confused, but completely entertained. The publisher describes the book as follows:

The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world—all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich's Café de la Terrasse—a battle between radical visions of art and ideological revolution—lasted for a century and may still be going on, although communism appears dead and Dada stronger than ever. As the poet faces the future mass murderer over the chessboard, neither realizes that they are playing for the world. Taking the match as metaphor for two poles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century thought, politics, and life, Andrei Codrescu has created his own brilliantly Dadaesque guide to Dada—and to what it can teach us about surviving our ultraconnected present and future. Here dadaists Duchamp, Ball, and von Freytag-Loringhoven and communists Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev appear live in company with later incarnations, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, and Newt Gingrich. The Posthuman Dada Guide is arranged alphabetically for quick reference and (some) nostalgia for order, with entries such as "eros (women)," "internet(s)," and "war." Throughout, it is written in the belief "that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources."

For Andrei Codrescu's complete reading and signing schedule for The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess, go here.

◙ That’s all for now. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!


NN said...

Great work

Manuel Ramos said...

Daniel - Thanks for the interview - entertaining and a bit provocative. I stopped by my favorite bookstore tonight after work and what did I happen to see but Zoetrope - The Latin American Issue, so naturally I had to buy a copy. Very nice looking (the designer is Guillermo del Toro); I intend to start in on the stories as soon as possible.