Monday, March 31, 2014

Chican@ and Latin@ authors show up in great numbers at the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books

Perhaps it is appropriate that today, César Chávez Day, I bring to La Bloga’s readers photographic reportage of the strong showing made by Chican@ and Latin@ authors at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books that was held on the beautiful University of Arizona campus the weekend of March 15 and 16. It is estimated that more than 120,000 people showed up over the course of this two-day event that has become one of the largest book festivals in the country.

But why do I believe it is appropriate to showcase these wonderful photographs today? Well, as several of us noted during our panel discussions, publishing our words is a political act. When we speak for ourselves, we diminish the power of those who attempt to speak for us. César Chávez knew this. We know this. And the festival allowed us to share and discuss our literature in a perfect setting.

Before I share the beautiful images from the festival, I want to thank the festival organizers for bringing so many of us to participate in the celebration. I also want to thank the Arizona Daily Star, the University of Arizona Press, the many wonderful sponsors, and the enthusiastic volunteers who made the festival possible. So, enjoy these moments from the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books with the caveat that I could not document every Chican@ and Latin@ writer who participated, but I tried my best. Perhaps the best remedy for this is to come to Tucson next year!

Luis Alberto Urrea and Tim Z. Hernandez at reception the night before the festival.

Kristen Buckles (U of Arizona Press), Tim Z. Hernandez, Kathryn Conrad (U of Arizona Press), and me at reception.

Richard Russo wins the Founder's Award (here speaking at the reception).

Keynote speaker Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS Masterpiece.

Even the ceiling was literary at the reception!

Rigoberto Gonzalez prepares for a day of panels at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Abby Mogollon and Holly Schaffer of the University of Arizona Press.

A parade breaks out.

Rigoberto Gonzalez and Tim Z. Hernandez signing books at the University of Arizona Press tent.

Rigoberto Gonzalez in the green room with Cindy and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Matt Mendez in the green room.

Luis Alberto Urrea and Sarah Cortez in the green room.

Rigoberto Gonzalez and Sarah Cortez at Pima County Public Library tent before panel discussion.

Art Meza and Santino J. Rivera in the green room.

Benjamin Alire Saenz and Tim Z. Hernandez.

Monica Ortiz Uribe pondering the ancient question: Do they have dessert at the dive bar?

At that dive bar: authors Philip Connors and Benjamin Alire Saenz lookin' like the "Color of Money."

After our wonderful magical realism panel, T, Allison Vaillancourt and me.

Tim Z. Hernandez in the Nuestras Raices tent before I interview him about his beautiful novel.

Rigoberto Gonzalez reading poetry in the Kiva room.

Tim Z. Hernandez reading poetry in the Kiva room.

Nothing better than seeing children at the festival.

Volunteer Gene Crandall who got me to where I had to be at the Tucson Festival of Books!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ever on the Alert: Earthquakes and Sandhill Cranes

Mamá was in the hospital when the earthquake hit.  My sister and I were in the car, in a parking lot.  She felt it first, telling me to “knock it off.” 
“Knock what off?” I said. 
“Stop moving the car.” 
“I’m not moving the car,” and that’s when I felt it.  A tug to the right, a tug to the left—something pulling at the rubber tires under us. 
“Look,” I pointed at the back window, to the strip mall, and the lamp store behind us.  All the ceiling lamps inside the store as far as I could see, and those hanging from the outside awning were swaying—really swaying, while people were running outside.
“Earthquake!” we both said.  There was nothing we could do but watch people gather outside the stores. 
“Is everyone okay?” yelled a man holding a broom outside the lamp store.
No lamps had fallen, no crashing of glass.

When we got up to the eighth floor of the hospital and to mamá, she was relieved to see us.  “Are you okay?” were her first words. 
“We’re fine,” I said.
She told us that many people were screaming, beds rolling everywhere.  Her bed had ended up on the other side of the room, next to the large bay windows.  What if they had cracked or fallen out?  What if? What if? 
But nothing had happened except for moving beds, flower vases tipped over.  The nurses were still scurrying around with mops or garbage bags.

Glass enclosed hospital room
 A few days later, we visited mamá again and a woman in a nearby room had been screaming, sometimes moaning.  I had never heard any adult in such distress.  It shook me. 
“What’s the matter with her?” I asked.
“She’s dying.” Mamá answered.
“Is that what people do when they are dying?”
“Some people.  Not all people.  It depends.” 
Mamá then explained to me about all the people she had been with who had died.  And there had been many. She was there when her older brother died, had held her father when he died, had witnessed other family and friends dying.  She was not hesitant to tell me every detail about dying that she knew—as if giving me instructions. 

“It’s a shifting,” she said.  “Movement.  And it can be painful or not.” 

I’m thinking about these earthquake memories tonight while inside a “viewing blind” in Kearney, Nebraska, watching thousands of Sandhill Cranes leave their day’s feasting on farm fields to congregate in the middle of the Platte River.  Tonight they are flying in by the thousands, hovering over their intended landing space on the river’s sandy mounds, descending like parachutes, their long lanky legs hanging like two twigs.  It’s not like any other bird landing.  And when they do land, they strut, or flap their wings, they lift themselves a bit, they dance with each other.  However, they are ever on the alert for predators. 
Platte River at sunset with sandhill cranes
Our guide has just told us that the night before, eagles had interrupted the cranes’ roosting.  Thousands flew up to escape the eagles, except one—its injured wing preventing it from flying away.  The next day, the guides found the crane carcass on the river. 

Ever on the alert.  When I left Los Angeles and moved to Nebraska, I realized I had been “ever on the alert” for earthquakes.  I had cultivated a second sense, so when an earthquake began, I’d know to go under a desk, stay away from windows, or stand under a doorway.  A geologist had taught me to begin counting as soon as an earthquake hits.  He taught me to tabulate the number in order to figure out the epicenter and magnitude.  It never worked for me, but it was a distraction, and seemed to calm me during an earthquake.  Yet, along with the fear of the earth so strangely moving beneath me, I would also feel a fascinating curiosity, and a yearning to move with it, like a dance. 

Now I live where severe thunderstorms occur, high winds hit, and tornadoes are not unusual.  Some people here have told me they would not like living in Los Angeles--on shifting tectonic plates.  There is no warning when an earthquake may occur.  “At least you can find out if a tornado might be coming your way,” they tell me.  Yet, I’ve learned that even with a warning, one may not have much time.  You may be hurt or incapacitated in some way, preventing you from getting away or finding a safe space. 
Sandhill Cranes swirling above The Platte River

Tonight something scared the cranes.  Maybe it was an eagle.  Maybe it was a coyote or perhaps they didn’t know what to make of the four frolicking deer near the edge of the Platte River.  Thousands swarmed up into the sky, their alarm calls like rattling bugles. 

So much beauty in this panic.  And then, after a few minutes of circling above us, the swirling masses parachuted slowly down again, onto the sandy, shifting river. 

Sandhill crane panic swarm
Sandhill cranes 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Corpi's latest book. Small press friendly to readers and writers.

Lucha Corpi out with a new book

Award-winning poetess, mystery novelist and children’s book author Lucha Corpi's newest work has just been released by Arte Público Press. Even though it's available for ordering, I couldn't find an image of the cover. An early April 1st truco?

Entitled, Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories, here a synopsis from the publisher: "Writer and activist Lucha Corpi was four-years-old when she started first grade with her older brother, who refused to go to school without her. The director of the small school in Jáltipan de Morelos in the Mexican state of Veracruz knew the family, and he gave permission for the young girl to accompany her brother “just for a while.”  She was given a desk in the back of the classroom, where she sat quietly in her little corner. Just as quietly, she learned to add and subtract, to read and write.

"In this moving memoir, Corpi writes about the pivotal role reading and writing played in her life. As a young mother living in a foreign country, mourning the loss of her marriage and fearful of her ability to care financially for her son, she turned to writing to give voice to her pain. It “gave me the strength to go on one day at a time,” though it would be several years before she dared to call herself a poet.

"Corpi’s insightful and entertaining personal essays span growing up in a small Mexican village to living a bilingual, bicultural life in the United States. Family stories about relatives long gone and remembrances of childhood escapades combine to paint a picture of a girl with an avid curiosity, an active imagination and a growing awareness of the injustice that surrounded her. As an adult living in California’s Bay Area, she became involved in the fight for bilingual education, women’s and civil rights.

"In addition to examining a variety of topics relevant to today’s world—including race, discrimination and feminism—Corpi relates riveting family tales of mountain men and cannibals, preachers and soothsayers, old-style machos and women who more than hold their own. These confessions offer an intriguing vision of the rich and complex world of an acclaimed poet and novelist."

The book is available for ordering, definitely with a cover.

Barking Rain Press worth checking out

This small press offers readers the chance at the first four chapters of their books for free!

Their publications cover genres of Alternative History, Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror & Dark Fantasy, Mystery & Crime, Science Fiction, Suspense, Westerns and Young Adult Fiction.

They're also open to writers of non-agented submissions and accept completed manuscripts of novels or novellas of at least 20,000 words to sell through the BRP website and other partner sites in print and eBook formats.

They will consider: Short story collections with a strong central theme, written by a single author.
Reprints of previously published works that are out-of-print, so long as the author owns both the worldwide electronic rights and print rights.
Open to a variety of literary genres, they're not open to poetry, a single short story, single piece of short fiction or of flash fiction, children’s books, erotica or porn.

I didn't recognize any latino names on their authors page, so someone reading this might become their first. Quién sabe.

Es todo, hoy,
Rudy G

Friday, March 28, 2014

Interview with Poet and Publisher, Richard Vargas/Excerpt from Guernica, revisited

Melinda Palacio

Richard Vargas

La Bloga sat down with Richard Vargas. His thorough answers on being a poet offers an important roadmap for anyone thinking about taking up the writing life. I especially enjoyed his quoting of John F. Kennedy, and, most of all, Richard's poems; I was honored to read his new book in manuscript format. It such a great feeling to see a project of this magnitude take shape and become a book you can hold in your hands, carry in your bag, and read on the streetcar. But don't take my word for it, experience this Q&A, then click away and buy Richard's newest book of poems: Guernica, revisited.Don't be surprised if you find yourself looking up his earlier books, published by Tia Chucha Press.

Mark your calendar: Richard Vargas features at Avenue 50 Studios August 10. 

Melinda Palacio:
How did you meet your editors? Did you submit your book through a contest?

Richard Vargas:
I met Pam Uschuk and William Pitt Root for the first time when they visited a poetry workshop at University of New Mexico. I think it was the fall of 2008, my first semester in the Creative Writing MFA program. The workshop was facilitated by Joy Harjo, and at her invitation they stopped by to discuss poetics and lead us in a writing exercise. Since then, Pam has contributed to the poetry magazine I publish and edit, TheMás Tequila Review, on more than one occasion, and Will let me reprint his classic long poem, “Night Letter to the Mujahadeen,” in issue #5.

My manuscript came to their attention after a prestigious small press had sat on it for about a year, only to pass it up. I was thoroughly frustrated, since it had been turned down several times in the last three years. I was at the end of my rope, so I reached out to several friends and contacts on Facebook, asking for advice. Many came through with recommendations, but many of the presses they mentioned had already rejected my manuscript. Pam suggested I send it to her since she knew my work and thought the press who published much of her work would be interested. But within a few days she wrote back to say she really liked the collection of poems, and suggested making it a part of the Silver Concho Poetry Series for Press 53. She and Will direct the series for the press. She became a strong advocate for the book, and Will stepped in to work with me as my editor. I quickly found out that while the material was strong, the manuscript wasn’t print ready. Not by a long shot. Will worked long hours combing it over for errors and inconsistencies. No one put in that kind of time with my first two books, and his efforts really paid off. The result was a tighter, professional version of the original. I’m proud of how it turned out, and thank William Pitt Root for his editorial skills and sharp eye.

What did you most enjoy about putting together your new book?

Well, the enjoyable part is now; giving readings, promoting, stepping out to meet new faces and adding to my audience. Unlike the publication of my other two books, this time I have the resources to do some traveling, so I am reaching out to bookstores and literary venues in cities I’ve never had the chance to visit, as well as my old haunts and stomping grounds. And since I’ve created a network of poets across the country whom I’ve published in The Más Tequila Review, I’m looking forward to meeting some of them face to face as I hit the road. It’s going to be a good time. A celebration of the new book, a celebration of the Gerald Locklin Poetry Prize we just awarded in the current issue ($300,) and the Margaret Randall Poetry Prize we’re awarding in the next issue ($500.)

Did you have control over the cover?

Yes! The cover is a strong statement, and visually appealing. Just before Pam and Will accepted Guernica, revisited,for the Silver Concho Poetry Series, I came across an interview Mother Jones magazine published, ( featuring a Pakastani artist who was using her country’s folk-art to depict U.S. drones, provoking and adding to the debate about our government’s use of these killing machines and their effect on her people.  I had recently changed the title (the last of many title changes) of the manuscript to Guernica, revisited, a poem I wrote about the aftermath of a drone strike. It was written upon my feature reading at an art exhibit in Albuquerque, called Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan. (
The art work by Kabul high school students left me speechless and numb. And I was honored to have my poetry paired with their vision of the world. I felt like I was speaking out for them, in their absence.
Guernica revisited by Richard Vargas
So I reached out to the journalist who interviewed Mahwish Chishty, and he put me in touch with her. I explained the circumstances that led to composing my title poem, and asked for permission to use one of her images for my cover art. She graciously agreed, and I was ecstatic! What a gift. The image sets the tone of the book and I feel truly blessed. We’ve discussed collaborating, a showing of her artwork accompanied by a reading from my book. We are looking for a gallery interested in working with us. Originally I wanted to launch the book in this manner, but there just wasn’t enough time to set it up.  But I feel it would be an event worth the time and energy to organize and promote.

Your poems are political and represent the social milieu around you. You've also talked about being an armchair activist through your poetry. What is your current view as an activist poet and how has this changed.

Yeah, they are. And there are those who will rail against mixing art with politics, proclaiming that it is an aberration, a distraction from the pursuit of the universal quality of beauty, or nature, or the spiritual. But once someone states that their art is apolitical, they have just made a political statement. There is no getting away from it. Every waking day of our lives, we are being affected by political actions and decisions being made all around us, near and far away. Every time I wanted to push away from the table, convinced that no matter what I do, say, or write, the die has been cast and what’s going to happen is already written in the books, I find myself drawn back into the fray. A people who are complacent and watch their local and federal governments condone acts of social injustice and atrocities at home and abroad, deserve their fate. And sooner or later, it does come home to roost. Yeah, I’m on a soap box right now, but this quote from John F. Kennedy always comes to mind when I get on this subject: “When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.” He said it best.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with La Bloga?

I want to take the time to thank you, Joy Harjo, and Demetria Martinez for blurbing the book. Such an impressive group of writers, and it makes me realize how lucky I am to be rubbing elbows with such a talented group of artists. The forward was written by my good friend, E.A. “Tony” Mares. I became aware of his poetry in the 1970s, when I was an undergrad at Cal State University, Long Beach. I took a couple of courses from the fledgling Chicano Studies program, and was introduced to an anthology titled, Festival de Flor y Canto: An Anthology of Chicano Literature. His poetry was among the contents, and I still have my copy. Upon moving to Albuquerque in 2002, I met Tony at readings, where we hit it off. He sat in on my dissertation committee, and has been a source of professional advice and encouragement for several years. We still get together for coffee and discuss the local and global state of affairs. During a time when he is exclusively concentrating on his own writing, he took the time to write an insightful and touching forward for the book, and I am honored and grateful.

Richard Vargas shares the title poem of his new book with La Bloga:

Guernica, revisited

the child is lying face down in the dirt, barefoot. his pants
are torn, exposing the backside of his leg, the skin’s surface
dull with a layer of fine dust.  head turned to the side, half
of the face is gone. hair is stiff, matted. he looks like a doll
someone just threw away. the family gathers around their
home where walls no longer stand and brick has been
pulverized into grit and debris burying their loved ones,
their belongings. a bed has been removed from the rubble;
under an old sleeping bag are the bodies of an adult and
two children. they look peaceful and asleep, huddled close
together for warmth. but they are not sleeping. overhead,
metallic raptors spread their wings with grace and ride
the high desert winds with ease, their cyber-cameras survey
the damage, send images half way around the globe where
men in starched uniforms focus on their military-issue
computer monitors, drink their morning coffee, take notes,
and fill out reports.

Picasso’s ghost walks
among the carnage, weeping.
there is no art here.

Author’s website:

Author’s page, Press 53:

The Mas Tequila Review: Where to Buy/How to Submit

Book launch and future reading in Highland Park

April 26, Saturday 2-4 pm
Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice
202 Harvard SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 USA

And the first reading booked so far... hopefully the first of many.

August 10, Sunday at 2pm
Avenue 50 Studios
131 North Avenue 50
Highland Park, CA 90042

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chicanonautica: Across the Border with Roy, Cisco and Jorge

by Ernest Hogan

When I wrote about Disney’s The Three Caballeros a while back, Tom Miller, author of On the Border and Revenge of the Saguaro told me I should look into the Roy Rogers movie, Hands Across the Border. He didn’t know if the State Department had anything to do with it, but there was Chicanonautica material there.

I've always liked the Roy Rogers universe. It’s full of happy trails, and animals that are so intelligent you expect them to talk. It also takes place in time warp: stagecoaches coexist with trucks, jeeps, and atom bombs. It’s a kind of 20th century American dreamtime where the past is upgraded for the newfangled reality. And it often gets downright surreal.

Hands Across the Border is so surreal it should be considered a precursor to the acid western subgenre.

It begins with a song, “Easy Street.” Roy sings it while riding into the town of Buckaroo, as he passes signs saying: CHECK YOUR CARES HERE AT THE CITY LIMITS AND RIDE ON INTO PARADISE and BEWARE TRAMPS, MOUNTEBANKS, GAMBLERS, SCALLYWAGS AND THIEVES THERE IS ONLY ONE PLACE IN TOWN WHERE YOU ARE WELCOME OUR JAIL! All while the lyrics declare that he doesn’t need money, and “Have you ever seen a happy millionaire?”

Did Sheriff Joe Arpaio ever see this?

Roy’s a saddle bum, or migrant worker, looking to earn his keep by wrangling horses and singing. And he does a lot of both as he saunters into a plot that's mostly an excuse to lead into the songs. Trigger accidentally kills the owner of the ranch, then encourages Roy to convince the owner’s daughter to keep the ranch from getting into the hands of the Bad Guy. Animals often act as spirit guides in the Roy Rogers universe.

Like The Three Caballeros, the story doesn’t directly have a “We gotta make friends with Latinos to defeat the Nazis” theme. Duncan Renaldo -- later know as The Cisco Kid on television -- is the ranch foreman, who orders around the Anglo cowboys, but nothing is really made of it. If there was any guidance from the State Department, it’s in the musical numbers. This really kicks in at a fiesta in the Renaldo characters’ town -- they don’t mention which side of the border it’s on.

There are muchas señoritas at the fiesta. Or at least Hollywood starlets in the appropriate regalia -- at least one was platinum blonde. And here we find a serious connection to The Three Caballeros, one of the señoritas sing “Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!” song by Manuel Esperón, with Spanish lyrics by Ernesto Cortázar Sr. that was originally released in a 1941 film of the same name starring Jorge Negrete. Hands Across the Border was released on January 5, 1944. On December 21, 1944, The Three Caballeros premiered in Mexico City, featuring Esperón’s music with English lyrics by Ray Gilbert, making it into “The Three Caballeros.” 

Cultural appropriation? The State Department in Hollywood? Or is this tune just that catchy?

The Mexicans in the town are supposed to help the ranch train the horses for a “government contract” in some way, buy it’s not shown. The military and the war aren’t mentioned. This is a spectacular race/torture test that the horses -- Trigger included -- are put through that includes explosions and a “simulated gas attack.”

I don’t think poison gas was used in the Second World War. What war are these horses going to be used in? We’re in the time warp again. Is this an alternate universe? On does it take place on a future, terraformed Mars?

This leads into an incredible finale. The opening song declares “We don’t have to flaunt our egos, amigos.” For about fifteen minutes there’s an all-singing, all-dancing recombocultural mashup of cowboy songs, Mexican Music (including an English translation of “Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!”), and jazz on a stage with crossed Mexican and American flags, and a white line to represent the border. There’s also a violin and a female singer that sound like theremins. And three guys in dresses.

It’s as if Guillemo Gómez-Peña and La Pocha Nostra were doing a time travel gig in the Forties

With Latinos becoming the majority in California, and elections coming up, maybe double features of Hands Across the Border and The Three Caballeros should be encouraged.

Ernest Hogan had a Roy Rogers lunch pail in grade school. He lives in the Wild West, where life constantly reminds him that reality is stranger than science fiction.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of the Hip Hop

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

Feel the rhythm

Feel the beat

Music is energy

Music is heat.

I love music! Music creates harmony between my body and my soul. I personally enjoy the rhythm of the beats as the music flows. In the book When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of the Hip Hop written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III shows that music can transform communities.

Clive Campbell lived in Kingston, Jamaica. When he was thirteen years old he moved to New York City. Music and basketball are Clive’s passion. Clive calls himself “cool as Clyde” after his favorite basketball player Walt “Clyde” Frazier. Since Clive’s height is six feet and five inches, his friends call him Hercules. Clive decides to call himself Kool Herc.

DJ Kool Herc transforms a neighborhood using music, which gives the the young community of the Bronx a fresh perspective. DJ Kool Herc does not like fighting; instead he opts for a turntable and some speakers. His ability to mix music is amazing, everyone loves hearing his music. The break-dancers love to dance the breaks. They can make incredible jumps like gymnastics. Some of the most popular moves are: the turtle, windmill, toprock, downrock, and one handed handstand freeze. DJ Kool Herc legacy is a form of expression, which brings together a community to share their talents as one big family. Visit your local library to read this book that will make you dance. Remember that music and reading gives you wings. Hip, hop, hippity hop!