Friday, August 10, 2007

Colorado and The Big Read (Red?)

Manuel Ramos

There are at least six Latina/o novelists who are Colorado based. Here are very brief summaries about five of them, in no particular order.

Abelardo Lalo Delgado
Lalo Delgado is best known, of course, as a premier Chicano poet (he passed away in 2004). Stupid America, a brilliant and succinct exposure of racism and its painful legacy, is a masterpiece of literary accomplishment, Chicano or otherwise. His one novel, Letters to Louise, is not as well-known but it does have a solid reputation and I think it deserves a broader audience. The book was published by Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol International in 1982, and copies can still be found in unique book stores and online. One of the gems of my sprawling library is a copy of this book in excellent condition with a very personal and friendly author's autograph. I noted in an earlier review that the novel "tells the story of a man struggling with the contradiction of a good person involved in a moral dilemma, an ordinary person making complex choices in order to live the life he thinks he should."

Alan Cheuse, in the New York Times, said: "The narrator of Delgado's novel is a middle-aged Chicano poet/social worker/administrator named Santiago Flores. His job as an expert on the problems of migrant workers takes him across the Southwest, and his search for himself carries him back into the world of his childhood. In the warm, slightly wacky letters that he writes to an unknown correspondent --possibly you? possibly me? -- there's a touch of Whitman and also a swatch of Cantinflas, and finally a great and appealing personality, a new and attractive voice. By peering over Abelardo's shoulder you may catch a glimpse of yourself in his highly polished Chicano mirror."

Gene Guerin

Gene Guerin's debut novel, Cottonwood Saints (University of New Mexico Press, 2005), won the Premio Aztlán and the Mountains and Plains Regional Book Award for Adult Fiction. I reviewed this book for La Bloga, where I noted that the "author says in the book's Acknowledgments that Cottonwood Saints is a work of fiction but it is based on forty handwritten pages of reminiscences by his mother, Margaret Ortega Guerin. Without her memories there would be no book."

I also said: "At its heart this book is about the essential strength and dignity of hard-working, unpretentious people. In that way this book compares favorably, in tone, depth and sweep, to Luis J. Rodriguez's family saga of steelworkers in Twentieth Century Los Angeles, Music of the Mill (Rayo, 2005). The New Mexican rural poor of Cottonwood Saints overcome hardship and tragedy; raise families and provide for their children against all obstacles, natural and man made; they love, hate and disappoint; they overcome or succumb, yet they manage to leave something to pass on, something to cherish, in the same ways as Rodriguez's urban working class characters also survived and endured. They lived stories that cried out to be told."

Mario Acevedo
Mario Acevedo has
staked out the Chicano-private eye-war vet-vampire turf and made it his special place. His first two books of a projected three book series have entertained and amused readers across the country. La Bloga has featured Acevedo several times -- interviews, reviews, and he did a guest post for us, too -- and at this point we eagerly wait for his next piece in the series. The first, Nymphos of Rocky Flats (Rayo, 2006), garnered this praise from La Bloga's Daniel Olivas:
"Acevedo gleefully debunks vampire lore and creates new rules of the game with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. In the end, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats delivers fast paced fun topped off with wry humor and dead-on social commentary. One wonders who will play Felix Gomez in the screen adaptation."

His second, X-Rated Bloodsuckers (Rayo, 2007), also received rave reviews, including this from La Bloga's Michael Sedano:
"X-Rated Bloodsuckers will make an excellent, if perhaps ironic, gift for Easter. Harper Collins’ Rayo imprint has the novel scheduled for a March 2007 release. Outright hilarity in places, downright revulsion in others, e.g. rat chorizo and coffee mixed with Type B, and an involving yarn make it a standout. Hopefully, a recipient won’t be superstitious, but at any rate, the engaging character of Felix Gomez will win you as many friends as you give copies to."

The third Felix Gomez book, The Undead Kama Sutra, is set for a March, 2008 release.

Lynda Sandoval
Lynda Sandoval is a former police officer-turned fiction writer with fourteen book sales to her credit.

Sandoval writes women's fiction for HarperCollins Rayo; romance for Silhouette Special Edition; romantic suspense for Silhouette Intimate Moments; and young adult novels for Simon & Schuster.

Her books have won awards such as the 2000 Rising Star, the 2002 Golden Quill, and the 2002 Beacon—all sponsored by regional chapters of Romance Writers of America. She was also a finalist in the 2002 Booksellers Best, and a two-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist prior to selling.

Her novels include Chicks Ahoy (Simon & Schuster, 2006); Unsettling (Rayo, 2004); and And Then There Were Three (Harlequin, 2003). She also wrote True Blue: An Insider's Guide to Street Cops for Writers (Gryphon, 1999).

Aaron A. Abeyta
A few weeks ago I interviewed Aaron A. Abeyta and offered some comments about his debut novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (Ghost Road Press, 2007). Abeyta's interview is worth looking at if you haven't read it yet. For example, here is his take on being a storyteller:

"I learned early on, mostly from my abuelo, that a story is a living thing. I don’t ever remember hearing a story that began at A and ended at Z. I didn’t grow up with typical plot structures as a model. My mom didn’t read Mother Goose to me, or anything of the sort. I tell people that and they look at me like I was abused, as if to say that my parents not reading to me was some sort of 20th century crime. I never felt deprived, however. Everyone around me told great stories, and those were my bedtime stories. For example, my abuelito would tell a story and then a few weeks later I would hear the same story from the sheepherder and they were remarkably different, yet essentially the same. The teller of the story was always the heart, the information the blood and the listener the soul. I try and remain true to this model, not only in the novel but in all my writing. I guess my people were born of circles because that’s the way we still communicate."

Abeyta teaches English at Adams State College in Alamosa. He also has published two poetry collections, As Orion Falls (Ghost Road Press, 2005), and Colcha (University Press of Colorado, 2000). Colcha won an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award.

Rudolfo Anaya sent information about his participation in The Big Read, so I checked out the website and pulled the following (all quoted from

"The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

"The Big Read answers a big need.
Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young. The concerned citizen in search of good news about American literary culture would study the pages of this report in vain.

"The Big Read aims to address this crisis squarely and effectively. It provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.
The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, an ambitious national publicity campaign, and an extensive Web site providing comprehensive information on authors and their works.

"Each community event lasts approximately one month and includes a kick-off event to launch the program locally, ideally attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (panel discussions, author reading, and the like); events using the book as a point of departure (film screenings, theatrical readings, and so forth); and book discussions in diverse locations and aimed at a wide range of audiences."

I've seen the discussion and study materials for Bless Me, Ultima, and I was impressed. These include a Teacher's Guide and a Reader's Guide, which look to me as though they are very good tools for a deeper understanding of the novel.

Here's what the NEA says about Anaya's classic:

One of the most respected works of Chicano literature, Rudolfo Anaya tells the story of Antonio Luna Márez, a young boy who grapples with faith, identity, and death as he comes of age in New Mexico.

Other current featured novels in The Big Read are:

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

My Ántonia
Willa Cather

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett

A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan

The Age of Innocence


1 comment:

msedano said...

i love this idea of a "big read". it's a not-so-subtle way of affirming a canonical standard of cultural literacy. several of these titles deserve to be on such a list.