Friday, October 28, 2005

Día de Los Muertos or Halloween?

Manuel Ramos

Being bicultural, I get to mix up things and who can say that I'm wrong? Día de Los Muertos and Halloween, for example. My wife reminds me that Día de Los Muertos is not a scary holiday - just the opposite, in fact (still, having all those skulls and calaveras around the house, late at night, in the dark - you get the picture). Meanwhile, Halloween has nothing to do with honoring ancestors and a lot to do with pagan rites and ancient stories originally meant to keep children in line. So, in honor of the upcoming worldwide commemoration of and festivities for those who have passed on, and with a bit of spooky thrown in, here's a list of reading that might keep you up at night.

Two short story collections deserve your attention, and both have Daniel Olivas. Daniel's collection, Devil Talk (Bilingual Press, 2004), is a great mix of off-beat stories that present hard-earned lessons of life or glimpses at an alternative reality. These are the kind of stories that make you go "Oh no, he didn't do that" at the end. Daniel also is featured in Fantasmas (Bilingual Press, 2001), edited by Rob Johnson with an introduction by Kathleen Alcalá. This collection is billed as Supernatural Stories by Mexican American Writers and in addition to Daniel the authors include Carmen Tafolla, David Rice, Stephen Gutiérrez, and sixteen others.

The Festival of Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras: A Little-Bitty Book for the Day of the Dead by Luis San Vincente (Cinco Puntos Press, 1994) is described by the publisher in this way: "Mexico’s Day of the Dead fascinates kids, whether for its joyful celebration or its unusual traditions. With fantastic illustrations and a wild and fanciful poem, San Vicente captures the spirit of this most marvelous holiday. A short and fun essay, directed toward young readers, explains this important Mexican holiday, and the fun things kids can do to join in the festivities."

Cinco Puntos Press also features El Cucuy! A Bogeyman Cuento in English and Spanish (2002)by Joe Hayes, illustrated by Honorio Robledo.

All Chicana/o writers have a story in them about La Llorona. Rudolfo Anaya's contribution is his children's book, Maya's Children: The Story of La Llorona (Hyperion, 1997) illustrated by Maria Baca, a kinder, gentler tale in which the mother, Maya, does not kill her children but instead loses them to a tricky Señor Tiempo.

On the other, more serious, hand, Weeping Woman: La Llorona and Other Stories by Alma Luz Villanueva (Bilingual Press, 1994) has been described as painful and disturbing. The stories portray dark images of violence - rape, incest, abuse - but, as noted by The Library Journal, "out of the ashes of this cruelty rises a sense of hope."

My own llorona story can be found here for those of you who might be interested (originally published in 1986!)

Finally, something unique for La Bloga, Día De Los Muertos by Kent Harrington. This is noir fiction - bleak and as gritty as they come. The book has some relevance to La Bloga since Harrington's mother was from Guatemala, but in no way is this book Latino Literature. Even so, it is a very good book for those of us who like this kind of thing.


The play September Shoes was described by the author as "a complex, lyrical piece about the desert, shoes, forgiveness and redemption. We start you in a place where you are grounded, and then we begin to take you on this lyrical and magical journey." Written by José Cruz González, it runs through December 17 at the Denver Center Theatre Company. The Denver Post observed, "September Shoes is not only the first DCTC play by a Latino playwright since 1999; it will be the first staged by any female director since the same play, Barrio Babies. Director Amy González (no relation) describes the play as a suspenseful story that is revealed in little increments. 'It's a very personal story that has some deeper and universal resonances,' she said."

Meanwhile, I get to spend most of October 29 at the Boulder Public Library as part of the Guilty Pleasures - Mystery Writers Day. I join seven other writers for talks, lunch, a panel, book signings, and general positive reinforcement about the "writer's life." Come by if you get a chance.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Time's Best

Manuel Ramos

Here's a post that I put over on La Bloga. Add to the discussion by posting a comment over on that blog.

Time listed it's choices for the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. As with many such lists, it had some obvious picks and some real surprises. How can anyone argue with books like All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, one of my favorite novels of all-time, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, or Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky? Surprises that clicked with me include The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, although we could quibble about whether these are Chandler's or Hammett's best.

But, and this isn't a surprise, I guess, no Latino books on the list. No Anaya, Cisneros, Hijuelos, Allende, Véa, Alvarez, Rivera, etc. Not one. Please correct me if I am wrong.

However, let's not dwell on the negative.

Time also listed the all-time graphic novels. I'm partial to graphic novels - always wanted to write one, enjoy reading them, even did an interview with Brian Azzarello, writer of the 100 Bullets graphic novels (among many others) for an upcoming issue of Crime Spree magazine. According to Time, a graphic novel "is a vague moniker that gets applied to any extended form of comics, including non-fiction and short story collections." This is a much more exclusive list than the best novels, only ten titles are "all-time" according to Time. And guess what? Chicanos made the list. Here's the quote from Time:

"Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books; 2003)
A kind of über graphic novel that collects a series of smaller graphic novels all situated in a small town 'somewhere south of the U.S. border,' this giant tome by a seminal comic artist will likely be the author's magnum opus. Part of the creative team behind the deeply influential Love and Rockets comic book series (along with his equally talented brother Jaime) Gilbert has created a pan-American epic that spans multiple generations of a family run almost exclusively by women. Hernandez' Palomar combines the look of Archie comics with Faulkner's richness of character and place into the melodramatic sweep of a sexy soap opera to create one of the most remarkable works of any narrative art."

Congrats to Gilbert Hernandez.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Chicano Music

CHICANO MUSIC? La cancíon mexicana, latin jazz, movimiento protest songs, oldies, tejano, conjunto, hip-hop, reggaeton, o qué? Maybe all of that. There is a good shelf's worth of books to help figure it out.

A good place to start is A Texas-Mexican Cancionero by Américo Paredes (University of Illinois Press, 1976, reprint by University of Texas Press, 1995) , subtitled, Folksongs of the Lower Border. Paredes, one of the masters of Chicano research and historical preservation, collected sixty-six songs that were representative of the folksongs of the Lower Rio Grande Border from 1750-1960. Here are the words, the compositions, and the stories behind the songs that tell how life was for the people along the border in the days of shoot-outs with the Texas Rangers (¡rinches cobardes!) - Jacinto Treviño; smuggling tequila across the border - Los tequileros; and the first appearance of television and easy-payment plans (ya no tengo pa' cerveza por estar viendo los monos) - Ya se va la televisión. Unique photographs, too.

Moving several years forward, take a look at Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American Music in Los Angeles by Steven Loza (University of Illinois Press, 1993). Man, this book has it covered. The book jacket says, "Loza provides a historical overview of the music from the nineteenth century to the present and offers in-depth profiles of nine Mexican-American artists, groups, and entrepreneurs in Southern California from the post-World War II era to the present. His interviews with many of today's most influential barrio musicians, including members of Los Lobos, Eddie Cano, Lalo Guerrero, and Willie Herrón, chronicle the cultural forces active in this complex urban community."

The Old Barrio Guide To Low Rider Music, 1950 - 1975, by Ruben Molina (Mictlan Publishing, 2002), doesn't focus only on Chicano music. This book provides rundowns on the bands and singing groups that taken together defined and continue to define the urban sound of low rider culture - equal parts R&B, Chicano rock and oldies, with bits and pieces of jazz, blues, and maybe one or two corridos or rancheras. The book starts with Johnny Ace and ends with the Youngsters, and in between are thousands of details about everyone else that matters, from El Chicano to Thee Midniters, from the Premiers (photo at the top of this post) to Ritchie Valens. A fun book that looks fine, so fine, on the coffee table.

Back to Texas for The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music by Ramiro Burr (Billboard Books, 1999), another group-by-group, singer-by-singer compilation from Accordion to Henry Zimmerle y Conjunto San Antonio. Written by music journalist, syndicated columnist and critic Burr. This is the source for information about the wide range of styles and the diverse musicians that continue to produce the most popular Latino music in the country (yes, even more so than salsa.) If the word Tejano means Selena and nothing more, this book is for you.

Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock 'n' Roll from Southern California, by David Reyes and Tom Waldman (University of New Mexico Press, 1998), is a more-or-less chronological analysis of the various personalities, influences, musical styles, low and high points of the Chicano rock scene in SoCal, from Chico Sesma and Lalo Guerrero to Los Lobos. Many, many details and personal insights that create an insider's feel to the book.

Two other excellent sources are Chicano Popular Culture: Que Hable el Pueblo, by Charles M. Tatum (University of Arizona Press, 2001), and Chicano Renaissance: Contemporary Cultural Trends, by David R. Maciel, Isidro D. Ortiz, and María Herrera-Sobek (University of Arizona Press, 2000), both of which have outstanding sections or chapters on Chicano music.

This list lacks a reference for the music scene in the Bay Area (California) - Santana, Malo, et al. - and a definitive work on the music of New Mexico - Al Hurricane, Roberto Griego, Tobias Rene, etc. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Law and Literature

On October 18 I have the pleasure of talking with the students in Mimi Wesson's Law and Literature class at the University of Colorado School of Law. Mimi has published several crime fiction novels and consistently attracts a very interesting group of students for this class. The students have been reading The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz and thinking up questions such as: why do so many lawyers write fiction; is there room in a busy lawyer's life for creativity? Daniel Olivas?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Cruisin' The Heart of Aztlán

Just returned from the Milagro Tour, organized by KUVO. Great trip through the land of Bless Me, Ultima and The Milagro Beanfield War, southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Here are a few photos, which don't do any kind of justice to the beautiful country and the simpático people.

The church at San Acacio, oldest in Colorado

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Harvested Chile at El Rancho de las Golondrinas

KUVO, 89.3 FM, celebrates 20 years of great music and community service in 2005. The Fall Pledge Drive starts soon - please show your tangible support of this rich cultural asset by renewing or starting your membership.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Poets & Writers Notes La Bloga

I do most of my blogging over at La Bloga. Recently we found out that Poets & Writers had recognized our efforts. Here's the post from La Bloga (posted by Daniel Olivas):

"We at La Bloga discovered that Poets & Writers magazine made note of our little venture in P&W's most recent Focus on California e-newsletter. This is what P&W said under its Link of the Month column:

La Bloga: Readers can get a real feel for the Chicano/a literary landscape by visiting La Bloga, a blog that combines the knowledge, talents, and footwork of a number of different contributors. The combination of loose self-reflection, news, opinions, book reviews, spotlights on writers, event reminders, and interesting tidbits is what makes La Bloga a fairly quick, interesting, and informative read."

Gracias to Poets & Writers.