Friday, December 23, 2005

Texas to Mexico to Morocco

Manuel Ramos

Lunch With A Texas Writer

Rolando Hinojosa chugging a Big Red after enjoying brisket at the Kreuz Market

Recently I had the pleasure of sharing some time with Rolando Hinojosa, one of the deans of Chicano Literature. We met at Kreuz's, a joint that Rolando introduced me to a few years ago. The Kreuz Market is in Lockhart, not quite in the middle of the stretch between San Antonio and Austin. What a place. Long, horizontal brick fireplaces where the meats are smoked for hours, everything served on rust-colored butcher paper, your choice of bread or crackers, and if you don't like meat, stay away. There's a sign that says "Vegetarians This Way, Normal People That Way" (where the line forms). Another sign proclaims "No Barbecue Sauce - Nothing To Hide." Rolando had the brisket, which is absolutely one of the best pieces of meat ever served on paper or otherwise, a couple of Big Reds and a Shiner Bock to top it all off. I managed a bite or two of that brisket and also a pork chop - next time I stick with the brisket, although those sausage links looked mighty tasty.

We talked, ate, talked, ate, talked and ate a little bit more. Rolando has been busy: Arte Público Press released a new trade paperback bilingual edition of the classic Dear Rafe/Mi querido Rafa this year; he's published essays and short stories, here in the States and in international publications as well; and he's teaching at the University of Texas - when we finished eating he had to go back to grading papers. In addition he's excited about his newest novel, We Happy Few, due from Arte Público in April. Rolando describes this book as a comic novel with an academic setting.

He entertained us with tales of his recent month-long trip along the Chinese coast on board a freighter, the only passenger with a crew of 27, and his adventures dodging hurricanes - he was invited to a world literary conference in New Orleans that had to be cancelled because of Katrina, then he was invited to speak in Houston and that was kiboshed by the next hurricane. He's living the good life with his family, spread from Texas to the East Coast, writing and enjoying the world acclaim for his work, and deservedly so. This guy gets around. He seems to be constantly traveling from one spot to another, speaking at different universities, presenting at conferences. He said that most likely he will make it to the International Conference on Chicano Literature (May 22nd-25th, 2006), hosted by the Research Institute for North American Studies of the University of Alcalá. This year's conference will be held in Madrid and the theme is Interpreting the Nuevo Milenio.

Arte Público says this about the man:

"Hinojosa, 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, which examine relations between Mexican Americans and Anglo Americans in the fictional Rio Grande Valley town, Klail City, Texas. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the most prestigious prize in Latin American fiction, Case de las Américas, for the best Spanish American novel in 1976. Several of his novels have been translated into German, and The New York Times Book Review has compared him to William Faulkner, saying: 'Although his sharp eye and accurate ear capture a place, its people and a time in a masterly way, his work goes far beyond regionalism. He is a writer for all readers.'"

I certainly agree with that assessment. If you have not read any of the Klail City series, get with it. Clean, sharp prose about a small corner of the universe inhabited by characters readers love and hate, but who are always believable.

New Reads

Northwestern University Press lists The Disapperance: A Novella and Stories by Ilan Stavans in its Spring/Summer 2006 catalog (July). Here's the catalog copy:

"The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories contains three small, masterful gems. The novella Morirse está en hebreo, is a thought-provoking meditation on continuity and tradition among Mexican Jews that takes place just as a decades-long one-party dictatorship is crumbling down. It is the basis for a critically-acclaimed Mexican feature film that will be released in the United States in late 2006. The volume also features Xerox Man, an intriguing story about a book thief with a bizarre theological obsession, which was commissioned and broadcast by the BBC and has been widely anthologized. The title story The Disappearance is the resonant tale of a Belgian actor who kidnaps himself in an attempt to respond to neo-Nazi groups."

I'm reading a farily recent book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami (Algonquin, 2005). I bring this up because of Daniel Olivas's strong poem on La Bloga earlier this week that hit on the issue of border crossings, immigrants, and the backlash generated by population movements. Lalami's book also is about such things. It's one of those that grabbed me from the first page and hasn't let go yet. It's only 195 pages so I should finish soon but I wanted to mention it this week in connection with Daniel's poem. The book tells the stories of four people from Morocco who try to find new lives in Spain. Their searches are filled with danger, conflict, despair, and hope, all played against the backdrop of racial and ethnic animosity, and issues of cultural hostility (sound familiar?) Lalami is the creator and editor of the litblog Moorishgirl, which is well worth putting on your list of blogs to look at frequently.

Finally, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all readers, writers and other literary-minded folk, and best wishes of the season to my friends here on La Bloga. It's been a blast. PAZ.


1 comment:

daniel olivas said...

manuel, a fine post. glad to see that ilan stavans has some fiction coming out soon. and laila lalami's debut is one of my favorites of 2005. i reviewed it here: