Friday, February 27, 2009

Achy Obejas, Renaissance Woman, Cuban Style

My Note:

Poet. Novelist. Translator. Teacher. Journalist. Achy Obejas is a bright light in our literary firmament, nationally and internationally. On a personal note, many years ago, she and I read with such glowing stars as Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Norma Alarcon, at a long-defunct women's bookstore, Jane Addams on Michigan Avenue, here in Chicago. Her work exudes a keen sense of humor, of irony, of compassion and is laced with the infinite small moments that make her poetry and her novels sing with the breath of real life.


Achy Obejas was born in 1956 in Havana, Cuba, a city that she left six years later when she came to the United States with her parents after the Cuban revolution. She grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, and moved to Chicago in 1979. At the age of thirty-nine, Obejas returned to the island of her birth "for a brief visit and was seduced by a million things". The Cuba of her imagination and experience recur throughout her writings.

An accomplished journalist, Obejas worked briefly for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1980-81 and then for the Chicago Reader. She has also written for The Windy City Times, The Advocate, High Performance, and The Village Voice. Her coverage of the Chicago mayoral elections earned her the 1998 Peter Lisagor Award for political reporting. She currently is a cultural writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she has worked since 1991.

Obejas' poetry has appeared in a number of journals, including Conditions, Revista Chicano-Rique, and The Beloit Poetry Journal. In 1986, she received an NEA fellowship in poetry. Her short stories have also been widely published in journals and anthologies. Her novels include We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? (1994) and Memory Mambo (1996), both published by Cleis Press. Memory Mambo won a Lambda Award, and her third novel, Days of Awe (2001), also won the 2002 Lambda Award for Lesbian Fiction.

Although she has lived in the Midwestern United States since she was six, Obejas has always identified with Cuba. She says in an interview:

I was born in Havana and that single event pretty much defined the rest of my life. In the U.S., I'm Cuban, Cuban-American, Latina by virtue of being Cuban, a Cuban journalist, a Cuban writer, somebody's Cuban lover, a Cuban dyke, a Cuban girl on a bus, a Cuban exploring Sephardic roots, always and endlessly Cuba. I'm more Cuban here than I am in Cuba, by sheer contrast and repetition.

As an activist and writer, Obejas continues to explore her Cuban identity and experience, earning her an important place in the literature of the United States.

(Courtesy of Voices From the Gaps)



RUINS a novel of Cuba by Achy Obejas
$15.95, 300 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1-933354-69-9
Publication date: March 2009, A Trade Paperback Original, Fiction
A selection of Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program

*Scroll down for 2009 author events

A true believer is faced with a choice between love for his family and the Cuban Revolution.

"Daring, tough, and deeply compassionate, Achy Obejas's Ruins is a breathtaker. Obejas writes like an angel, which is to say: gloriously . . . one of Cuba’s most important writers.”
--Junot Díaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

"In the Havana of Ruins, scarcity can only be fought with ingenuity, and the characters work very hard at the exquisite art of getting by. The plot rests on the schemes of its weary, obsessive, dreamy hero--a character so brilliantly drawn that he can’t be dismissed or forgotten. A tender and wildly accurate portrait, in a gem of a novel."
--Joan Silber, author of The Size of the World

USNAVY HAS ALWAYS BEEN A TRUE BELIEVER. When the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, he was just a young man and eagerly signed on for all of its promises. But as the years have passed, the sacrifices have outweighed the glories and he’s become increasingly isolated in his revolutionary zeal. His friends openly mock him, his wife dreams of owning a car totally outside their reach, and his beloved fourteen-year-old daughter haunts the coast of Havana, staring north.

IN THE SUMMER OF 1994, a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government allows Cubans to leave at will and on whatever will float. More than 100,000 flee--including Usnavy’s best friend. Things seem to brighten when he stumbles across what may or may not be a priceless Tiffany lamp that reveals a lost family secret and fuels his long repressed feelings . . . But now Usnavy is faced with a choice between love for his family and the Revolution that has shaped his entire life.

ACHY OBEJAS is the author of various books, including the award-winning novel Days of Awe. She is the editor of Akashic’s critically acclaimed crime-fiction anthology Havana Noir, and the translator (into Spanish) for Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Currently, she is the Sor Juana Writer in Residence at DePaul University in Chicago. She was born in Havana and continues to spend extended time there.

Praise for HAVANA NOIR edited by Achy Obejas:

"[A] remarkable collection . . . Throughout these 18 stories, current and former residents of Havana deliver gritty tales of depravation, depravity, heroic perseverance, revolution and longing in a city mythical and widely misunderstood."
--Publishers Weekly


--Sat., February 21, 2pm--EVANSVILLE, IN--Barnes & Noble, 624 S. Green River Rd.

--Tues., February 24, 8pm--MIAMI BEACH, FL--Books & Books, 933 Lincoln Rd.

--Sat., February 28, 3pm--MISHAWAKA, IN--Barnes & Noble, 4601 Grape Rd.
*Cosponsored by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame

--Thurs., March 5, 7:30pm--CHICAGO, IL--Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark
*Book release event

--Sat., March 7, 3pm--LAFAYETTE, IN--Barnes & Noble, 2323 Sagamore Parkway S.

--Mon., March 9, 7pm--MADISON, WI--Barnes & Noble West, 7433 Mineral Point Rd.

--Tues., March 10, 7pm--IOWA CITY, IA--Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

--Wed., March 18, 7pm--ST. LOUIS, MO--Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave.

--Thurs., March 19, 7pm--CINCINNATI, OH--Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2692 Madison Rd.

--Fri., March 20, 7pm--ASHEVILLE, NC--Malaprop's, 55 Haywood St.

--Sat., March 21, 3pm--DURHAM, NC--Barnes & Noble, 5400 New Hope Commons

--Sun., March 22, 6:30-8pm--WASHINGTON, DC--Busboys and Poets at 5th & K, 1025 5th St. NW
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Mon., March 23, 6:30-8pm--BALTIMORE, MD--Enoch Pratt Free Library (Central Branch, Poe Room), 400 Cathedral St.
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Tues., March 24, 7pm--NEW YORK, NY--Bluestockings, 172 Allen St.
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Wed., March 25, 7:30pm--NEW YORK, NY--92nd St. Y, 1395 Lexington Ave.
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Thurs., March 26, 8pm--METUCHEN, NJ--Raconteur Books, 431 Main St.
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Fri., March 27, 7:30pm--PROVIDENCE, RI--Ada Books, 717 Westminster St.
*With Achy Obejas (RUINS) and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Tues., May 5, 7:30pm--PORTLAND, OR--Powell's, 1005 W. Burnside
*Akashic All-Stars event with Achy Obejas (RUINS), Maggie Estep (ALICE FANTASTIC), and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Thurs., May 7, 7pm--SAN FRANCISCO, CA--City Lights, 261 Columbus Ave.
*Akashic All-Stars event with Achy Obejas (RUINS), Maggie Estep (ALICE FANTASTIC), and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Fri., May 8, 7pm--LOS ANGELES, CA--Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd.
*Akashic All-Stars event with Achy Obejas (RUINS), Maggie Estep (ALICE FANTASTIC), and Robert Arellano (HAVANA LUNAR)

--Sat., May 9, 7:30pm--SAN FRANCISCO, CA--Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St.
*Part of the "Writers with Drink" reading series

Contact: Johanna Ingalls/Akashic Books
232 Third St., Suite B404
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Tel: 718-643-9193/Fax: 718-643-9195

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


by Annette Leal Mattern

I began researching this article in a completely different frame of mind. I had recently come across hideous marketing campaigns by the makers of Virginia Slims and Camel cigarettes. Both campaigns specifically target young girls, wooing them by creating an image - women who smoke are sexy and hip and free. Chic new packaging make the cigarettes a fashion statement and I wondered how many impressionable young girls (yes girls, not women) fell under the spell, succumbed to the myth. How many new smokers joined the ranks?

Last year, Camel, a male-dominated brand, packaged their cigarettes in fuchsia and mint lined, black shiny boxes and called them Camel No. 9, a clear rip-off of French perfume Chanel No. 19. This year, Virginia Slims launched a campaign that packages “stiletto” thin cigarettes in adorable pink and teal half-size purses, the must-have accessory for the clubbing crowd.

Naturally, I expected young Latinas to be very vulnerable to this marketing hype . . . but I was wrong. In this category, Hispanic women are not leading this pack and I’m thrilled. In this race, we don’t want to be first.

Around 1925, Edward Bernays originated modern public relations by drawing upon his uncle Sigmund Freud's psychological ideas for the purpose of marketing products. Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the subconscious.

One of Bernays first industries: tobacco.
The strategy: use authorities to convince consumers to buy.

The subsequent 83 years have been a constant flow of subliminal messages about cigarettes as exciting, smooth tasting, satisfying, manly, sexy, empowering, chic, classy, slick and even healthy. We met the Marlboro Man, all rugged yet polished, and we were hooked. And millions of Americans bought pack after pack after pack.

Here are the statistics of smokers in the United States:
-Among non-Hispanic whites, 23.5 percent of men and 18.8 percent of women smoke.

- Among Hispanics, 20.1 percent of men and 10.1 percent of women smoke.

-Among the youth, 22% of Hispanic high school students smoke, compared with 25% of non-Hispanic whites. Even younger, 9% of the Hispanic middle school student population are smokers.

A study by the Center for Disease control attributes this disparity to an important cultural difference: Seventy-one percent (71%) of all Hispanic households do not allow smoking in the home. This smoking ban in the home further protects Hispanic youth from secondhand smoke.

Hispanic smokers are more likely to try to quit than non-Hispanic white smokers but are less likely to have access to resources such as doctors or nicotine replacement therapy, so they are not as successful. Only 43% of Hispanic smokers are able to quit, compared to 51% of non-Hispanic whites.

Unfortunately, the Hispanic community is drifting closer to the non-Hispanic white smoker, as families become more acculturated into the mainstream of the U.S. and this is not good.

So here’s the ugly part no one wants to hear-

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Hispanics in the U.S. Almost one in five Hispanic deaths is attributable to cancer. Over 20,000 Hispanics died of cancer in 2002. In 2000, about 1,000 Hispanic women and 2,000 Hispanic men died of lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is overwhelmingly the most important cause of lung cancer, but it also increases the risk for other cancers, including cervix, mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and some forms of leukemia.

Additionally, heart attacks/ cardiovascular disease are the primary cause of death of Hispanics in the United States. In 2002, heart disease killed more than 27,000 Hispanics. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease.

The third leading cause of death in the U.S. and fourth among Hispanics is stroke. In 2002, nearly 6,500 Hispanics died of strokes. Smoking significantly increases the risk for stroke. Overall, smokers have a life span that is 15 years shorter than non-smokers.

If you smoke, find a way to quit - - now. Please. Whatever it takes, you must stop, for yourself, for the people who love you, for the rest of us. I lost people I loved to lung cancer and the pain, the loss, the grief, the missed years, the caregiving and the cost are all our business.

Find resources and set yourself up for success. Search the Internet for smoke cessation and you’ll find tons of resources to support you. The current thinking on smoke cessation is that a multi-prong program is best, using prescription medications, nicotine replacement and mind/body tools such as exercise, yoga, meditation or even hypnosis.

If teenagers in your household are smoking, make it a top priority to get them to quit. To them, smoking is an initiation ritual and a sign of independence. But it will soon become a deadly habit that most smokers regret.

We need to build a world where young people reject tobacco because they see it for what it is, an addictive and toxic practice designed to seduce our very own ego.

And, as the Hispanic “market segment” grows, we’ll see more and more Latinos and Latinas in ads with gorgeous clothes and fast cars, beautiful brown skin and dark eyes, sensual and sophisticated and smoking.

It’s smart marketing but very bad business.

Slogan: "Never let the goody two shoes get you down"


About the author:
Annette Leal Mattern held numerous corporate leadership positions where she championed development of minorities for upper management. She received the National Women of Color Technology Award for Enlightenment for her diversity achievements and was recognized by Latina Style and Vice President Gore as one of the most influential Latinas in American business. In 2000, she left her corporate work to devote herself to women's cancer causes. Her book,
Outside The Lines of love, life, and cancer, helps people cope with the disease. Annette serves on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, for which she serves as president. Annette also writes for

CABE 2009

CABE 2009: 34th Annual Conference

Releasing Multilingual Dreams Today,
Creating New Worlds Tomorrow

February 25, 2009 through February 28, 2009.
Long Beach Convention Center
Long Beach, California


Click on the images to have a better view.

* * *

Children's Writing Conference

Want to Stand out as a Writer?
Find Your Voice

When you write for children, as we do, it's critical to step back into the skin of the kid you used to be. Only by truly remembering what you were like as a child can you write from your experiences and about your truths. When you do that, you're writing from your voice.

Try this exercise to take you back, back, back to the days when you were a tiara-topped princess or a scruffy pirate captured and confined within four walls at the end of every blissful summer.

Close your eyes. You're sitting at a desk in a classroom. What does it feel like? Is the chair hard? Is it plastic or wooden? Does it swivel? Does the desktop open? Open it. What's inside? Are your classroom things neat or orderly? What treasures have you hidden there? Pick up the crayons. Sniff them. Can you sniff out your favorite color?

Now the teacher approaches. How big is she/he in relation to you? How does your teacher's size make you feel? What expression is on your teacher's face? Why has he/she come to your desk? Did you raise your hand? Do you ever?

Continue to explore this classroom scene until you're immersed in the feelings it evokes. Write from those feelings.

It often takes years for a writer to find his or her authentic voice. Excursions to the past, such as the one above, can help. If you're ready to find your voice, I would love to work with you. Join me this spring (April 1-5, 2009) for Finding Your Voice, a Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop to be held near Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

This intensive activity- and writing-based workshop will help you break through to your authentic voice. Through a series of activities and writing exercises (like the one included in this e-mail), one-on-one critiques and group feedback sessions, you will learn how to discover and write your own stories as only you can write them.

For more information, visit or contact Jo Lloyd, toll free, at 877-512-8365.


Currently acting managing editor at Boyds Mills Press, Kim spent six years as coordinating editor of Highlights for Children and four years as a senior editor for The Education Center, Inc. She has taught workshops across the country and held positions as senior editor, book development manager, university instructor, and teacher with the Institute of Children's Literature. Her published works include more than two hundred short stories, articles, and columns; a number of educational books; and a children's book, Carnivorous Plants. Last spring, she spent two months as writer-in-residence at the Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology in Oregon. Find out more about Kim at and

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: Manuel Rivas. Vermeer's Milkmaid.

Translated from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne. Woodstock NY: Overlook Press, 2008. 

Michael Sedano

Manuel Rivas packs sixteen stories into the one hundred twenty pages of Vermeer's Milkmaid. Translated in Ireland into that nation's dialect, there's not a lot to say about Rivas' writing. The translation captures numerous puns and other instances of word play that must reflect what Rivas wrote in Galician.

The stories can be strange, very strange, or oddly surrealistic. There's not a lot of connective tissue in the stories; an incident here, a reminiscence there, and a lot of abrupt transitions into the "here and now" of a story. 

Rivas uses abrupt time shifts, diverse points of view, sometimes from inanimate objects, to narrate his tales. Always with a lot of trust that his reader will know where the story is at any particular moment or paragraph. Typically, a story appears a straightforward narrative but then it ends with a twist. Rivas specializes in twists.

"What do You Want With Me, Love?" opens the collection. A lovesick swain dreams of intimacy with a woman he admires only from a distance. He goes to the "hypermarket" where she works, making purchases that excuse his presence while allowing him a few moments conversation with the woman. In his eyes, she's so graceful she moves as if on roller skates. The character skates through the story of the narrator's inept bank robbery, in which the narrator is shot in the back attempting his escape. The narrator, in fact, is dead, and tells the story looking through the glass of his coffin.

The second story, "Butterfly's Tongue," is the least surreal of the collection. A schoolboy finds a caring mentor in his teacher. The pair collect butterflies and other insects. But it's 1936 and Spanish civil authorities clamp down with martial law on the boys town. On a Red hunt, the authorities round up their suspects, the mayor, unionists, a librarian. And the teacher. As the trucks drive off with the prisoners, the boy's mother, fearful that authorities will sense the relationship between the teacher, the boy, and the boy's father, encourages her husband and son to hurl epithets like the other townspeople, "Traitors! Criminals! Reds!" When the boy joins in, he chases after the trucks, searching for the teacher's face to be called traitor. When all the boy sees is dusty road, he stops and feebly shouts words he's learned to love from the teacher he loves, "Toad! Bowerbird! Iris!"

"A White Flower for Bats," the antepenultimate story, shows Rivas at his most trusting. Trustful of his readers. The narrative opens with a small boy named Dani scrubbing out his grandfather's wine vats. If there's a dirty spot in the barrel, Dani's nose will find it and clean it up. The point being that Dani grew up to be a cop, and his nose never steers him wrong. The cops are out to sea on a patrol mission when they interrupt a drug deal. It's a tiny boy left behind on a vessel filled with white powder--perhaps cocaine, and perhaps the white flower for bats. The cop, Dani, takes the boy's place to wait for the drug runners. But then he smells fire and escapes with his life to the imagined laughter of "Don," a major criminal whom Dani has never been able arrest. With good cause; the top cops are Don's protectors.

Dani is transferred to a neighborhood station. One evening, an old woman comes in with a complaint. The other cop on duty ignores her, laughing that Dani will have to handle the neighborhood crazy. A television character is out to kill her. She tells Dani he looks like a good person, which is how Dani feels about himself. He takes the woman home to comfort and reassure her. After she goes to bed, Dani stares at the photos on the walls and furniture. It's the old woman with Don. Don as a young man. Don with a fishing trophy. The bothersome old woman, nuisance to the local police, is Don's lonely mother. The story ends with Dani driving the mother to her son's home, where he tells the crook to look after his mother.

The twists and ironies that fill these pages bring lots of fun to a few short hours. There is not a dud in the collection. Yet for all this, I have a strange relationship with Rivas' world. For one thing, other than the 1936 story, time and place aren't well defined. The stories may have happened yesterday or several generations ago. I like to know where I am in time and space, but Rivas will provide little orientation.

Perhaps it's the original writing, or the translation, but reading this collection is a lot like watching a tableau unfold as opposed to sitting on the edge of your seat in a good play or movie. For some reason I kept seeing myself in the old Disneyland/General Electric "Carousel of Tomorrow," where audiences sit watching animatronic characters mouth the script and when the scene is over, the whole house rumbles and rotates to the next set of puppets with parallel messages. 

The metaphor is a bit unfair because Rivas gives his readers variety and curious events that we observe at a safe distance and emerge, either happy to have seen them, or shaking one's head that Rivas dropped a good surprise before you noticed it headed your way.

Late-Breaking News for Los Angeles Gente

Click on the image for a larger size and to read about the event at USC featuring four outstanding writers. Hector Tobar, Helen Viramontes, and Dana Johnson, moderated by Erin Aubry Kaplan.

Uau. The last Tuesday of the second month already. See you in March.


La Bloga welcomes your comments on this and any column. If you'd like to be a La Bloga guest columnist, click here and let's explore your idea.

Monday, February 23, 2009

¡New Urrea Novel Coming this May!

Into the Beautiful North (Little, Brown)
By Luis Alberto Urrea
Hardcover, 352 pp., $24.99

From the publisher: Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magníficos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over. Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman's quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.

Well, the buzz is already beginning for Urrea’s new novel. Library Journal says that “…Urrea rises to the occasion with a surprising, inventive, and very funny novel populated by an array of quirky characters. His fast-paced, accessible style has the crossover appeal of a John Steinbeck or Cormac McCarthy, while the politically charged undercurrent of the novel pulses with a compassionate vision of the future. Highly recommended."

What? Steinbeck? McCarthy? Are we surprised? ¡No! To check out Urrea's book news and book tour schedule, visit his website.

◙ On February 14, I moderated a panel at the AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Chicago at the Hilton on South Michigan Avenue. The panel was on the book I edited, Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008) which, as you might know, brings together 60 years of Los Angeles fiction by 34 Latino/a writers. The panel included Kathleen Alcalá and Michael Jaime-Becerra (first picture below), and Manuel Muñoz and Estella González (second picture). We then did a book signing at the Bilingual Press table which was a terrific success on many levels: yes we sold many books but we also got to mingle with wonderful folks. Many thanks to the panelists, those who attended, Bilingual Press and, of course, Linda St. George (third picture below) who kept things running smoothly at the Bilingual Press table (remaining pictures). If anyone has photos and/or reports to share regarding the AWP conference, please drop me a line at
◙ From LatinoLA:

Times are tough: salary cuts, layoffs, growing unemployment, etc. Jobs are scarce and it's getting a little scary out there for some of us. Unfortunately, there are no openings at LatinoLA (I haven't gotten paid in years!) but we can help. We offer free job listings on our Careers section. Employers, including private businesses, non-profits and government agencies, can list their job openings (full- and part-time, temporary gigs, freelance) absolutely free of charge. Just go to our story submittal page here and complete the form. All we ask is that you let us know when the job is filled so that we could take it off the site. We'll be doing this for the time being while we build a partnership with a more robust job listing website. But until then, feel free to list your job opening. And if you're looking for work, we hope that you find that perfect position on LatinoLA. Hasta la proxima, Abelardo, el editor.

◙ Homeboy Press and its literary magazine, The Homeboy Review, serve as a voice for the poets and writers of Homeboy Industries, as well as a forum to publish both under-represented and established writers from around the globe. Begun as a writing program in Homeboy’s curriculum classes, the Homeboy Press was created to teach contemporary computer skills, including typesetting, desk-top publishing, web design and computer graphics to its clients, as well as to create an open, creative forum for global literary and art publishing by new and established writers and artists. Now Accepting Submissions: Homeboy Press is now accepting short fiction, poetry and essays for its inaugural literary magazine, The Homeboy Review. Please click on submission guidelines for more information.

◙ I apologize for the shorter than usual post but I'm going through a major job change and still recovering from AWP in Chicago. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chicano literary & cultural news!

Libreria Martinez Grand Re-Opening

We are pleased to inform you, your family and friends about our new address: 1200 N. Main Street Ste. 100D, Santa Ana, CA, formerly the children’s bookstore.

In celebration of our new home we are having a Grand Re-Opening event this upcoming week.
It will be Saturday, February 21st with Noche Bohemia featuring newly published author José E. Grijalva author of Vivencias Reflejadas: Una Colección de Poemas en Español, Poet Maricela Loeaza with her works "Poemas por Amor" and Claudia Carbonell with her book "Casa Magica." Also featured will be guitar-maker Monica Esparza, exhibiting her classical and Spanish guitars. 5:00-8:00 pm.

Tenemos el placer de anunciarles a todos nuestros amigos y colaboradores que nos hemos mudado a 1200 N. Main Street Ste. 100D, Santa Ana , CA, antes conocido como la Libreria de los niños.

Con motivo de nuestra Gran Re-Apertura le invitamos a un importante evento a realizarce el Sabado, 21 de Febrero: Noche Bohemia Con protagonista José E. Grijalva autor de Vivencias Reflejadas. Una Colección de Poemas en Español, Poeta Maricela Loeaza y su libro "Poemas por Amor" y Claudia Carbonell con su libro "Casa Magica". Tambien habra exposicion de guitarras clasicas de Monica Esparza. 5:00 - 8:00 pm Libreria Martinez 1200 N. Main St. Suite 100-D Santa Ana , CA, 714.973.7900.

Acevedo fangs again!

Authors' signing event: Sunday, March 1, 2009, 3:00
Denver Book Mall, 32 Broadway (between 1st and Ellsworth Aves), 303-733-3808.

Mario Acevedo will sign Jailbait Zombie, his latest novel about Felix, the vampire PI based in Colorado.
Carrie Vaughn signs Kitty Raises Hell, her sixth book in her internationally loved series about a talk show host who was forced to “come out” as a werewolf. Pre-orders and mail orders always welcome.

Nina Else, Denver Book Mall, 303-733-3808 for any questions.

Free Nymphos!

Also from Mario comes word that "Through 2/24, my publisher is offering a free online read (not a download) of my first book Nymphos of Rocky Flats." Here's the link.

Su Teatro extends Bless Me, Ultima

Because of the excitement and outstanding response (phones are ringing off the hook!) about our new show based on Rudolfo Anaya's Ultima, it will bless us for a few more days.

Su Teatro announces Bless Me, Ultima, the extension!
Added dates (all others sold out): Sunday, March 1 at 3pm Friday, March 13 at 8:05pm Saturday, March 14 at 8:05pm Friday, March 20 at 8:05pm Saturday, March 21 at 8:05pm

Don’t wait. Order your tickets today: 303.296.0219
$18, students/seniors $15, or 12 for $12
El Centro Su Teatro
4725 High Street, Denver

Friday, February 20, 2009


by Annette Leal Mattern

Spanish rule of New Spain brought with it a strict cast system carried over from the Spanish Reconquista, an efficient method of distinguishing pure old-blood Christians from converted Muslims or Jews. In Latin America, this distinction held Peninsulares, Spaniards born on the Iberian Peninsula, at the top of the social order. It was they who were appointed by the crown to the highest ecclesiastic, political and military positions. The next rank among the citizenry was the Criollo, pure blooded Spaniards born in the Americas, who were mostly elite land owners. Next in line were the "Mestizos," half Spanish and half Amerindian, assigned as local administrators and managers of the indigenous people. Finally, the lower classes comprised of mulatos (mixed African and European or Indian), Indios, and blacks - destined to live their lives as laborers, peasants and slaves.

The following is a story. A fairytale set against a horizon in history.

The Indian bowed his head before the alcalde awaiting permission to speak. The day was scorching even for September, the kind of day when sweat stood on every living, breathing being. He stood for most of the afternoon in that same position, focused on a small spider hard at work releasing its prey from a strategically placed web, a distraction that helped him forget the pain in his legs from standing after the five days’ walk to arrive at the provincial government headquarters. His wife had died in childbirth and he was here to request permission to bury her on ancestral burial grounds. But he has no voice here and must wait…and wait…until it suits the administrator to review his case.

The staff officers in the room show their incredible disdain for the Indian, not because he is different but because he is too much alike.

The alcalde, a Mestizo educated in Seville, despised the Indians and the notion that their blood ran in his veins. His authority and superiority were a constant denial of his mixed bloodline, his ambition fueled by the perception that Indians were born lazy and stupid and were therefore destined to be slaves.

Now that he finished the other matters of state, he allowed the Indian permission to speak, if for no other reason, to remove the smell from his office.

“Please sir,” the Indian spoke in crude Spanish, “here is the government paper. It shows the rights of our people. I ask only to bury my wife there.”

The alcalde looked at the dark-skinned slave with disdain. This poor fool had no rights, save those Mother Spain bestowed upon him in her generosity. They were so like children.

“I’ll decide what that paper says, you ignorant worm. You can’t even write you name! How dare you tell me what an official government letter says.” He sneered as he grabbed the worn, dirty document.

“But, I can read, Excilencio. I learn in the mission.”

The alcalde reviewed the document, all the while thinking what a mistake it was to educate the peasants. He would speak to the Bishop about this at dinner.

The document was a form of treaty, dated one hundred years earlier, as part of a settlement of an uprising, involving ancient, historical and religious sites confiscated by the Spanish. It ceded property near Guadalajara to the family for religious purposes.

“I do not see why you would travel all that distance with a dead body, anyway.” He laughed and he turned to his staff to join in the ridicule of the Indian.

“Can you believe the Army is worried about a revolt from these stupid fools? They need a good beating just to keep them awake.” More laughter.

“Well, peasant, you will need a letter of permission to inter your dead wife- oh, and any litter she might have dropped at the time. As this is a very old claim, it may take some time to verify. You do know this land is practically worthless, don’t you. There have been no new strikes in those mountains in years.” Like a cat tormenting a wounded sparrow, he toyed with the Indian who was now drenched in sweat.

“The government controls all mining activities anyway, you see. Therefore, we could dispense with the investigation if you will simply transfer the mining rights to us straight away. In this situation, I can simply grant you immediate permission to get that body in the ground before it falls apart or is eaten by maggots. Go ahead, sign. Let’s see if you can, indeed write your name, Indian.”

On the matter of burying his beloved wife, he cared very little what vile words they used to speak of her. They were vermin and soon would be dead. Moreover, this was the worst of the lot, the Mestizos, children of mixed parentage, always Spanish fathers and Indian mothers. Their impure blood so repelled Spanish society that most returned to Mexico after being educated in Europe. Here, they became the dogs of the ruling class, the tyrants of their half brothers.

“I will sign, Excilencio. I must take my wife. All the women of her line must be buried there.”

And with that, he was gone. Finally.

The territorial official swaggered home that evening and added the new registration to the safe in his mahogany lined library of his sprawling hacienda, a splendid residence styled in all things perfectly European. He congratulated himself on his scheme to build an estate for his retirement far away from this wretched place, his plan to return to Europe a wealthy man. No one would laugh at him then as they had when he was in school. Southern Spain had every kind of blood in the modern world, especially Andalucía where questions of heritage were seldom asked. And, with enough money, one could always enhance one’s bloodline records.

In preparation for his eventual escape, he had countless mining rights assigned to him personally; not to the state as was his duty, but to himself, the man who would soon leave with his beautiful, fair-skinned wife. It mattered not at all that he was exploiting the Indians for they were hardly more than animals. They were merely a conveniently embedded labor force, unlike other territories that had need of African slaves. Fortunately, these Indians were all that was necessary to feed Europe’s voracious appetite for Mexico’s rich natural resources.

As alcalde, he governed the entire district of south-central Mexico from his comfortable office in Guadalajara. Even though he loathed the country and its ignorant natives, he knew that he was sitting atop gold and silver veins that generated infinite wealth. The question was when to leave…when was it enough to live a comfortable, elegant life in Europe?

The year is 1810. In France, Napoleon has his marriage to Josephine annulled so that he can marry Marie-Louise of Austria while France continues its acquisition of European territories from Holland to Seville.

In the United Kingdom, King George III, widely rumored to be mad, is formally recognized as insane. Meanwhile, 4,000 American sailors have been captured by the British, halting trade between the US and England and building up tension that will erupt into the war of 1812.

In the United States, John Jacob Astor launches the Pacific Fur Company in Oregon, creating a trading ring between New York, the Oregon territory, Russian Alaska and China. Meanwhile, the Republic of West Florida declares freedom from Spain and is annexed into the United States.

Spain is besieged by colonial uprisings throughout Central and South America. West Florida, Columbia, Argentina and Chile gain independence. Tension spreads like an epidemic across the colonies, ideas of freedom and revolution - no longer whispered - become louder and louder.

Undaunted by the rumblings, the alcalde is nestled in his home in Guadalajara, humored by the latest boon to his personal treasure. Life is good and he can tolerate a little more inconvenience before he leaves Mexico forever. It is the night of September 15, 1810.

Coincidentally, in neighboring Guanajuato, a major colonial mining center, a revolt takes place that night under the leadership of an unlikely hero. A criollo priest, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, declares war against the colonial government in a call to arms that becomes known as El Grito de Dolores, the cry for independence.

The next day, September 16, throngs of peasants join forces to eliminate the oppression of the lower class. So impassioned are the revolutionaries that they barricade the leading citizens in a warehouse and set fire to the building, massacring most of the town’s elite, followed by a bloody decade of war. The Mexican War for Independence had begun and in an instant, a cast system that so clearly defined the value of a man was drowned in a sea of justice.

Father Hidalgo and Historic Guanajuato
About the author:
Annette Leal Mattern held numerous corporate leadership positions where she championed development of minorities for upper management. She received the National Women of Color Technology Award for Enlightenment for her diversity achievements and was recognized by Latina Style and Vice President Gore as one of the most influential Latinas in American business. In 2000, she left her corporate work to devote herself to women's cancer causes. Her book, Outside The Lines of love, life, and cancer, helps people cope with the disease. Annette serves on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, for which she serves as president. Annette also writes for

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valadez is on the truth

what i'm on
Luis Humberto Valadez


Publication Date: March 19, 2009

Camino del Sol: A Latina/Latino Literary Series
64 pages
6 x 8
ISBN: 978-0-8165-2740-3, $15.95 paper

Luis Humberto Valadez is a poet/performer/musician from the south side of the Chicago area whose work owes as much to hip-hop as it does to the canon and has been described by esteemed activist writer Amiri Baraka as "strong-real light flashes."

His debut poetry collection
what i'm on is frankly autobiographical, recounting the experiences of a Mexican American boy growing up in a tough town near Chicago. Just as in life, the feelings in these poems are often jumbled, sometimes spilling out in a tumble, sometimes coolly recollected. Valadez's poems shout to be read aloud. It's then that their language dazzles most brightly. It's then that the emotions bottled up on the page explode beyond words. And there is plenty of emotion in these poems. Sometimes the words jump and twitch as if they‚d been threatened or attacked. Sometimes they just sit there knowingly on the page, weighted down by the stark reality of it all.

José García
put a thirty-five to me
my mother was in the other room
He would have done us both

if not for the lust of my fear


This new Mexican American/Chicano voice is all at once arresting, bracing, shocking, and refreshing. This is not the poetry you learned in school. But Valadez, who received his MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa University, has paid his academic dues, and he certainly knows how to craft a poem. It's just that he does it his way.
Luis Humberto Valadez works as a coordinator and consultant for the Chicago Public Schools Homeless Education Program.

Recordings of Valadez performing his poems can be found at, Reverb Nation, and other Internet sites.
VALADEZ BLURBS: “Brave, raw, and exposing of a young mans consciousness. Luis’s work is not confessional in the limited, put-it-in-a-box way that big publishers like to market their material to liberal guilt.” -Andrew Schelling, author of Tea Shack Interior

“In voices colloquial and church, reverent and riotous, serious and sly; in rap and fragment, sound and sin; from gangs and minimum-wage jobs to astrology and Christ, Luis Valadez makes his fearless debut. This poetry is a painfully honest disclosure of identity and anger, and it is as mindful of falsity and as hard on itself as it is playful, loose, and loving. Sometimes the language is clear and cutting, while other times it disintegrates into sonic units and primal utterances: Luis calls upon the whole history of oral and verbal expression to tell his story—going so far as to write his own (wildly funny and disturbing) obituary.” —Arielle Greenberg, author of My Kafka Century

“On the trail blazed by innovators like Harryette Mullen and John Yau, Luis Valadez sends wild, canny, charged, and vulnerable prayers from the hard camp of contested identities. Each line, each word, is a blow against “impossibility” and the heavy pressure to be silent as expected. Interrogations of tradition(s) as well as celebrations, the irresistible poems in Valadez’s first collection exist at the exact fresh moment of deciding to live and to love.” —Laura Mullen, author of After I Was Dead

“Valadez’s work is not simply fierce language poetics… here is a writer—the genuine article—whose style is that of a truth-speaking curandero, offering sacred cantos to anyone interested in illuminating that inner revolution called corazón. To read his work is to discover the future of American poética! “
—Tim Z. Hernandez, author of Skin Tax

“Valadez’s impressions abruptly transport the reader from swaggering elucidation to raw pain. In a sometimes-resigned glance around for divinity, what I’m on triggers equally sudden heart-rippings, laughter, and cinematic naturescapes.”
—Claire Nixon, editor Twisted Tongue Magazine

Holly Schaffer, Publicity Manager
University of Arizona Press

355 S. Euclid Ave., Ste. 103
Tucson, AZ 85719
Ph: 520-621-3920, Fx: 520-621-8899


Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Children's Book Press

A message from Lorraine Garcia-Nakata
Publisher & Executive Director
Children's Book Press

Dear Friends and New Friends:

I need your help.

Children's Book Press continues to receive national recognition and awards....and with that comes increased demand for our books. Our challenge is having the cash flow needed to reprint the books in order to meet that demand. It is an interesting position and why I am asking for your help in order to make sure we continue to produce first voice children's books that reflect experiences of African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, and Indigenous communities.

Here is how you can help.

*Make a gift of $1, $5, $10 or more to our Children's Book Press Measure of Success Campaign supporting a book printing and production fund. I'm serious, no gift is too small. This campaign can really take hold when you make your gift and send this message onto your friends and colleagues asking them to do the same. Yes, ask them to pass it onto their contacts and that's how we will meet our much-needed goal of $400,000 by May 2009. Children, teachers, and families all over the country are counting on our books.

Click here to give online:

By mail: (If check, make out to Children's Book Press), memo notation: Measure of Success Campaign.

Mail to:

MOS Campaign, Children's Book Press
965 Mission St., Ste. 425
San Francisco, CA 94103

Our 33 year-old-non-profit independent Press has been side swiped by the tough economic storm that we are all experiencing. It is serious, but I am not one to freeze in the road. Instead, in the spirit of our new national leadership, I am asking for your help so that we can make sure our work will continue on behalf of kids and families here and abroad.

You can make that difference!

My warmest thanks,

Lorraine Garcia-Nakata
Publisher & Executive Director
Children's Book Press
965 Mission Street, Suite 425
San Francisco, CA 94103

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Books, airplane books, and tomorrow's books.

Michael Sedano

Jeff Gomez. Print Is Dead. NY: Macmillian, 2007.
ISBN: 978-0-230-52716-4 ISBN-10: 0-230-52716-7

Jonathan Segura. Occupational hazards. New York : Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.
ISBN-10: 1416562915 ISBN-13: 9781416562917

There's little to connect Jonathan  Segura's seamy hard-boiled novel with Jeff Gomez' pop-academic mass media book except both are books. Plus, I'd brought neither along on a long airplane ride recently, and had to spend ten bucks for a NYTimes.

In Gomez' not distant future, the airport bookstore would sell me access to thousands of titles and, onsite, a machine to make a book while I wait. Browse the card catalog, pay a fee, print and bind.

Alternatively, the bookstore would have an iPod or Kindle connection to that library. Drop a few coins, download a couple of good airplane books for the long journey back.

In any case, I would have crossed the continent with both titles and saved the ten dollar Sunday Times. Or...

The digital age will have an impact on reading, Gomez observes. For one thing, text will be as pervasive as it is portable. Wireless connection to vast libraries means limitless access to text. Reading is in no danger from the digital age. The medium for reading changes from printed page to electronic screen page. People will be reading more, not less. 

Gomez compares the electronic reading transition to that of the automobile and the horse, as captured in The Magnificent Ambersons, where a change-maker admits he has "no idea what changes will come about from the impending take-over by automobiles, but the changes will surely come and they will profoundly influence everything you ever knew about getting from here to there."

A Kindle, for all I know, might just influence profoundly everything about reading, from handling a book to magnifying the type size to be merciful to unsharp eyes. I imagine one feature is timing the screens to forward automatically after a minute passes. 

That pace would be about right for most airplane books. Jonathan Segura's journalist in deep shit story moves so swiftly along that you might set the screen faster. 

Omaha, Nebraska makes an unlikely setting that has little to do with the action. The story could happen wherever, Omaha, Minneapolis. Reporter digs into urban development. Runs across deadly comic militia clowns. Crosses powerful developer that leads to murders. Reporter is tortured and sexually humiliated by bad guys. 

The reporter, a pill-popping booze-swilling asshole, keeps up a conversational patter that carries the story from the mundane to the outrageously unbelievable. Segura doesn't take the intern storyline as far as he signals, but being trussed and bound dressed in a purple nightie soaked in the bad guy's urine. And shot?

In a digital age, a writer's occupational hazards will limit themselves to repetitive motion injury, a bad back, and eye strain. Unless you write for a weekly in Omaha. In which case your occupational hazards will make for a lot more excitement and a lot more fun reading.

One day, who knows, I'll load up my portable reading device and head into the blue yonder with ten books and hope my batteries hold out, que no?

That's the penultimate Tuesday of February. Two thousand nine. Tempus fugit. World enough and time. See you next week.


La Bloga welcomes your comments on today's column, especially if you have a view on reading via computer, phone, or device. When you have a book review you'd like to share, a cultural or arts event you've reviewed, remember La Bloga welcomes guests bearing columns like those. Leave a comment, or click here to explore your invitation to be La Bloga's guest.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In praise of the chapbook

Independent press excels at creating small poetry samplers

By Daniel A. Olivas

[This piece first appeared in the El Paso Times]

You might have seen them at a library, in a classroom or perhaps at your local coffee shop. They're small, maybe 50 pages in length, with unexpected titles and edgy artwork.

Welcome to the world of the chapbook, mini-collections of poetry, fiction or essays that can whet the appetite of adventurous readers at a reasonable cost. You usually cannot buy a chapbook from a traditional bookstore, but they are readily available from the publishers' Web sites.

One publisher of these little literary gems is Momotombo Press, founded by the poet Francisco Aragón. Its 13 titles released since the beginning of this decade are on view at It distributes its chapbooks through a partnership with Tianguis Books,

Two titles have sold out, which demonstrates the success of this literary venture.

Early in its life, Momotombo Press was dedicated to publishing only poets who had not yet had a first book. The press published four titles during 2001-03 beginning with the anthology Mark My Words: Five Emerging Poets.

In 2003, the press narrowed its mission to focus on Latino and Latina writers, to follow more faithfully in the footsteps of the famous Chicano Chapbook Series.

Though most titles are poetry collections, the press has ventured into prose, including last year's provocative short-story collection From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert by Aaron Michael Morales.

The press plans to publish one title a year. Assisting Aragón are authors María Meléndez and Richard Yañez, who serve as the contributing editors.

The newest poetry chapbook is Dear Jack ($10 paperback) by Scott Inguito. This experimental collection takes the form of letter-poems to the late poet Jack Spicer, who died at age 40 in 1965. Openly gay, Spicer developed "poetry as dictation," which led to his first collection, After Lorca, published in 1957.

In the editor's note to Dear Jack, Aragón acknowledged that he had developed a deep appreciation for both Lorca and Spicer, so it was a "happy coincidence" to discover Inguito's poetry.

Aragón observes that Inguito "is among a particular group of writers who are enlarging the canvas of Latino poetry." Indeed, the poems in Dear Jack come at the reader in various forms, sometimes resembling "traditional" verse, other times looking like journal entries.

Inguito's witty yet seditious poems can come in small packages, as in this untitled missive:

It takes concentration to make this heavy bed. I take
for a dark sound a clattering of grins. I am beat up
every day, the children of the universe sing gospel in a
triumphant strain. Are you flirting with the opposition?
I don't know how to deal with that.

Inguito's imagery is dense, dizzying, distressing. He offers lines such as "In skinless sunlight, sulfurous, / I smoke / under the fluffy bushes of honeysuckle." Or these: "Soft candy, chocolate, coconut. Choice of speech is / choice of these."

Inguito allows us to eavesdrop as he communicates with the ghost of the late Spicer (as Spicer himself wrote to Lorca's spirit), but because these "letters" are, by nature, deeply personal, we must, at times, strain to capture Inguito's meaning. But this is not a deficiency. Poems, particularly those that are experimental in form, can require one to reread and ponder each line in order to grasp the entire piece's meaning and power.

In many ways, this is the beauty of the chapbook form. For a modest fee, we can explore new writing by up-and-coming authors.

Dear Jack is one chapbook that should be enjoyed by inquisitive readers.

◙ Still trying to warm up after an amazing trip to Chicago for the AWP Conference where I moderated a panel on Latinos in Lotusland and participated in a poetry reading at the Jazz Showcase. I hope to post some pictures and a mini-report next Monday (if I can get it all put together in time). If you participated in or attended either of these two events and would like to share any photos, please e-mail them to me at and be clear who is depicted in the photos.

Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer living in New York City, reviews John Olivares Espinoza’s debut full-length poetry collection, The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press, $9 paperback), which is “largely inspired by the lives of independent landscapers in southern California.” He notes, in part:

Espinoza's touching book is roughly structured as a coming-of-age story. The opening poems feature a young man painfully aware that he lives "in the city of date fruits and bullet wounds," where a hard day's work is rewarded with "flat TV dinners & more work to do" at home. He's embarrassed by the sight of his mother redeeming cans at the market on Saturdays, so he watches from a distance for the "pour of metal rain inside a small slot."


John Olivares Espinoza has written a fine book of love poems to a way of life that goes frequently overlooked. The gardeners of earth's Edens are presented here as complex individuals whose hands bleed, pray, build, sculpt and even usher an intuitive but slightly troubled young man toward a productive adulthood.

To read the entire book review, go here.

◙ Stand-up comedian Bill Santiago will be giving a performance, based on his new book, Pardon My Spanglish (Quirk Publishing), at Pomona College in “Dom's Lounge” Smith Campus Center, at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 2. Free of charge and open to the public. For more information, contact Susana Chávez-Silverman at (909) 621-8938 or Anne Tessier at (909) 607-2348.

◙ That’s all for this week. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!