Friday, March 11, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos - Promoting Literacy, Part II

In this column:
2004 Premio Atzlán
Other Books Published In 2004 That Deserved More Attention
Taking Stock

Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya 2004 Premio Atzlán Literary Prize
The Premio Atzlán is a national literary prize established to encourage and reward emerging Chicana and Chicano authors. Noted author Rudolfo Anaya and his wife, Patricia, established the Premio Atzlán in 1993. After a brief hiatus the program has been revived by the University of New Mexico Libraries in their honor.

The Premio is awarded to a Chicana or Chicano writer who has published no more than two books. The prize includes $1,000 and the winner is expected to give a reading at the University of New Mexico Libraries.

Many of the recipients are now nationally recognized authors of Chicana/o literature. Past award recipients include:
Sergio Troncoso (1999)(The Last Tortilla and Other Stories)
Ronald Ruiz (1998) (Giuseppe Rocco)
Pat Mora (1997) (House of Houses)
Wendell Mayo (1996) (Centaur of the North)
Norma Cantu (1995) (Canicula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera)
Denise Chavez (1994) (Face of an Angel)
Alicia Gaspar de Alba (1993) (The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories)

Mary Helen Lagasse receives the 2004 Premio Atzlán Literary Award for her novel The Fifth Sun. The award ceremony is scheduled for March 24, 2005 in the Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM. For more information, call (505) 277-5057.

Mary Helen Lagasse is a Chicana from New Orleans. Her novel tells the story of Mercedes Vasconcelos (among others), a young Mexican woman who migrates to the US in the 1920s and ends up in New Orleans. The book is unique in that it provides a look at the Mexican-American experience in a place other than the Southwest and during decades that many other Chicano/a novelists have ignored or dealt with only in passing. This novel also won the 2004 Mármol Prize (for best First Book of Fiction by a Latina/o Writer). Judith Ortiz Cofer, a judge for the Mármol Prize, said that "Mercedes is a trooper, a proto-feminist. Her journey is the hero's journey -- the path to enlightenment, with each hurdle she encounters increasing her self-knowledge and strength of character." The novel is well-written and creative, one of those books that sneaks up on a reader until the characters are firmly etched in the mind's eye.

Other books published in 2004 that deserved more attention
I'd like to recommend Every Night Is Ladies' Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra. This collection of interrelated short stories drew me in almost immediately. I found myself regretting, more than once, when a story ended because I wanted to stay involved with the characters and their day-to-day struggles. Although not a novel in the strictest sense, the stories are connected and the writing conveys a real feel for the continuity of the community and setting. The collection is filled with working-class fiction -- glimpses into the lives of hard-working, hard-loving folks who slap back when life lands one below the belt. The author is from El Monte, CA, and this guy can flat-out write. He has a wonderful ability to express a full range of emotions without appearing to work at it. In other words he makes it look easy, which in my view is the sign of a first-class writer. One thing some readers initially might find irritating but will soon disregard: most of the stories are told in the present tense. This is Jaime-Becerra's debut book.

A few other Chicano/a notables from 2004:
Crimson Moon, Lucha Corpi
The Horse In The Kitchen, Ralph M. Flores
Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back, Ricardo L. García
Devil Talk: Stories, Daniel Olivas (there's a great article about Daniel in the most recent Stanford Magazine - he has his own compelling story)

The next two received plenty of attention but I think are worth noting anyway:
The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea
The Queen of the South, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (note, this is a Spanish author writing about a Mexican narca and for that alone it is worth reading. Of course, there's more to it than that).

Taking Stock
As we appreciate the current crop of Chicano/a authors, we get news that Octavio Romano passed away. Luis J. Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and several other books) pays tribute to one of the founders of Chicano Literature at this link. Rodriguez says, "Dr. Romano will forever stand as the leading light of Chicano letters. He had the vision and fortitude to go far beyond whatever existed before. He helped launch the careers of so many Chicano writers and artists in the literary publication El Grito, and later through his Tonatiuh Publishing."

And then, more negative news. Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez, Chicana activist, author and educator, has fallen seriously ill and needs the support of the rest of us. Martinez has published several books and many articles on social justice movements in the Americas. Best known is her bilingual volume 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, which became the basis for a video she co-directed. Other books include De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century, Letters from Mississippi and The Youngest Revolution: A Personal Report on Cuba.

There's a good bio of her at this link. This woman has led an incredible life. Check this out: a United Nations researcher on colonialism in Africa; an editor at Simon & Schuster; Books and Art Editor of The Nation. During the 1960s she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South and as its New York office coordinator. In 1968 she joined the Chicano movement in New Mexico, where she edited the movement newspaper El Grito del Norte and co-founded the Chicano Communications Center, a barrio-based organization. She has organized on Latino community issues, taught Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies in the California State University system, conducted anti-racist training workshops, and mentored youth groups. She ran for Governor of California on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in 1982.

I know that a call was made for support for Ms. Martinez but I don't have any contact information about that. If someone can get that to me or La Bloga we will do what we can to help.

Manuel Ramos