Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Achy Obejas, Ruins.

NY: Akashic Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-933354-69-9

Michael Sedano

As February wrapped up, Lisa Alvarado profiled Achy Obejas. Then, a few weeks later, what should fall before my eyes but Obejas' newly published novel of Havana, Ruins.

When I think back on Achy Obejas’ love poem to Cuba, Ruins, I feel compelled to remember Shakespeare’s “Bare ruined choirs” sonnet, with its closing line, “to love that well, that thou must leave ere long”. Cuba in fourteen lines.

Ruins is a 205 page novel, not a poem. But author Achy Obejas clearly wears her heart on her sleeve in writing about the lives of everyday gente in a Havana slum during 1994’s “Special Period” that nearly brings Cuba to ruin, and that “ends” when the government permits people to leave the island by any means necessary.

Although set against a backdrop of a nation’s slow starvation and material deprivation by its own government, politics is not involved in this absorbing story. Obejas’ focus is neighborhood life, of shantytown construction, bureaucratic indifference, shortages of all kinds, everyday black marketeering.

In a universe of ordinary privation, some people build rafts and take off, joining generations of names who left in earlier times. Other people buy or bully their way into small comforts and luxuries. A small number of people unconditionally subscribe to revolutionary purity, accepting privation as something to be equally shared by all. These are the people like Obejas’ central character, Usnavy Martín-Leyva, who seem to get more than their share of crap.

Ordinary privation requires stoic fortitude, or extraordinary measures. Usnavy refuses the latter with a moral indignation that blows up in his face when he discovers his wife and a neighbor woman soaking sheets of felt in spices and water to sell as meat to customers who will choose to believe the obvious sham. Authenticity is a running theme in the story; not just meat but antiques, cars, irons, and being truly Cuban.

Usnavy’s only failure of revolutionary purity comes from noble motives. He works in a government bodega and is supposed to distribute materials equally, first-come. But he bends the rules, hoarding food supplies for invalids and aged who shuffle into the warehouse store long after the fit and able-bodied have queued up looking for a little extra.

When circumstances and opportunity lead Usnavy to dip into the bodega’s supplies to help a childhood pal build a raft that floats to Miami, Usnavy’s shattered moral rectitude can no longer prevent his own pursuit of the dollar. The bigger his roll grows, the greater his neighbors admire him. Odd. Prior to his newly earned wealth—a delicious plot involving Tiffany glass and the book’s title—the rap on Usnavy is he is all salao. Escaping this sobriquet, and its imputed truth becomes a focus for much of Usnavy’s dealings. He is bound and determined to prove his dominoes-playing socios wrong. When he finally gains an upper hand on those guys, it’s as false a victory as the warmth expressed by the transgender son of an old pal. More authenticity theme play here, readers will enjoy it.

Usnavy’s story ends on an unhappy note, but not owing to his dollars. Despite his money, he’s been right all along. A person’s fate doesn’t reside where his boat lands but in his character. Once the moral dam has broken, Usnavy figures out a method for digging for dollars in collapsed buildings. He follows weather reports to be two hours ahead of the rain, then listens as the groans of collapsing timbers send residents fleeing but Usnavy forward. Digging the rubble to retrieve valuable salvage brings dollars, a big roll of them. If you have the dollars you have good shoes. That doesn’t prevent a person from being salao, and this is Usnavy’s final irony.

This is the same Havana found in similar novels of Cuba written from a United States base. Every such novel, it seems, has a highly literate character, sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, strong enough to resist temptations and advantage. Despite their outward support of the Revolution, literary Cubanos all wait for that magic moment they can cheer and applaud the fall of the dictatorship. For now, their admiration for Fidel comes with ritual overtones, the gente make jokes at his expense with practiced casualness. Obejas’ world sidles up on the jinetera subculture that occupies such novels as Havana Bay, Adios Muchachos, and Havana Lunar, but avoid the street, pursuing where such people come from. Usnavy’s fourteen year old daughter, for example, has grown to a perilous age in a dangerous place, her parents fear, something Obejas elects to keep ambiguous.

There’s a close kinship between Ruins and Havana Lunar. Akashic Books published them both recently. Both novels deserve a good reading, in tandem, they go so well together. Both take place during the same time period, with overlapping events—inescapably. Boat people, rafters, floaters, privation. There are other similarities; both, for example, mention the ersatz meat product, a textile sandwich. While Havana Lunar is a mystery with picaresque undertones, Ruins is sentimental novel of place and character. Given a spate of slow titles in recent weeks, it’s been two great weeks in a row. 


With the idea of gathering stories, poems, memories, meditations and ruminations, the public is invited to send the BBF reflections, stories and artwork that reflect on the number 15. For example:

* 15 Reasons to Live in Peace
* 15 Favorite Books
* 15 Favorite Meals
* 15 Sacred Memories
* 15 Reasons to Love the Desert
* 15 Lessons I’ve Learned In My Life
* 15 Favorite Sayings or Dichos
* When I was 15. . .

We will gather the 15s as we move toward our 15th annual Border Book Festival in April 2009. We will share these lists and stories with you at the festival. So, put on your thinking caps, and reflect on the 15s!

Sounds like another great festival. But what really caught my eye is the festival's auction of a Diego Rivera lithograph:

The BBF will be selling a signed Diego Rivera print, The Fruits of Labor/Los Frutos del Trabajo during the festival. The lithograph was donated by an anonymous donor and is numbered #49 of #100. For more information on the lithograph or the Silent Auction donation, contact the festival.

To get the details on your 15 reasons, or para mayor info click

That's the buey it is, the final Tuesday of March, 2009, a day like any other day, except You are here.


Orale, if you'd like to share an observation on the above, please click the Comments counter below. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists when you have a review of book, arts, or cultural event, or an extended response to a La Bloga column. Click here with your idea for a guest column.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Seeing How the Other Half Lives

Guest essay by Álvaro Huerta

In times of financial turmoil and massive corporate bailouts, we shouldn’t forget one simple fact: The working poor in this country have historically been marginalized and blamed for their impoverished status. This has been especially true for racial minorities and immigrants in the nation’s ghettoes and barrios since as long ago as the 19th century.

The working poor and immigrants are no strangers to housing instability, high job loss and unemployment, tight credit markets, lack of health coverage, and other social and economic ills currently plaguing millions of Americans. Why is it that only when economic downturns hit the middle and upper classes that America finds itself in desperate need of trillion-dollar federal interventions?

Throughout its history, America has blamed the working poor and its most recent wave of immigrants for their low socioeconomic status. If only they learned the virtue of the so-called Protestant work ethic, the logic goes, “those people” would succeed in America, the famed land of opportunity. If only “those immigrants” learned to speak proper English and adopt America’s cultural norms of individualism, hard work and self-motivation goes the xenophobic argument, they would become productive members of society.

This is not to say that government intervention hasn’t addressed the needs of the working poor. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs provided the working poor with vital monetary aid and services in employment, health care and education. Despite the good intentions behind many liberal government programs and services, however, mainstream and conservative voices have stigmatized anti-poverty programs and services as handouts for “lazy, undeserving individuals” who represent, in economists’ terms, free riders.

As someone who grew up in East Los Angeles housing projects on welfare, food stamps, free school meals and medical services (Medi-Cal), I’m all too familiar with the social stigma associated with these government benefits. Although most of my childhood friends in the Ramona Gardens housing project also received food stamps, using them at the local store typically made us feel like drug addicts buying heroine in a dark alley.

The stigma of being poor was another source of exasperation for many of us when we participated in a mandatory, desegregation busing program to a majority-White school, Mount Gleason Jr. High, in Sunland Tujunga during the late 1970s.

Despite the obvious fact that we “dressed poor” and received free school meals compared to the mostly affluent White students, I never heard anyone from our barrio admit to being poor or on welfare. For us, this would have been tantamount to admitting to a heinous crime such as, say, waterboarding.

This stigma continued through my undergraduate years at UCLA in the mid-1980s. When filling out my financial aid application, for example, my household income was a meager $8,000. This for a family of eight, not to mention the fact that welfare doesn’t technically count as income – it’s government aid after all. But I kept this simple fact a secret from my UCLA peers, who came mostly from stable, middle-class backgrounds.

In fact, it wasn’t until I studied U.S. history that I learned I had nothing to be ashamed of and that the working poor have contributed greatly to making America the most wealthy and powerful country in the world. Yet, in contrast to anti-poverty policies, government programs and services aimed at boosting the middle and upper classes, such as the G.I. Bill, mortgage-interest tax deductions for homeowners and ongoing Bush administration tax cuts for the rich, have hardly received the same stigma and public scorn.

And while it’s true that many government intervention programs and subsidies, together with access to higher education, home ownership and tax breaks, have helped create a significant middle class, Whites have been the main beneficiaries of these policies as they fled from inner cities to the suburbs.

In short, there seems to be a double standard in government intervention aimed at helping Americans. Whereas government aid to the working poor is pregnant with social stigmas and attacks by conservatives, aid that addresses the needs of the higher classes, including victims of the current financial meltdown, is perceived as perfectly normal.

While recessions impact all people, not all people suffer equally. For the majority of the working poor, a bad economy is one more crisis to deal with on a daily basis, while the upper classes get a taste of what if feels like to live at the bottom: insecurity, anxiety and a pervasive sense of gloom.

But if every crisis has a silver lining, my hope is that this time around, privileged Americans and government officials alike will have more compassion for the less fortunate instead of scapegoating them for the nation’s ills.

Guest essayist Álvaro Huerta is a visiting scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center, and a doctoral student in city and urban planning at UC Berkeley. His story, "Los Dos Smileys," is featured in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008). This essay first appeared in the Los Angeles Business Journal.

◙ Well, despite being a bit under the weather, I'm still flying high from our wonderful Latinos in Lotusland book reading at Librería Martínez this last Saturday. I want to thank our guest authors who wowed the crowd with their writing and thought-provoking comments and answers to audience questions: Manuel Ramos, Lisa Alvarez, Alejandro Morales, Sandra Ramos O'Briant and Victorio Barragán (unfortunately, Conrad Romo couldn't make it but he was there in spirit). Also many thanks to Reuben Martínez for being a fantastic host. You should help support independent bookstores such as Librería Martínez! This week, I want you to drive or walk to Librería Martínez located at 1200 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701, and buy a book or two or three. Indeed, there are autographed copies of Latinos in Lotusland waiting for you if you missed our reading. Without your support, such cultural gems will not survive...I mean it!

I also want to thank the hardworking staff at Librería Martínez including Sarah Rafael García who did the promotional work for our reading. Sarah is a fine writer in her own right. Visit her website to learn more about her work.

Finally, mil gracias to Gustavo "Ask a Mexican" Arellano and Andrew Tonkovich (editor of the Santa Monica Review and host of KPFK's Monday book show, Bibilocracy), who got the word out about our reading.

◙ Some news from Daniel Alarcón:

A new installment of El Barco is now online at the Etiqueta Negra website. Most of the pieces from the latest issue (EN69) are also online now, including the complete Spanish text of Alarcón's essay on Obama.

◙ 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!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Once Upon a Sato

The other day I was pleased to come across a news piece about tween-star Selena Gomez and her work with stray dogs, satos, while filming in Puerto Rico. Besides being impressed that such a young star was being photographed feeding stray dogs rather than shopping in her Uggs with a diamond-collared, pocket-sized, purebred pooch in her arms, I was also grateful to her because this is a cause that has become dear to my family’s heart, particularly after our most recent trip to La Isla Bonita.

Since I was a small child I was aware of the stray dog situation in Puerto Rico, it’s hard not to be. Each store parking lot has at least a half dozen, mangy-furred, weary-eyed critters begging for food and lying under cars to avoid the blazing midday sun. But for me it was also because opinions about the creatures varied so greatly in the Davila branch of my family. My mother was brought up to believe that dogs were livestock to be kept outside and employed as security. But her stepmother, my beloved Mamita Nivea and my grandfather’s second wife, collected stray dogs like most people collect knickknacks. There were always at least a dozen mutts ranging about the house, smalls ones barking at you from under the rattan furniture, large ones loping around the exterior of the house, their fur caked with the tar from my grandfather’s trucks. Nivea would sit on the porch in her rocking chair with at least three or four of them draped across her body, their eyes closed with pleasure as she scratched behind their one remaining ear. But my grandfather hated them. I remember sitting on the porch one day as he shuffled out in his pajamas yelling towards the back yard, shaking his cane and waving a gun. I screamed as he shot at a stray that was scurrying by the pool. “They’re only blanks!” he yelled at me as if I should have known, my ears ringing from the blast. The dog took off into the bushes, its stringy tail between its legs. “If I don’t scare them away that woman would take them all in until there was no room for us!” he muttered as he shuffled back to his bedroom, cane in one hand, and gun in the other.

But he is looking down from heaven in dismay as my beloved Tía Georgina has taken after Mamita Nivea rather than him. From the day she moved out of my grandfather’s house and on her own she has grown and nurtured her own brood of disheveled but well-loved hounds, her real estate choices dictated by the now thirteen dogs that live with her. The back of her SUV always contains two large bags of dog food and a container of water. Over the years while traveling with her around the island we’ve stopped by the road on the way to El Yunque to feed the strays that wander by the road, on a side street in Humacao, and every trip to the supermarket includes a meal and fresh water for the parking lot’s canine residents. I always smiled and accepted this as an integral part of this woman I loved, but an odd one. But it wasn’t until this February that she managed to pull me and my son Carlos into her efforts…it wasn’t until then that I really began to understand.

Once we had settled into my Tío Esteban’s condo in Luquillo, Georgina arrived to take us to lunch, but said she had a stop to make on the way. We drove along the narrow side streets, wondering where she was taking us. Finally she pulled the car to a stop at a dead end. I couldn’t imagine what she was doing: there was nothing there but trash and palm fronds rustling in the wind. She asked Carlos to help her get something from the trunk, and I saw them hauling a massive bag of dog food towards the edge of the trees. I should have known. I resigned myself to watching her feed some gristled old mutts when suddenly seven tiny creatures came stumbling over the bank, all long legs, fur and ribbed torsos. Carlos and I stood transfixed as she carefully poured piles of food on the ground and the family of puppies watched with careful eyes from the shadows of the trees. Half of them looked like boxers, the other like any number of dog breeds all mixed together. The mother watched in the distance as Georgina poured some water into a discarded plastic to-go container she found on the side of the road. Carlos tried to coax them closer, but they would skitter with any movement of his arm, any step closer. Realizing we probably wouldn’t get to pet them, we contented ourselves with watching them gambol about, tumbling over one another on the grass as they waited for us to leave. We watched them begin to eat in the rearview mirror and felt happy we had helped fill those small bellies for at least one day.

Needless to say, we went back the next day. And the next. By the end of the two weeks, the boldest one would stand near as we poured the food, his brother and sisters a few feet away. As we cooed over them, my aunt offered to ship them to anyone who might want to adopt them stateside. Carlos and I lamented our asthma, our allergies. Otherwise, we would have taken at least one home. Carlos’ favorite part of the vacation was not the hours of body surfing at the beach, the shopping in old San Juan, or even the generous gift of a Nintendo DS from Titi, but rather the daily ritual of feeding the puppies. We talk about them often, even now, realizing with not a small amount of sadness that they will be full grown by the time we visit next year: that is, if they survive. A sato’s life span is not a long one, and our only hope is that the efforts of people like Georgina will pay off in no-kill shelters, and more comprehensive neutering plans. And the press attention that Selena Gomez’s visit brought is sure to help, but there is a long way to go to change the society’s perception of the canine species. But until then, when we visit the island, we will always have a bag or two of dog food in the back of our rental car, and though I’m not sure my mother would understand, Mamita Nieva is looking down at her great grandson Carlos and smiling.

Friday, March 27, 2009

XicanIndie, New Book, Short Story Events

El Centro Su Teatro, in collaboration with the Consulado General de Mexico and the Denver Film Society, proudly presents XicanIndie FilmFest XI: Latino World Cinema, April 2 – 5, 2009 at the Starz FilmCenter, 900 Auraria Parkway in Denver.

What began as a small celebration of independent Chicano film making, has, in a decade’s time, become the foremost Latino film festival in the region. This year’s XicanIndie will feature the Denver premiere of an award-winning and riveting new film from director Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer; a beloved classic from Mexico’s golden age of cinema; a handful of exciting independent shorts - the Chones; and a special tribute to legendary movie producer Moctesuma Esparza (The Milagro Beanfield War, Gettysburg, Walkout).

Su Teatro announces the XicanIndie FilmFest XI opening night film: Amexicano (a Denver premiere)

Join us at 6:00 p.m. as we celebrate the living legacy of Chicano film producer Moctesuma Esparza (Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Milagro Beanfield War, Selena, Walkout) followed by the Denver premiere of Amexicano - the story of an unlikely friendship between a down and out Italian-American and a Mexicano day laborer.

“Pulses with the hum of city life”—New York Daily News
“Constantly unpredictable”—Variety

April 2, 6:00 p.m. -- Opening Night Reception (Moctesuma Esparza will be in attendance); City and County of Denver recognizes April 2, 2009 as Moctesuma Esparza Day; Su Teatro presents Esparza with the XicanIndie Lifetime Achievement Award

7:30 p.m. -- Amexicano (distributed by Moctesuma Esparza’s Maya Entertainment)

$15 Opening Night Reception & Film combo

Call El Centro Su Teatro for tickets: 303.296.0219. Check out complete festival details online at: http://xicanindie.suteatro.org or the Denver Film Society website.


A Not So Perfect Crime,
Teresa Solana
Bitter Lemon Press, March, 2009

Another day in Barcelona, another slimy politician’s wife is suspected of infidelity. Luis Font discovers a portrait of his wife in an exhibition that leads him to conclude he is being cuckolded by the artist. Concerned only about the potential political fallout, he hires twins Eduard and Pep, private detectives with a supposed knack for helping the wealthy with their “dirty laundry.” Their office is adorned with false doors leading to non-existent private rooms, a mysterious secretary who is always away and a broken laptop computer picked up on the street. The case turns ugly when Font’s wife is found poisoned by a marron glacé from a box of sweets delivered anonymously. This is a deftly plotted, bitingly funny mystery novel. A satire of Catalan politics and a fascinating insight into the life and habits of Barcelona’s inhabitants, diurnal and nocturnal. Winner of the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize for the Best Catalan Mystery Novel.


Don't forget the group reading and Q&A for Latinos in Lotusland scheduled for March 28, 2009, 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.at Librería Martínez, 1200 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701. Phone: 714-973-7900. Scheduled contributors to the anthology include Lisa Alvarez, Conrad Romo, Victorio Barragan, Alejandro Morales, Sandra Ramos O'Briant, Manuel Ramos, and the esteemed editor, Daniel Olivas.

And, this just in ... a reading and signing for Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery has been set for the Tattered Cover, Colfax store (Denver) for May 21 at 7:30 p.m. Join Mario Acevedo and me at the Tattered as we read from our stories in the new anthology and celebrate this publishing milestone - the first short story collection devoted to Latino crime fiction writers. I will post a complete list of all scheduled Hit List events (from New York to Houston to San Antonio to Denver to L.A.) in the weeks to come. Watch for it.

And while you are at it, watch for another interview with one of the people responsible for putting together Hit List - coming soon.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Great Events in Aztlán del Norte - NMMA shines

Josefina Lopez,
acclaimed author of the play and successful film Real Women Have Curves, presents her latest work
Hungry Woman in Paris

A journalist and activist, Canela believes passion is essential to life; but lately passion seems to be in short supply. It has disappeared from her relationship with her fiancé, who is more interested in controlling her than encouraging her. It's absent from her work, where censorship and politics keep important stories from being published. And while her family is full of outspoken individuals, the only one Canela can truly call passionate is her cousin and best friend Luna, who just took her own life.

Canela can't recover from Luna's death. She is haunted by her ghost and feels acute pain for the dreams that went unrealized. Canela breaks off her engagement and uses her now un-necessary honeymoon ticket, to escape to Paris. Impulsively, she sublets a small apartment and enrolls at Le Coq Rouge, Paris's most prestigious culinary institute.

Cooking school is a sensual and spiritual reawakening that brings back Canela's hunger for life. With a series of new friends and lovers, she learns to once again savor the world around her. Finally able to cope with Luna's death, Canela returns home to her family, and to the kind of life she thought she had lost forever.


Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1969, Josefina López was five years old when she and her family immigrated to the United States and settled in East Los Angeles. Best known for co-authoring the film Real Women Have Curves, Josefina is the recipient of a number of awards and accolades, including formal recognition from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's 7th Annual "Women Making History" banquet in 1998 and a screenwriting fellowship from the California Arts Council in 2001.

She, along with Real Women Have Curves co-author George La Voo, won the Humanitas Prize for Screenwriting in 2002, The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Award from L.A. Mayor in 2003, and the Artist-in-Residency grant from the NEA/TCG for 2007. This is her first novel: Josefina resides in Boyle Heights and considers herself a "Renaissance Woman".

Complimentary reception 
Friday, March 27, 2009, 6 PM, Program at 7 PM 
National Museum of Mexican Art 
1852 W. 19th Street, Chicago, IL     Free 

New Exhibits:

Chicago Figurativo: 
Prints Selected from the NMMA Permanent Collection
and Quilt Me a Story: Nuestros relatos (Immigration Stories)

Reception Saturday, March 28, 2009, 6-8 PM

National Museum of Mexican Art 1852 W. 19th Street, Chicago, IL 

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The House On Mango Street- 25th Anniversary Edition

Sandra Cisneros talks about her childhood and the role libraries and education played in her life. And don't miss the 25th anniversary edition of her classic novel The House on Mango Street, now with a new introduction by the author.

Sandra Cisneros talks about the importance of volunteering and community activism in her life.

Sandra Cisneros reading from House on Mango street paired with Hispanic art.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Havana Lunar. Robert Arellano.

NY: Akashic Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-933354-68-2

Michael Sedano

What a delight, after reading a string of uninvolving novels, to come across Robert Arellano's engaging "Cuban noir novel", Havana Lunar.

The Havana setting breathes life into this story of grisly murder and false accusation. The first person narrator is an idealistic medical doctor working in a neighborhood clinic. Lacking the most basic supplies like aspirin, the medico Rodriguez heals through bedside manner and decency.

Rodriguez' nobility is its own reward until a teenaged jinetera takes advantage of kindness to insinuate herself in his life. The novel opens with a detective surreptitiously searching the clinic for the sex worker's jacket. She's a suspect. 

Arellano keeps a smile on his fingers as he takes readers through a lively, twisting story that brings in the doctor's large tight-knit familia from a rural compound, the break-up of his marriage, his ongoing affair with a childhood friend, the ugly mole on his cheek that is the title of the book, the beheading of a local pimp and the doctor’s involvement with the teenie jinetera suspect.

Sexual tourism, inept social services, corrupt public servants, the loving familia, a portrait of Che Guevara that talks, give the novel enough color that the potential horror of the crime never infects the fun of the telling. 

Some of the fun is Arellano's, exercising his decided political slant against the revolution. The doctor regrets small privations like choosing between buying gas for the car or coffee for his cuppa, and he uses an old skeleton to evade enforced hitch hiker laws. But a children's clinic with no aspirin insults this deeply caring professional. The jineteras know he’s a doctor who does HIV tests on the QT, no government reports, and he takes no sex in return. Breaking his resistance is part of the whore's motive. The doc's a real sucker. The pimp's moves to get her back thrusts the doctor into captivity and torture, escape, a near-lethal confrontation with a crazed killer, and the corrupt policeman.

Contrast the city's constant struggle to the doctor's family compound out in the sticks on the local economy, liberated from the restraints of city bureaucrats. Granpa rules with iron fist, the women eat in the kitchen whether company comes or not. They laugh, eat well, all the kids are above average. This is the sentimental Cuba of shoulda woulda coulda land, but Arellano's point is well taken.

Arellano doesn't harp on the failures of Cuban socialism, not in a heavy-handed manner. Everyday ironies abound; a family learns that flour has come on sale. All gather excitedly around the table, real bread oven fresh! The food is ripped from their mouths. Rumors abound that saboteurs mixed glass into the flour. More irony, other rumors arise the government spread the rumors to suppress the black market for flour, they coulda eaten that bread.

As with so many other Cubano novels, the shortcomings of the revolution are well knit into the fabric of the story. Everyday details like enforced hitch hiking, or choosing between buying gas for the car or coffee for his cuppa, point up such novels like Havana Lunar can be told only in Cuba. Arellano's noir masterpiece belongs alongside Daniel Chavarria's Adiós Muchachos and Tango for a Torturerer.

Applause must go to Akashic and or Arellano for their common sense approach to English and Spanish expression. The languages are not italicized nor does Arellano offer much appositional translation. When a character says something in Spanish the expression stands on its own.

For slightly under 200 pages, Havana Lunar has lots to enjoy, everything a comic noir aficionado could hope for. Mejor, Havana Lunar need not be enjoyed in private; the publisher plans a coast-to-coast tour of readings, from March 24 at NYNY Bluestockings to May 8 at W. Hollywood's Book Soup. Many of the stops include Achy Obejas, signing her latest, Ruins.

Juan Felipe Herrera Poetry Collection Honored

The National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, announced March 12, named Juan Felipe Herrera's Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, along with August Kleinzahler's Sleeping It Off in Rapid City.

I note the publisher's and Herrera's support for Oracy, making this collection, hopefully, a trailblazer setting a standard for all published poetry: Beginning with early material from A Certain Man and moving through thirteen of his collections into new, previously unpublished work, this assemblage also includes an audio CD of the author reading twenty-four selected poems aloud.

Felicidades, Juan Felipe. You had it coming, ese.

Read Lisa Alvarado's La Bloga interview with Mr. Herrera here.

Poetry Collection Reviewed

La Bloga friend Rigoberto González expresses his joy at reading Kevin A. González' first poetry collection, Cultural Studies, noting the poet is "prodigal son, a creative writing degree in hand, come back to reconnect to the imagery of his youth". 

You'll enjoy the full review at the El Paso Times.

Nuyorican MTV Viewers Protest

Gente who partake of the plug-in drug have one more reason to abjure the device altogether. Consumers of what MTV has to offer find a recent episode so undigestible they've written a petition to have a program withdrawn and a new one produced to replace it. The group's petition links here.

We, the undersigned, call upon Viacom/MTV/MTV News to cease airing the episode entitled "True Life: I'm a Nuyorican" on the grounds that it is an unbalanced, negative stereotype affirming and unfair representation of who and what Nuyoricans are as a culture.

Furthermore, it is psychosocially damaging to youth and uncharacteristic of the values which MTV News claims to uphold.

Additionally, we call upon Viacom/MTV/MTV News to produce a new episode which represents the Nuyorican community accurately and references the Nuyorican Movement, this task is to be completed and aired by year's end.

Sandhill Crane Migration - A Wonder of the Natural World

Please enjoy a few fotos from a recent visit to Nebraska's Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River: http://www.readraza.com/cranes/index.htm

La Bloga welcomes your comments and guest columns. To leave a comment, please click the Comments counter below. To be our guest with a column-length review of your own, click here to learn more.

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!

WEBSITE: http://www.latinobooks.com/

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 http://www.kpfk.org/. 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 LatinoLA.com:

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!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview With Rolando Hinojosa-Smith: The Writer's Mission

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, the Ellen Clayton Garwood Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the Klail City Death Trip series of novels. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Premio Quinto Sol for his first novel, Estampas del valle y otras obras (1973), and the most prestigious prize in Latin American fiction, Casa de las Américas, for his second book, Klail City y sus alrededores (1976). His other novels include Ask a Policeman, The Useless Servants, Becky and Her Friends, Dear Rafe, and Rites and Witnesses.

The Klail City Death Trip series takes place in fictional Belken County in the Texas Valley, where two of the main characters in the series, Rafe Buenrostro and Jehú Malacara, are first introduced as young boys in the 1930s. The series progresses up to fairly recent times. Numerous critics and literary analysts have compared Hinosja-Smith's work favorably to other epic writers who have created a body of work about a particular group of people in a particular place, e.g., James Joyce and William Faulkner.

Professor Hinojosa-Smith is a prolific and admired writer who continues to write, teach, lecture and help aspiring writers even though he recently celebrated his eightieth birthday. His reputation is literally worldwide and his busy schedule often includes appearances at international writers and literary conferences. He is one of the contributors to Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, due any day now in the bookstores. We are honored that the good professor managed to squeeze in a few minutes for La Bloga.

Your impressive record of publications includes several in the mystery category, including your police procedurals, Partners in Crime (1985) and Ask A Policeman (1998), and short stories such as Nice Climate, Miami, your contribution to Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery. What is it that draws you to this type of writing, this particular genre?

This'll be a long answer. I've read detective stories since childhood and am acquainted with the old as well as contemporary ones, however, there are two main reasons for Partners and Policeman.

After a long chat with Tomás Rivera, I finished Estampas del valle and sent it to Quinto Sol. I didn't want to write a linear novel, nor did I want a sole protagonist. Instead, I wrote of a place where every character, minor or major, would have a voice. I followed this with Klail City y sus alrededores, and it too was a fragmented novel. That, then, produced two main characters, Rafa Buenrostro and Jehú Malacara. Still bent on not writing a linear novel, these two were followed by Korean Love Songs, a novel in narrative verse. I meant to show the younger writers that the Mexican American experience was a wide one, and thus our literature would have to call for whatever genre prose fiction offered; since then, I've written an epistolary novel, a novel where dialogue predominated in the first part and with reportage in the second part, one with no narrator where the characters narrate the novel, there's one in journal or diary form, a campus novel, and so on. In brief, whatever the young writers chose to write regardless of theme. The Klail City Death Trip would show, through time, changes in that part of Texas.

During my trips to the Valley in the early 80s, I noticed an increase in violence on the Mexican side which also affected the northern bank of the Rio Grande. To show this, I chose a detective novel which calls for linearity, and this produced Partners in 85.

I followed this with the various genres mentioned earlier and thirteen years later, the violence increased along with a false economy produced by money due to the drug trade, from south to north, and the selling of weapons from north to south. This gave birth to Policeman in '98. The violence has increased and placed Mexico and the United States at odds: our country is the biggest buyer and user of drugs and Mexico, as our next door neighbor, is the principal conduit for their introduction into the United States.

I chose the procedural because I think it's more realistic: the police are not Dirty Harry types. They go about their business by interviewing, checking on what or may not be facts, and so on. So, in keeping with showing the changes of the Valley, the detective stories fit in what I set out to do: the violence called for that type of novel. The latest one, We Happy Few, shows still another genre in prose fiction: the campus novel. During this, I write essays, short stories, prepare papers for conferences, and so on.

What can you tell us about your Hit List story Nice Climate, Miami?

To leave the Klail City Death Trip for a while, I decided to write a ten chapter novel featuring Timothy Matthew O'Hara, a retired Manhattan Homicide lieutenant. An interesting background, almost a stereotype: Irish, his father and his grandfather were policemen. A widower, he was happily married for 16 years when his wife died of uterine cancer. She was the granddaughter of a retired Capo who gave his consent because the old man had known O'Hara's family and because they, as the present O'Hara, never took bribes. His marriage, however, kept him from rising about the rank of lieutenant as the old Capo predicted. After his twenty years on the force, he retires. He keeps his identity but places ads under the name of Rienzi and offers his services as a hitter. His twenty years in the Chinatown/Mulberry precinct took him all over Manhattan and I make use of this. His life, then, is a series of disposable cell phones. Independent, he won't be rushed. He plans the hits carefully, and as a former policeman he'll be hard to catch. He demands payment in advance; he'll do the occasional job for a friend, say, a madam at a high end brothel, and at one point, leaves Greenwich Village and moves across the East River to Astoria. Miami is the final chapter; however, I have three chapters to go before I finish the work. In Nice Climate, Miami, he fulfills his assignment, keeps the $20,000 the victim offered, and, earlier, having bought airline tickets to Montreal, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Miami, he flies to Miami to begin a new life, again as a hitter.

The hit man novel is yet another classification in crime fiction. I can't wait to read your contribution to this popular type of story. Maybe someone should put together an anthology of hit man stories - Latino hit man stories.

It seems that you are constantly on the go, from one literary conference to another, often in countries far from the U.S. One conference that you have attended several times is Semana Negra, the annual festival hosted by Paco Taibo II and his family in Gijón, Spain. That festival is dedicated to the “black” novel –crime, thrillers, detectives, graphic novels, and so on. Semana Negra is ten days of celebration and party where writers are treated like pop stars. How did you get involved in Semana Negra, and could such an event ever happen in the U.S.?

I was reading and lecturing at several German universities when a friend, Ricardo Bada, who lives in Cologne, told me of Semana Negra and he sent Paco Taibo my name and address. I was invited and the two of us flew to Madrid. Retired now, Ricardo worked for some thirty years for Deutsche Welle, the German shortwave station. A world-wide traveler for D.W., he is well-known and highly regarded in Europe and Latin America, and he occasionally writes for La Opinión in L.A. Once in Madrid, there's an overnight stay at the Chamartín Hotel (the meeting place before taking El tren negro north to Gijón). Paco is seemingly tireless and he is responsible for coming up with the money; you'd think this would be enough, but no: he's a writer, and I know of four novels and a biography of Ernesto Guevara, el Che, published in the ten or twelve summers I've been there. The writers come from the United States, Latin America, and all over Europe: England, France, Germany, Spain, the old USSR, and specialists in translation in foreign languages are present to help the audience. For several years, Elia Barceló and I conducted a series of creative writing seminars for young writers. Three years ago, Goran Tocilovac and I started creative writing seminars for seniors; all but one are women and most of them in their 70s. I also participate in a select three-day session with fourteen other writers and we discuss what we do. I also participate in radio and television interviews. It's an exciting conference with good company where one greets and meets old and new friends.

Would such an event take place in the United States? I don't know. I don't know who could/would raise the money for hotels, food, transportation, and so on for a worldwide conference on writers. Then there's the matter of taking care of the many contingencies that arise in any international conference. It'd be a fine occasion, but being the United States, if it were ever held, it would most likely be a one-time event. Why? Because I find that too many of our fellow citizens don't get along.

Sounds like a challenge for an enterprising literature benefactor - an international festival of writers and writing, here in the U.S.A.

In your more than thirty years as an active, consistently published writer, you must have seen various writing trends, fads and experiments. What’s your view of the current state of Latino fiction in the U.S.? What kinds of stories are popular now; who are some of the younger writers you think will be around for a while?

I know of one novel by Carlos Cisneros (he's a practicing attorney) and I believe The Case Runner is his first novel. As an attorney he could continue to write write genre novels, and this would be the paving of another avenue for younger writers to think on. There's also much activity in the young adult market and for that I can mention two: Claudia Guadalupe Martínez and René Saldaña, Jr. I don't know Patricia Santana's age but her writing is mature. Then there's Matt de la Peña who will also make contributions to our young adult literature. Anne Estevis is not a young person, but she's a young writer with a fine sense of humor.

I was at a conference where a Chicano literary critic said that Rivera, Anaya, and I represented the old school. Whatever that means. Well, Rudy is best known for Ultima, as he should be, of course, but he's also written short stories and has developed his detective series as well. I doubt the critic has read much of mine, but that's all right, any critic has the right to be wrong at the top of his voice as long as the second amendment to the Constitution gives all of us the right to do so.

He wanted us to get away from our culture and to write fantasy novels; I wonder if he would say the same about Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and others to stop writing about the Afro-American experience. James Baldwin must be spinning in his grave, to coin a phrase to which the critic is welcomed.

Writers should write what they want to write about; if they are to harken and follow advice from nonwriters, our and all literature is in trouble.

I couldn't agree more, Rolando. We have to write what we need to write - the readers will be there.

Much of today’s Latino literature deals with the immigrant experience. Do you see that type of story finding a place in the mystery genre? Are you aware of current immigrant crime, detective, or mystery fiction?

The horrible crimes in regard to the Juárez murders would fit in with the immigration condition, but I would hate to earn money writing fiction on the subject, particularly on such a serious subject. Yes, fiction is based on some reality, but, in the end, it should remain what it is: fiction.

Immigration is on the news, of course, and the robberies and murders of Mexican nationals who were killed returning home after six to nine months of hard work in the U.S. would be a workable piece of fiction. This would call for the police departments of both countries working together. This, however, is far different from the Juárez tragedies which are a part of contemporary history.

I’ll ask a question I asked Professor Ralph Rodriguez: Let’s say that a few of La Bloga’s readers have not read any Latino crime fiction or, worse, think they shouldn’t waste their time with such lowbrow material. What’s your reaction to that? Why should people read Hit List, for example?

I don't consider crime fiction low brow, period. Those who do are entitled to their opinion, but an opinion is merely that, and opinions change. An opinion is different from a fact, and as Eustace Budgell wrote, "Facts are very bothersome things in that they refuse to go away."

As for those people who consider crime fiction low brow, who do and whom have they read? Orwell? Graham Greene? Evelyn Waugh? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Faulkner,Hemingway, Steinbeck, Bellow? Have they read Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, or the following crime writers, the three Scottish women: Alanna Knight, Lin Anderson, Alex Gray, or A. S. Byatt, Agatha Christie, Mignon Eberhardt, etcetera. Well, crime writers do. Why? Because the novels of those cited are well written and, as educated readers, crime writers are like sharks: they have no natural enemies. We don't set out to out do Shakespeare or Marlowe, Pérez Galdós or Cervantes, for crying out loud.To add to this, have they read Nicolas Freeling? Per Walloo and Maj Sjowall? Arthur Conan Doyle? Edgar Allan Poe?

Have they read half of those mentioned? Or are they, as I suspect, holding thumb and index finger to their noses to show superiority? They don't even know that Faulkner read crime stories as did Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Have they, finally, read Crime and Punishment? Now there's a crime novel for you.

As for Hit List, it's not meant solely for Hispanic readers; to write for one audience and one audience alone is not the mission of any writer.

Thank you, Professor. I sincerely appreciate your time and wisdom. It's been a pleasure - maybe we can continue the discussion one day soon over brisket at The Kreuz Market. I promise to call next time, honest.


A quick note about another contributor to Hit List and a series of events that begins this weekend, March 21. The poetry of Lucha Corpi, more precisely, her poem Marina, has been set to music and will be presented in three separate concerts by the San Francisco Choral Artists in collaboration with the Early Music wind band, The Whole Noyse. The new composition Marina, by Ted Allen, uses early instruments like recorders, sackbuts, cornetts and curtals, together with mixed chorus. Includes works by Brahms, Clemens, Croft, Distler, Jannequin, Lassus and others, as well as instrument-only works.

SAN FRANCISCO: Saturday, Mar 21, 8 PM; St. Marks Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell
OAKLAND: Saturday, Mar 28, 8 PM; St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 114 Montecito
PALO ALTO: Sunday, Mar 29, 4 PM; St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado

More information including tickets at www.sfca.org.

The new composition Marina is based on a poem cycle by poet Lucha Corpi, and explores different aspects of a native woman known to the Spanish as Marina, who aided Hernán Cortés in the 16th Century in Mexico. Also known as La Malinche, she has acquired almost mythical status over the centuries, and has been both revered and reviled.

Lucha Corpi, a poet and novelist who lives in Oakland, often explores themes of racism and justice in her works. Growing up in Mexico, she learned the story of La Malinche as a child. As an adult in Berkeley of the 1960s, she revisited the story while taking part in the Chicano Civil Rights movement and her perspective on Marina deepened. Says Corpi, “I began to appreciate La Malinche in a different context – as an intelligent, smart woman who took control of her own destiny."