Monday, July 12, 2010

Anthology celebrates milestone series in Chicano and Latino literature

Book review by Daniel Olivas

Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latino and Latina Writing (University of Arizona Press, $24.95 paperback), edited by Rigoberto González, showcases the best of the acclaimed anthology series published by the University of Arizona Press since 1994. As González explains in the introduction, the Camino del Sol series was the brainchild of editor-writer Ray González (no relation), "a name not unfamiliar to those of us with a vested interest in Chicano/Latino literature."

By the early 1990s, Ray González, an El Paso native, was building "a solid reputation" as an editor and also offered "knowledge and expertise of the literary field (that) set a strong foundation at the University of Arizona Press for marketing and publicizing future titles with Camino del Sol." He now is an award-winning essayist, poet, editor and English professor at the University of Minnesota.

Rigoberto González, a New York book critic, poet and author, is a regular contributor to the El Paso Times books page. I recently interviewed him about the new anthology. I wondered what role he believed the Camino del Sol series played in Chicano and Latino literature.

"Whether the University of Arizona Press was aware of this or not, by championing this literary series devoted exclusively to publishing Chicano/Latino authors for the past 16 years, the press has been keeping a cultural record of Chicano/Latino literature in the new millennium," he said.

"Thankfully, the series has always kept its doors open to new voices, fomenting an incredible community of artists that will sustain a dynamic and energetic list of talent as the press moves into the next decade."

One is struck by the great diversity of voices included in the collection. There's the wry humor of the late poet Rane Arroyo, the wonderfully strange and sexy fiction of Kathleen de Azevedo, and Ray González's sublime ruminations on borderland identity and politics. Well-established writers sit side by side with those at the beginning of their careers.

"I think readers will be pleasantly surprised to recognize how aesthetically, politically and culturally diverse Chicano/Latino literature is," Rigoberto González said. "There is no 'one way' to shape identity or express it, no 'one way' to write as a Chicano/Latino writer in terms of language, subject matter or sensibility."

But does this diversity of voices threaten to split writers (and their readers) into separate and insular literary camps? Rigoberto González doesn't see such diversity as a threat. In fact, he views it as "a strength, accepting and encouraging our artistic differences, because it will help us come together and move forward in solidarity, especially during these hostile times.

"Chicano/Latino writers are important, and what we have to say matters."

In summing up, Rigoberto González did not mince words: "Camino del Sol, the series and the anthology, is not simply a venue for art, it is a venue for life -- our lives."

Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latino and Latina Writing is a literary milestone that not only honors past literary triumphs, but also serves as a harbinger of great writing to come. It is an essential volume for any lover of Chicano and Latino literature.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

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