Monday, July 06, 2015

Graciela Limón: “The crime ... demanded that I build a novel around it”

 An interview by Daniel A. Olivas

Graciela Limón, the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a native of Los Angeles, is best known for her much-taught novels, Song of the Hummingbird and In Search of Bernabé — the latter of which won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 1994.

Her long list of novels now includes a new book The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy (Café Con Leche, paperback, $15), which traces the life of the title character from Mexico during the Revolution to Los Angeles of the early 1950s.

Part historical novel, part noir mystery, Limón brings all her storytelling talents to the table to create a thrilling and consequential narrative.

Q: What (or who) inspired you to create Ximena Godoy?

A: When I was a child, a crime of much notoriety happened here in Los Angeles (my hometown). A well-known couple, husband and wife, who were also owners of a swinging nightclub on Sunset and Alvarado, were the victims of a botched holdup. The husband was shot to death by the assailant, and the wife was left behind in shocked disbelief.

The whole thing made big news in the city’s then very thriving newspapers. I still remember the huge front-page photo of the wife, knocked to her knees, holding the bleeding head of her husband.

They were Mexican American, and the people of my own East Los Angeles barrio talked of nothing else. This included my mom and dad, and all the grownups in the family. What was interesting was that the chisme was heavily spiced with the suspicion that the wife was implicated in the crime, and the assailant was her lover.

To my knowledge, the crime went unsolved. This story has stayed with me all these years until it finally demanded that I build a novel around it. And this is the heart of Ximena Godoy — a crime of greed, betrayal and murder.

Q: Your novel runs from the Mexican Revolution to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and has a well-researched feel to it. Did you immerse yourself in Mexican and Los Angeles history?

A: I did, very much so, but I’ll say that Mexico and Los Angeles are really a part of me anyway. I think it’s because I’m the daughter of Mexican immigrants with roots here in Los Angeles, but also in Mexico.

My parents’ frequent trips to Mexico to visit brothers and sisters who had been repatriated at the time of The Repatriation were the main reasons for those trips, and as a child, that world of colonial homes and churches captivated my imagination. The family had several storytellers who told of the Revolution, of their migration up to Los Angeles, and even of their deportations back to Mexico. Included in all of that storytelling were, of course, the scary tales of ghosts (animas), as well as of cemeteries and leaders. This also captivated my imagination, and has stayed with me.

Then, as an adult, I resided in Mexico City for two years as I achieved a master’s degree. This experience exposed me to the deep heart of Mexico’s indigenous and pre-Christian people.

Although I’m a native of Los Angeles, I felt at home and part of that beautiful and mystical land. I believe this powerful feeling shows not only in “The Intriguing Life of Ximena Godoy” but in my other work.

Of course, Los Angeles is part of me. I was born here and went to school here. The city is under my skin, so to speak. I love my city and its streets, its history, its incredible mix of people, so that I feel always at home writing about it.

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

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Creating Art From Diabetes: An Interview with ire'ne lara silva on _enduring azucares_

ire’ne lara silva is fearless.  In her new chapbook collection just released, enduring azucares, (SiblingRivalry Press, June 2015) ire’ne takes on the subject of diabetes and its impact on our community, her familia, and in her personal experience with the disease.  The seven poems in the chapbook are poignant snapshots: the moment of diagnosis, loss, nostalgia, and contemplation as in this excerpt: 

   it took awhile but then i opened my eyes
and noticed that la azucar was all around me
                        the woman next to me at work
                                    the early morning bus driver
                        every third person at my other job
and the man at the store puzzling over egg substitutes
and the waitress downing a shot of orange juice during a long shift
            and everywhere i see the warning signs in people’s behaviors

excerpt from her poem “diabetic epidemic” (enduring azucares)

Her full manuscript (which includes these poems) titled, Blood Sugar Canto will be published this January 2016 from SaddleRoad Press.  ire’ne is a poet, short story writer, and essayist.  Her published work has received numerous awards.  Last year, she received the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral award for her work.  Her collection of short stories flesh to bone (Aunt LutePress, 2013) received the 2013 Premio Aztlán, and her first collection of poetry, furia (Mouthfeel Press,2010), received an Honorable Mention from the 2011 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. Check out Olga Echeverria’s La Bloga piece on furia from 2010 (click here) and also her posting on flesh to bone!

Today, I am so happy to bring ire’ne back to La Bloga to discuss enduring azucares and her upcoming longer manuscript, Blood, Sugar, Canto. 

Thank you for joining us at La Bloga today, ire’ne, and congratulations on your digital chapbook, enduring azucares. What does the title, enduring azucares, mean to you? 

Mil gracias, Amelia, for inviting me and for the opportunity to talk about my new chapbook.  The title was the result of a long discussion with my youngest brother, who also lives with diabetes.  “Enduring” was the key word for us when we reflected on our experiences as people with diabetes:  enduring the diagnosis itself and the emotiona/psychological repercussions; enduring the way diabetes feels in the body; enduring medication and its side effects; enduring doctors; enduring other people’s reactions, ignorance, etc.; enduring physical challenges and creating daily changes, diet changes, mindset changes.  The hardest thing to endure and challenge is the widespread assumption that there is only one way to treat diabetes—there is very little understanding that each person has her or his own experience with diabetes and each body has unique challenges and needs. 

These seven poems are taken from a longer manuscript that you entitled, Blood Sugar Canto. How did you go about choosing these for the chapbook? 

I didn’t choose, actually.  This chapbook came about because I was invited to be a featured reader for the Austin InternationalPoetry Festival in April of 2014.  MeganVolpert from Sibling Rivalry Press was also a featured reader, and she heard my work one of the nights of the festival.  We talked afterwards about my unpublished collection, Blood Sugar Canto.  She ended up choosing these 7 poems out of the full length collection. 

There seems to be a chronology to the poems, from diagnosis, observations of familia, loss, and community impact, plus your own processing of the diagnosis into self-management.  Tell us about this. 

Part of my aim with the books was to fully document my experience.  The poems specifically chosen for enduring azucares are poems that spoke directly to my initial experiences with diabetes and how I started to articulate it to myself in such a way that I could feel that it was possible to heal, possible to keep myself intact, possible to survive. 

The poems in this chapbook are also, like “en trozos/in pieces”—love poems to your body.  Tell us about how you processed your diabetes diagnosis into, for example, this poem.

The poem, “en trozos/in pieces” was a surprise.  I began the poem knowing that I wanted to write about my diabetes-related fears, and I knew that this would be one of the hardest poems to write.  But I had no idea where the poem was going to go or where it was going to end.  And that is the surprise of writing that I live for—to learn the things that I don’t even know I know, to come to the page and leave with a radical discovering that frames everything differently.  I didn’t know that fear could become self-love.  I didn’t know that my own insecurities, freely confessed, would lead me to a new understanding.  This was the poem that made this project real to me.  It became clear to me that the most important aspect of healing was love—not fear of illness, not fear of complications, not fear of mortality, not doctor-induced or western medicine-induced fear—only love.

Your poems are also discussions and memories with loved ones who are no longer with us.  Example:  “one-sided conversations with my mother.” How did these come about?

My first book, furia, spoke a lot about the grief I felt after my mother passed.  When I was first writing the Blood Sugar Canto poems, I marked the tenth anniversary of her passing.  I found myself wishing I could talk to my mother about everything: events that had taken place during those ten years, what illness was, what mortality was, what life was, and to dream what would have been if she had not passed.  My mother died of colon cancer when I was 26.  My father died of diabetes-related complications 9 years later.  So by the time I was 35 years old, both my parents, all my grandparents, and many aunts and uncles were gone.  Mortality and the urgency of doing the work I feel I need to do are often on my mind.

You also shift the subject of diabetes from the personal to the public in “diabetic epidemic” by giving us a view of the hereditary aspect of the disease.  The shape of this poem is interesting.  Why did you shape the poem as it is?

I hadn’t realized until this question, how wildly different the formatting is for each of these poems.  Usually, when I start a poem, I have no idea what it’s going to look like on the page.  In this case, the poem needed to be a little disruptive to the eye, to have a different breath.  Diabetes is everywhere, but it is also invisible.  In our communities, it has been normalized—which is what this poem is against, not only in words but also in its formatting.

“susto,” is the name of one of your poems.  The literal translation is “fright.” How does “fright” play into disease?

 “Susto” is a term I was very familiar with all my life.  ‘Fright’ is the easiest translation but it doesn’t truly encompass what “susto” means.  It is the shock or trauma felt by the body after an incident occurs.  The incident can be anything that is violent, or sudden, or terrible:  a car accident, a loss, an illness, an attack, etc.  It becomes necessary not only to heal the body from its obvious wounds, but to heal the body and the spirit from “susto.”  One of the prevalent beliefs that I heard was that too many “sustos” could break down the body and make it vulnerable to diabetes, which could also be understood as the body’s over-exposure to adrenaline in too many stressful situations.

This chapbook is unique in that it is bilingual.  Did you initially envision enduring azucares as a bilingual work? Why?

Interestingly, it was my publishers at Sibling Rivalry Press who came up with the idea of including translations.  Neither MeganVolpert nor Brian Borland (editor/publisher) speak Spanish, but their enthusiasm was contagious.  I loved the idea of making translations of these poems available to everyone—especially given the subject matter of these poems, not just diabetes, but family, and community.

How did you go about choosing your translator or maybe the story is that the translator found you?

I had a specific translator in mind, but that didn’t work out.  For a short while, I was afraid I was going to have to do the translating myself—and while I can speak Spanish, read it, and write it—at least well enough to make myself understood, I knew I didn’t have the professional skills and artistry that someone like Julieta Corpus has.  I knew Julieta Corpus as a Rio Grande Valley poet through Facebook and then I met her in Austin at an Ana Castillo workshop.  I very much liked the translations she was doing for other poets.

I eagerly started reading her translations of my poems when she sent them and thought they were gorgeous.  When I read her translation of “one-sided conversations with my mother,” I cried like if I had never read the poem before.  While my mother was alive, I only ever translated one of my poems for her to hear.  It hit me hard—missing my mother and wishing I could read her the poems in Spanish. 

Were some of these poems easier to write than others? 

Nothing came out easily.  Each of these poems was difficult and costly and exhausting in its own way.  That isn’t to say that they didn’t come out quickly, though.  All of these poems seemed to have been waiting to burst out of me.  I wrote the bulk of Blood Sugar Canto between August 2011 and January 2012.  I pushed myself hard to finish the collection, and while I was able to do it, for a long time afterwards, I felt completely drained.  Telling that much truth, some of which I hadn’t even admitted to myself before, was not an easy thing. "tequilita" took the longest to write.  It was one of the first ideas I had when I thought of writing poems abut diabetes.  I used to be a crazy tequila--to the point that "Tequila" became one of my nicknames.  But once I found out I had diabetes, I left it behind completely.  At this point, it's been 9 years since the last time I had tequila. I've since learned that you can sing ranchers and throw "grits" with just as much, if not more, abandon while sober.  Apparently, there are some people with diabetes who can safely continue to drink, but in my experience, there have been many, many people who have suffered serious complications from diabetes due to their inability to stop or cut down on their drinking.  

How is poetry food for our gente?  

Poetry is an essential form of sustenance and healing for our gente.  At its best, poetry is more than just beautiful--although that is important--more than intellectual, more than sound and language, more than powerful emotion.  At its best, poetry speaks to us at the level of heart, body, mind, and spirit all at once.  For both the poet and the reader/listener, poetry makes us whole and integrated people.  So little of our lives is spent in this integrated state.  Poetry feeds us and frees because it restores our dignity and our freedom and our human-ness--contesting the daily and historical oppression we endure and have endured.

 You end with “lullaby”—a love letter to those who will come after you. Were there
specific individuals in mind?

I have no children, so I can’t imagine how I’d address our worrisome family medical history with them.  I’ve been estranged from most of my siblings for a long time, so it’s not as if my nephews and nieces would listen, but this is what I’d tell them and all the youth in our communities if they’d listen.  I know people with abundant youth, health, and strength don’t ever really consider illness or mortality—at least not when it comes to them.  But maybe someone will heed the warning in this poem.  Maybe this poem will encourage someone to speak to their children or the young ones in their lives—and they’ll do it with love, not with fear. 

Thank you so much ire'ne. Again, congratulations on enduring azucares, a chapbook available now and we look forward to your upcoming full manuscript, Blood Sugar Canto in January! 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Quality Latino spec fiction should overwhelm the ILBA

2015 already seems to be the breakout year for Latino speculative literature crashing the white ceiling of the establishment press. I just received news from Victor Milán about his the launch party for his sci-fi novel, The Dinosaur Lords, published by Tor Books, a major publisher.

Official Worldwide Launch Party for The Dinosaur Lords
Sun Jul 12 at Jean Cocteau Cinema
Monday, Aug. 3 @ 7:00pm
Jean Cocteau Cinema, Santa Fe, NM

Three days ago in Brooklyn, Daniel José Older hosted the book-release party for his YA urban fantasy, The Shadowshaper, which was picked up by Scholastic Press, a major kids/YA publishing house.

And last month, Latino, Will Alexander came out with Nomad, the sequel to the kid's sci-fi novel, Ambassador, both published by Simon and Schuster, one of the biggest publishing houses.

Also last month, there's Gabino Iglesias' fantasy-horror, Hungry Darkness, from Severed Press, voted Horror Publisher of The Year 2014.
[A note from Gabino Iglesias about his book: "Any idea who would review something in Spanglish that's not coming from Junot?" If you have suggestions, contact him.]

The plethora--the word fits the dynamic--of Latino speculative books, stories and related art being published and recognized [John Picacio just won the Locus Award for Best Artist, 2015], overwhelmed me a couple of months ago. In many, many cases, these and other Latino authors are out there in front of USican readers:
David Bowles, in Strange Horizons; and Carmen Machado in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, a prestigious literary publication. There's probably others I fail to mention. Pardón.  

In 2014 my debut novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams received honorable mention in the fantasy/sci-fi category with the International Latino Book Awards (ILBA). So far, it's the highlight of my book's life, and one I obviously relish.

That year, Map of the Sky from publisher Atria Books took first place. I haven't read it and can't speak to its literary worth compared to mine, but Atria was/is an established publishing house. The other nominees were from smaller ones or were self-published.

This year, of the International Latino Book Award nominations for Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi Novel, none were published by major publishers, or even, mid-sized. Qué pasa? Was last year the prequel to Latinos breaking into the big publishers? [If it matters, I don't know if all the authors are Latino.]

The 2016 ILBA qualifying books will have to have carry a publication date of either 2014, 2015 or 2016 and be published prior to the awards deadline of Jan. 29, 2016. That seems strange, to me, but it offers the possibility of Latino authors who published in that time period to still win this award.

Then there's the entry fee: "By October 1, 2015, the fee is $65 per entry. If entered after October 1, 2015, the fee is $90 per entry." Plus you must submit 5 copies of your book.

I may never again be a finalist for the ILBA for saying this feels like a brown, publishing ceiling Latino authors have to face. It's not chingos of money. And 5 copies might only cost $75, for instance.

But for those Latino authors who are not in a financially privileged position, those costs might preclude their entering, their literary abilities being recognized, and diversity in USican books being promoted.

The plethora of vibrant, Latino literature blossoming in this country's speculative field should not be dammed up by commercial limitations. And what I say about this category likely applies to other genres. I wish someone could clarify why the ILBA moves in this direction.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, former honorable mention with the ILBA, and maybe never again, as Chicano speculative fiction author Rudy Ch. Garcia

Friday, July 03, 2015

Teatro Sin Fronteras in New Orleans

 Melinda Palacio

José Torres-Tama
When José Torres-Tama asked me to be a part of his Teatro Sin Fronteras, a 10 year commemoration of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing contribution of Latinos to New Orleans, I had no idea the reading would be unlike any other in the Big Easy. What's remarkable about this series of presentations is the variety in each show. Jose likens the events to "a moveable feast" in that the venues change, there are different artistic offerings, poetry, dance, art, music, performance art, and there's delicious comida, catered by Sarita's grill. José is able to offer all these events to the public free of charge, while paying each artist through a grant from Alternate Roots in Action. So far this season has seven different shows. Teatro Sin Fronteras partners with Puentes New Orleans and there just might be future iterations of the series.
Melinda Palacio

A few days before the show, José asked me to join him for a radio interview with Diane Mack on WWNO's Inside the Arts program. I learned that Diane Mack has been following José's one-man acts for over twenty years. Born in Ecuador, raised in New York, José has been in New Orleans since the mid-1980s. Many of his performance pieces are lyrical in their own right and are included in his first full-length poetry collection, Immigrant Dreams AlienNightmares, Diálogos Books 2014.
The Old Marquer Theatre in the Faubourg Marigny

Performing first in Tuesday's show allowed me to sit back and enjoy the rest of the outstanding performances. The Old Marquer Theatre used to be named the Shadow Box Theatre, but before that it was Marquer Drugs.
Maritza Mercado-Narcisse

Maritza Mercado-Narcisse performed a spellbinding dance to La Llorona. Her choreography showed a willingness to pair risk with fluid movements.  

Denise Frazier with art by Cynthia Ramirz in background

In Cynthia Ramirez's artist talk, she provided the background for her original art which is part of her search for raza. She described herself as a Pocha from Virginia who didn't speak Spanish and didn't discover her Chicana roots until she arrived in New Orleans. For her, Aztlán is in the port city of New Orleans.

While José's work was featured in the Short Film Mardi Gras as Public Healing Ritual for the Wounded New Orleans, it was in the live sketches where his work shines. I've seen him perform from his repertoire before, but this was the first time I saw him accompanied by Violinist Denise Frazier. Her playing exuded a haunting beauty that worked especially well with José's sketch where he channels a woman escaping from Nicaragua.
Intimos w Blake Amos & Leo Oliveira

The evening ended with Brazilian music by Intimos with Blake Amos and Leo Oliveira. I had the opportunity to ask Leo what he thought about the whole experience. Leo played the Cavaquinho (a small acoustic guitar used in samba) and the Surdo (Drum). Some of the songs the duo performed were Tive Razao by Seu jorge, Dindi by Tom Jobim and Ive Brussel by Jorge Ben Jor. Leo said it was his first time performing at Teatro Sin Frontera with José Torres-Tama.

"It was nice to perform at a place where people were actually paying attention to the artists. I was very impressed by the quality of the event. In Brazil, we do something similar and we call “Sarau”. I am not sure about the meaning of the word, but that’s when people get together to express themselves artistically."

The next series of Teatro Sin Fronteras takes place at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans at 7pm. Admission is free and the comida will be catered by Sarita's grill on Freret. For more info on Teatro Sin Fronteras, contact José Torres-Tama

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Latin@ Summer Reading List from Las Comadres

Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club's released its SUMMER READING LIST with "something for everyone!"

“We are launching a Summer Reading List,” said Edith Milagros Reyes, Book Club Project Manager, "to complement our monthly Book Club meetings and Teleconferences.  Plus, it's in line with our mission to promote the work of Latina/o authors.”

As their campaign states, the list features something for everyone: fiction, erotica, memoirs, classics, YA, children's, and even a cookbook.

"That is one feature we want to stress-- that there is something for everyone --and every generation!" said María Ferrer, Media Relations Coordinator for Las Comadres.

The list was announced two weeks ago via Las Comadres's wide network of book clubs, friends, and partner organizations.

"We are excited on the buzz that the List has generated," Reyes told La Bloga.  "In fact, we have received communication on people interested in starting a local book club chapter with us."

There are Comadres Book Club meetings in over 20 cities in the US and, if there isn't a book club chapter near you, it's fairly easy to start one. Membership is free and the national organization will help you get started. For more information, click here.

"Also, there are dozens of summer reading lists out there. A couple even are bold enough to have a Latino book or two," said Ferrer. "But Our Summer Reading List has 15 Latino books and all by Latino authors, many of which are available in English and Spanish."

"Creating the Summer Reading list was an addition to our other efforts of promoting the work of Latino authors," explained Reyes.  

"We feel strongly in wanting to add 'our granito de arena' in helping Latino authors.  Plus, we want everyone, not just Latino, to enjoy and appreciate the work of many of these fabulous authors."

Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club 2015 Summer Reading List: 

1. A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia (fiction) – Booktrope Editions
2. Ana of California: A Novel by Andi Teran (YA) – Penguin Books
3. Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano (memoir) – Scholastic Press
4. The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo (fiction) – Europa Editions
5. The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina Garcia (fiction) – Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
6. Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America by Sandra Gutierrez (cookbook) – Stewart, Tabori and Chang (Abrams)
7. The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Dueñas (fiction) – Atria Books
8. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (classic) – Vintage (Knopf Doubleday)
9. I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (YA) – Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)
10. Just One Night by Caridad Pineiro (romance fiction) – CreateSpace
11. Letters From Heaven/ Cartas del Cielo by Lydia Gil (children, bilingual) – Arte Publico
12. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (classic) – Hachette Book Group (and other publishers)
13. The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco (memoir) – Ecco (HarperCollins)
14. Shutter by Courtney Alameda (YA thriller) – Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan)
15. Stepdog by Mireya Navarro (memoir) – G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin)

The Las Comadres & Friends National Latino BookClub was started in 2007 in partnership with the Association of American Publishers to promote reading of Latino authors.  All books are written in English by Latino authors. Membership is free and open to all readers.  
Las Comadres Para Las Americas is the parent organization of the Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club.  It was started in Austin in 2000 and just celebrated its Quinceañero. Today, Las Comadres has over 15,000 members worldwide, and is on a mission to connect and empower Latinas everywhere through community building, networking, culture, learning, technology and literature.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

International Latino Book Awards 2015 La Bloga Winners

¡Felicidades!  Congratulations!

La Bloga writers had great 
success at the International Latino Book Award this past Saturday, June 27, at San Francisco. The awards were given during the American Library Association Conference. 

Best Poetry Book - One Author – Spanish

Syllables of Wind | Sílabas de Viento, Xánath Caraza; Mammoth Publications ; Mexico, Chicana-indiguenous Mexican

Best Latino Focused Nonfiction Book

Things We Do Not Talk About, Daniel A. Olivas; San Diego State University Press; USA Chicano

Best Youth Latino Focused Chapter Book

Letters from Heaven, Lydia Gil; Arte Publico Press; born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents 

Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Book

¡Jugemos al Fútbol y al Football!, René Colato Laínez; Santillana USA Publishing Company; El Salvador 

To to see the complete list of winners visit,