A native of Los Angeles and the son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador, Rubén Martínez is a writer, performer and teacher. He holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Literature and Writing at Loyola Marymount University, and is an artist in residence at Stanford University’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. He is the author of Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, The New Americans and The Other Side: Notes from the New L.A., Mexico City and Beyond. His new book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West will be published in August 2012.
Martínez hosted and co-wrote the feature-length documentary film, When Worlds Collide, shot on location throughout Latin American and Spain, for national PBS. As a musician, he has collaborated with the likes of The Roches, Los Illegals and Concrete Blonde. He is the host of the VARIEDADES “performance salon” in Los Angeles, interdisciplinary shows that focus on topical themes. He has been active for over two decades in the spoken word and performance art scenes.
Rubén Martínez agreed to sit down with La Bloga and answer three questions about his new book, the Web, and summer reading.
DANIEL OLIVAS: What is the title of your upcoming book (out next month) and how would you describe it to potential readers?
RUBÉN MARTÍNEZ: It's titled Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West and is based on over a decade of living and traveling through the desert West and borderlands. It's a book of reportage, memoir and criticism, an interweaving of radically different narratives: high-end art colonies, and deadly migrant trails, the boutique desert and the desert of addiction and poverty. The settings include Joshua Tree in California's Mojave, rural northern New Mexico, the art colony in Marfa, Texas, and the Tohono O'odham reservation in southern Arizona. It tells the story of America's most recent catastrophic boom-and-bust cycle, set upon our most iconic landscape. It's also a book that argues that artistic representations of place often collude with economic interests in widening the gap between haves and have-nots. And it includes a very personal tale: my own journey through addiction and struggle to recover -- my passage through a spiritual desert.
OLIVAS: What prompted you (finalmente) to join the virtual world with a new website?
MARTÍNEZ: I came of age as a practitioner of old school, long-form print journalism and although I blogged a bit and enjoyed it (although my posts seemed longer than just about anyone else's), I suppose I was waiting to see how I could translate my long-form work, and my interdisciplinary work, onto the web. My designer, Maarten Ottens, came up with a really creative framework that allows the viewer to skip across genres -- writing and performance -- while following thematic threads.
OLIVAS: What books do you plan on reading this summer?
MARTÍNEZ: My family and I just returned from Mexico City, where we visited my favorite bookstore in the universe, la Libreria Fondo de Cultura Económica Rosario Castellanos in my old neighborhood, Colonia Condesa. We have a pile of children's books we'll be reading my twin daughters Ruby and Lucía all summer (El trapito feliz, La cabeza en la bolsa) and my wife and I are reading scholarly and creative works related to the violence in Mexico (Dolerse by Cristina Rivera Garza, Morir en México by John Gibler)... My birthday present was the massive 200 años del espectáculo en la Ciudad de México, about everything from carpa to opera, which I'll be slowly savoring for a good while.