Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Confessions of a Book Burner Not To Be Missed.

Lucha Corpi. Confessions of a book burner : personal essays + stories. Houston, Texas : Arte Público Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781558857858 1558857850

Michael Sedano

You’ve been at readings where someone asks innocently, “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How do you write?” “Are you your own character?” “Who influenced your writing?” Confessions of a Book Burner imagines such questions and lays out elegant, delightful, and moving essays by the grandmother of Chicana Chicano crime fiction, Lucha Corpi.

Lucha Corpi’s Confessions of a Book Burner assembles twelve essays, each a gem of insight into her writing life, illustrating connections between one writer’s cultural and family history and the stuff of her novels.

Corpi is a 19 year old immigrant when she leaves Mexico for 1960s Berkeley. She doesn’t speak English and knows only her husband. In a few years, the marriage unravels. She becomes a late-night poet, finding expression a mode of healing. Her Spanish language lyrical work finds an audience. She finds herself a single mother determined to make it on her own. She begins writing stories in English. One day her character, Gloria Damasco, finds Corpi and kick-starts the author’s multi-novel Gloria Damasco series.

Lucha Corpi is a nom de plume, a choice explained in one of the many small details the author fills her accounts with. The essays are monologues, written in a casual conversational style. Most of the dozen conversations begin with a child Corpi in her childhood hometown then advance through time to contemporary days. Corpi's engaging narrative draws connections between historical reminiscence and subsequent events while wondering about predicting the future, causality, miracle. Destiny, God, free will, tear at the confluences of history with here and now arising in Corpi's single parent life. Sometimes an induced psychic panic leads to extended unproductive writing droughts.

Like a Corpi novel, Confessions weaves in numerous intellectual challenges, but not without having some fun along the way. “And you’ll suffer” is her mother’s all-purpose argument against young Corpi’s election of medical school. Laugh, then notice the warm relationship between daughter and father, and the distance between mother and daughter. Details like these bring the narrative to life and keep readers eargerly turning pages for more.

Corpi reasons she is the grandmother of U.S. latino crime fiction. Rolando Hinojosa and Michael Nava are the grandfathers, Rudolfo Anaya and Manuel Ramos the fathers of the chicano detective story. Corpi writes the first chicana private eye, followed by Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Thus, Gaspar de Alba is the mother, Corpi the grandmother of the chicana sleuth genre.

Where are the nietas, the literary offspring of such progenitors? Corpi scratches her head at the failure of the genre to attract larger numbers of Chicana writers and readers. Considering half the crime writers published in the United States are women, why do Chicanas shun the literature?

During the movimiento’s emergence, identification excess led some to challenge other’s raza credentials. Corpi, a freckled guera who wrote lyical poetry in castellano, was at the receiving end of such. Not brown enough, not brash enough, not Mexican enough. Maybe those explain why Edward James Olmos didn't kiss Corpi's cheek that time.

Corpi describes some pedo between Jose Montoya and Ricardo Sanchez at a Flor y Canto called The Last Canto held in an Oakland bar. She was the first reader and her performance style captures the house. The combatants and drinkers calmed, Lucha receives a rousing ovation and recalls the first time her recitation reached an audience’s sinews.

I smiled at Corpi’s citing that floricanto. Richard Montoya showed part of a video of The Last Canto, at the 2010 reunion Flor y Canto at USC. The video begins with Lucha’s applause and her exit. Then Sánchez endures merciless heckling in a hilarious reward for the hubris Corpi backgrounds here.

Confessions of a Book Burner will keep readers entertained as the writer takes her non-fiction along creative pathways that enlighten at the same time. It’s not to be missed by the writer seeking role models. It’s not to be missed by the student of U.S. Literature seeking insight into formative years of Chicano Literature. It’s not to be missed by crime fiction fans and Lucha Corpi fans. For gente who enjoy good writing, good story, interesting material, Confessions of a Book Burner is not to be missed.

Mail Bag
Angela de Hoyos Scholarship

La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda sends this for your attention:


Palo Alto College (PAC), one of five colleges in the Alamo Colleges district in San Antonio, Texas, announces the establishment of the Ángela De Hoyos Scholarship Fund for Mexican American Studies (MAS) students. The late, great Ángela De Hoyos, author of Arise Chicano, Chicano Poems, Woman, Woman and Selected Poems, was one of the most beloved of the early Chicana poets from San Antonio, and a mentor/benefactor to many Chicana/o writers and arts organizations. Her husband, Moses Sandoval, who recently contributed $5,000 to establish the scholarship in Ángela’s name, stated that if we matched his $5,000 donation, that he would contribute another $5,000, for a total of $15,000, that would go to deserving MAS majors at Palo Alto College, as well as Conjunto and Mariachi music students.

Thus we are beginning a two-week e-mail and Facebook campaign, before we begin the Fall, 2014 semester, to raise the other $5,000. We already have a head start as the President of PAC, Dr. Michael Flores, said that PAC would contribute $1,000, and I have made a pledge of $500, so we only have $3,500 to raise. I figured that if we could get 35 people to contribute $100 each, we would meet our goal, so I’m asking all of my colleagues and camaradas, and friends of Ángela De Hoyos, to consider contributing, in any amount you can afford, to this scholarship fund which will be administered by the Alamo Colleges Foundation and PAC’s Center for Mexican American Studies. Your contribution is tax-deductible and if you contribute $50 or more, I will send you a copy of the Conjunto Palo Alto CD; if you send in $100 or more, I will send you the Conjunto Palo Alto CD, plus the PAC Music Ensembles CD that includes the PAC Jazz Ensemble, Mariachi Palomino and Conjunto Palo Alto (all PAC student ensembles).

Make your checks payable to Ángela De Hoyos Scholarship (and at the bottom Memo put Palo Alto College), and mail it to Palo Alto College, c/o Juan Tejeda, 302 Stratford Ct., San Antonio, TX 78223. Be sure to include your mailing address so that we can send you a thank you letter and the CD’s.

Gracias for your support on behalf of our Mexican American Studies majors, and our Conjunto and Mariachi students. If you have any questions, I can also be reached at 210.710.8537.

Juan Tejeda
Instructor of Music & Mexican American Studies
Palo Alto College Center for Mexican American Studies

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

gracias, carnal sedano, for the post in la bloga. it would be great if you could include a photo of angela, one of the grandmothers of chicana poetry de san antonio. and gracias to all the colegas and camaradas who contribute on behalf of our mexican american studies students at palo alto college. juan