Monday, April 21, 2008

Latinos in Lotusland is here!

I am delighted to announce the publication of Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press) in both hardcover and paperback.

Spanning sixty years of fiction writing, this landmark anthology brings to life the Latino denizens of Southern California. You may obtain Latinos in Lotusland through your favorite bookstores and online sellers. Alternatively, you may contact Bilingual Press directly by visiting its website and calling the toll-free number.

Short stories and novel excerpts of thirty-four authors are featured here: Kathleen Alcalá, Frederick Luis Aldama, Lisa Alvarez, Victorio Barragán, Daniel Chacón, Kathleen De Azevedo, Alex Espinoza, Rudy Ch. Garcia, Estella González, Melanie González, Rigoberto González, Reyna Grande, Stephen D. Gutiérrez, Álvaro Huerta, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Manuel Luis Martínez,Alejandro Morales, Manuel Muñoz, Daniel A. Olivas, Melinda Palacio, Salvador Plascencia, John Rechy, Jennifer Silva Redmond, Manuel Ramos, Sandra Ramos O'Briant, Wayne Rapp, Luis J. Rodríguez, Danny Romero, Conrad Romo, Jorge Saralegui, Mario Suárez, Luis Alberto Urrea, Richard Vásquez, and Helena María Viramontes.

The stunning cover artwork is Heart Like a Boat (2002) by Maya González.

In honor of this occasion, I am reprinting here the introduction to Latinos in Lotusland. Stay tuned for news about future book readings around the country.


In spring of 2005, after receiving a “green light” from Bilingual Press, I set upon the waters of the Internet the following call for submissions:

I am editing an anthology of short fiction by Latinos/as in which the City of Los Angeles plays an integral role. I am interested in provocative stories on virtually any subject by both established and new writers. Stories may range from social realism to cuentos de fantasma and anything in between. Los Angeles may be a major "character" or merely lurking in the background. I'd like to see characters who represent diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, profession, age, sexual orientation, etc.

What happened next both surprised and delighted me. My call for submissions quickly spread like a happy virus through the Web, showing up on numerous literary sites, personal blogs, and even on the home page of the Department of Urban Planning at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. With the exception of several pieces I solicited from authors I knew, submissions started pouring in over my virtual transom from writers who found my call on the Web or learned of it through an e-mail from a friend, agent, or writing instructor. It was almost overwhelming. After making some tough decisions, I chose the pieces that make up this volume.

The stories presented here span sixty years, with the earliest being “Kid Zopilote” by the late Mario Suárez, which first appeared the Arizona Quarterly in 1947. I begin the anthology with this piece not only because of its literary merit and historical importance, but because its sets the stage for the stories and novel excerpts that follow. In Suárez’s story, the teenage Pepe García ventures out of his seemingly boring Tucson barrio to experience the more exciting life in Los Angeles. His friends and family are shocked when he returns a full-fledged pachuco, decked out in a zoot suit and smoking marijuana. He eventually slides into selling dope and pimping and eventually winds up in jail after the police round up (and harass) other Chicanos who have donned the pachuco style. On one level, it’s a cautionary tale of what big city life can do to young people. But on another level, Suárez explores the economic struggles of barrio life in postwar Tucson as well as law enforcement’s endemic bigotry and abuses of power with respect to young Chicanos.

Latinos in Lotusland concludes with a chapter from the 1970 novel Chicano by the late Richard Vásquez that was first published by Doubleday. In 2005, Rayo, the successful Latino imprint of HarperCollins, reissued this landmark novel in honor of its thirty-fifth anniversary. As Rubén Martínez notes in his introduction to the reissue, Chicano had long been out of print despite its importance within the relatively young canon of Mexican American literature. Martínez tells us that prior to Chicano, the only other Mexican American novel was José Antonio Villarreal’s Pocho, which Doubleday also published—in 1959. The selection from Chicano brings us to post-war Los Angeles and the construction of the now-ubiquitous freeways; by joining unions and taking advantage of the city’s need for skilled laborers, we see Mexican Americans working toward the dream of economic stability and upward mobility. It also stands in stark contrast to the vision offered by the first story of this anthology: where Suárez paints Los Angeles as a dangerously intoxicating and ultimately successful corrupter of Chicano youth, Vásquez envisions the city as a land of opportunity for those who wish to learn new trades and comply with the requirements of union bosses.

The stories and novel excerpts sandwiched in between “Kid Zopilote” and the excerpt from Chicano bring us to modern-day Latino denizens of Los Angeles and the city’s surrounding communities. And what a complex and diverse group of people we observe: young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, the newly arrived and the well established. There’s a Cuban American screenwriter trying to pitch the “real” story behind the Bay of Pigs fiasco. We see a Mexican woman struggling with barrio life who believes she’s seen a miracle. There are youths trying to avoid gang life and others embracing it. And we’re introduced to aggressive journalists, cement pourers, disaffected lovers, drunken folklórico dancers, successful curanderos, teenage slackers, aging artists, wrestling saints, aimless druggies, people made of paper, college students, and even a private detective hot on the heels of a presumed-dead gonzo writer. These actors perform on a stage set with palm trees, freeways, mountains, and sand in communities from East L.A. to Malibu, Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, Venice Beach to El Sereno. The storytelling comes in all packages: social realism, lyrical fantasy, tough-talking noir.

No anthology can give a complete picture of its theme because that would require a book of infinite pages. This is particularly true with this volume, which draws its stories from a wildly diverse group of people who can be loosely categorized under the umbrella of “Latinos” and who live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. But if I had one goal in editing this anthology, it was to bring together some of the best contemporary Latino fiction about my home. In doing so, I believed readers would not only be entertained, but also be reminded that no group of people is monolithic and that Los Angeles literature is not limited to stories about scheming movie moguls and dazzling starlets with surgically enhanced figures (though several of this anthology’s stories do concern the movie and television industries albeit through a decidedly Latino prism). And notwithstanding the fact that the characters who populate this anthology may have feasted on the City of Angel’s lotus flowers, they do not live in blissful oblivion and they certainly have not forgotten who they are.

I once had the opportunity to interview Luis Alberto Urrea (whose work is featured in this anthology) about his magnificent novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown), which is based on the miraculous life of Teresita, Urrea’s great aunt. One question I asked was why Urrea rendered Teresita’s life in novel form rather than biography. He said, “The simplest answer is you can’t footnote a dream.” I’d like to borrow this sentiment with regard to Latinos in Lotusland. While I could have recruited a scholar to write an extensive introduction analyzing the historical and literary significance of the pieces included in this anthology, I did not want to footnote a dream. So, without further ado, we invite you to partake of these stories and novel excerpts and enjoy them for their beauty, power, and eloquence.

--Daniel Olivas


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, ese!
Un Vato C/S/R

Francisco Aragón said...

Congratulations, Daniel! I look forward to getting my ejemplar

msedano said...

congratulations, daniel and especially all the writers showing for the first time! i look forward to tomando the tome off the shelves of IMIX, and look to seeing the collection fly off the shelves of every bookstore in the western world. and if the eastern world ever stops explodin', off their shelves, too. launch that frigate to the realms of gold!


Unknown said...

Re: Ruben Martínez's comments quoted in today's La Bloga by Daniel Olivas.

"Martínez tells us that prior to Chicano the only other Mexican American novel was José Antonio Villarreal’s Pocho, which Doubleday also published—in 1959."

I disagree. Prior to Chicano (1970), there was John Rechy's City of Night (1963), Numbers (1967), and This Day's Death (1969).

And don't forget Raymond Barrio's important novel, The Plum Plum Pickers (1969).

If Martínez was misquoted, I hope La Bloga will make a correction. However, if the quote is accurate, perhaps Ruben's publisher will do the right thing and correct his introduction in future editions.

WSSS admin said...

Daniel, I've got a mention of LiL in the next MR dispatch. Congrats and good luck with sales, sounds like a strong anthology! I'm always happy to check out a review copy, btw. You know where to find me...


Daniel A. Olivas said...

Mil gracias for the kind comments. We are very excited about this anthology. In terms of Gregg's comment, he may use the Amazon "Look Inside" function to read Ruben's introduction to the anniversary reissue of "Chicano." In any event, because of the remarkable writing in "Latinos in Lotusland" (including work by John Rechy), I am proud to have my name associated with its publication.

Lyn said...

Thanks for sharing this review and the references to the other examples of Chicano literature, especially Pocho. I just posted my review of that novel on my blog.