Friday, December 07, 2012

Run into a Piñata If You Doubt a Golden Age in Latino Literature

Melinda Palacio

Are we experiencing a Golden Age in Latino Literature?

On the heels of La Bloga's debate of whether or not we are experiencing a Golden Age in Literature comes the clincher in form of a NY Times article, "Young Latino Students Don't See themselves in Books" by Motoko Rich. 

In Cuba, kids clamored to pose for a photo with me in front of Fusto's art studio.

In my own experience, I can say that it wasn't until college when I read my first Latina author, Sandra Cisneros. She was the one token voice that one of my professors at UC Berkeley had assigned. With the recent 25th anniversary edition of House on Mango Street, it's safe to say that generations of readers around the world have grown up reading her. However, while there are more Latino and Latina authors being published by small and larger houses, many self-published, we could do better.

The gold is not raining down on Latino authors. Only a handful of us have the name recognition and off-the-chart sales such as Sandra Cisneros and Junot Diaz. I will be the first to raise my hand high and hope to be anointed by the holy literary spirit and simply write without having to make marketing my work a companion occupation to writing.

This year, my first novel, Ocotillo Dreams, has garnered two awards. I am extremely grateful and fortunate that fellow Bloguero Daniel Olivas nominated me for the prestigious PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature.
Melinda Palacio and Daniel Olivas at the PEN Oakland Awards Ceremony

I have learned much from my numerous attempts to follow in the footsteps of Olivas, one of the hardest working writers I know (and he is a lawyer by day). Olivas taught me that if I wanted more of my stories, poetry, and books accepted for publication, I needed to read books in my field and become an expert in my market. An important lesson in reading. Through his book reviews with the El Paso Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books, Olivas also promotes the work of other Latino writers. 

The fact that he has published six books with respectable small presses should mean that agents and publishers knock on his door constantly and that he his bombarded with requests to visit schools and universities and could honor such requests because he could quit being a public defender and live off of his royalties.  A personal Golden Age, but not one that brings the type of gold that a best seller brings or a book featured in the New York Times or on NPR's Fresh Air.
UCSC student, Gabriela, was thankful to finally recognize herself in the works of Juan Felipe Herrera, Javier O. Huerta and Melinda Palacio.

I don't have a day job, but I try to stretch my honorarium dollars to visit as many schools and venues as possible because of the readers who thank me for my words, thank me for visiting their school, thank me for sharing my stories. A golden year? I am grateful to be included in the discussion of authors and poets and their writing. My books have not made those coveted holiday must-read list or garnered best-seller status. However, it is certainly a Golden Age when Juan Felipe Herrera is named California Poet Laureate, and he endorses my new poetry book, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting. The march continues and when I am feeling as if I am the only one who hears the tree falling in the forest, I will heed the advice of Juan Felipe Herrera and run into a piñata.

Juan Felipe Herrera contemplates explaining the joys of running into a piñata to UCSC students last week.


Daniel A. Olivas said...

Melinda, I was very proud of you as you accepted your PEN Oakland award. Onward!

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Melinda, congrats on your well-deserved awards! (I love your new poetry book, too.) Your comments here about the lack of wider acceptance and recognition of our many excellent Latina/o authors out there today, like Daniel Olivas, Reyna Grande, and yourself, is a huge omission that needs to be remedied very soon. It's not just political adjustments that need to be made to our new demographics. It's EDUCATIONAL and LITERARY adjustments that need to occur--for the sake of all society.