As the first Latino author to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize, with extraordinary insight and wit, Oscar Hijuelos engages in a frank conversation about the Cuban American experience, his books, and the unique challenges Latino writers face in America’s publishing industry.
THE WAYS IN WHICH CUBAN AMERICANS have been able to keep a living memory of Cuba while developing and thriving in America are both intriguing and complicated. What’s even more interesting is that Cuban American literature experienced a “boom” during the 1990s and, consequently, some of its writers have risen to national and even international prominence. Oscar Hijuelos, whose work has been noted for his rich, detailed descriptions of Cuban American life, is one of those writers. >>READ MORE
Talking candidly about feminism, cultural identity, class, and her family, Esmeralda Santiago admits that her literary success is attributed to her mother, the protagonist in her real life story that gave her the will and desire to succeed.
CONQUISTADORA IS AN HISTORICAL NOVEL that traces the life of a young Ana Larragoity Cubillas who, inspired by the adventures of her ancestors, travels from Spain to Puerto Rico. Ana confronts isolation, poverty, oppressive heat, disease and hard physical labor in Puerto Rico. As she faces each new challenge, Ana becomes stronger, and as she creates a place for herself on the island, she acquires a greater awareness and understanding of her true identity. Ana is a “conquistadora,” a woman who overcomes obstacles in order to reach her goals, and like Ana, Esmeralda Santiago, who immigrated from Puerto Rico to New York, from poverty to the ivory halls of Harvard, has found her place in American society and the literary world, creating a voice through characters that readers can believe in and ultimately see in themselves. >>READ MORE
In a wide ranging discussion, Junot Díaz waxes poetically about the abandonment of Haiti, U.S. immigration policy, the benefits of a strong work ethic, school days, the overarching theme of his works, the 99%, Tyler the Creator’s new album, and his disdain for that question.
DROWN CAPTURED MY ATTENTION the moment I saw it, sometime in the late 1990s. A black and white photo of a nighttime rundown city street placed atop a sparse white cover with the simple gritty typeface words: “DROWN – Junot Díaz.” The stories of DROWN were a revelation, offering a fresh vibrant take on a tired genre: the short story. Moreover, the young author was from New Jersey, and he spoke my language. Well, maybe not my language but a grainy, realistic, musical Spanglish: an alchemical amalgamation. The critics noticed as well, “Graceful and raw and painful and smart . . . His prose is sensible poetry that moves like an interesting conversation (The Boston Globe), and “Díaz transfigures disorder and disorientation with a rigorous sense of form” (New York Times Book Review). More importantly, my students noticed. I convinced the librarian at the school where I taught, Samuel Gompers Vocational and Technical High School in the South Bronx, to purchase a couple of copies of Drown, which soon joined Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets as the library’s most stolen book. That’s no small praise. >>READ MORE
English has been my secret language ever since I came to Israel, the language in which I communicate thoughts and feelings that perhaps would not be helpful to — or would not be understood by — the people close to me.
THERE IS NO ONE REALLY QUITE LIKE KAREN ALKALAY-GUT, the daughter of two Polish Jews who fled from Lida in Lithuania to Danzig, were persecuted for her father’s communist background in Danzig and fled on the proverbial last train on the night before Hitler invaded. Alkalay-Gut was born in a shelter during the bombing of London, raised in America, transplanted to Israel with a husband and daughter. She is an Israeli poet who writes in English and has published over 20 poetry books and chapbooks, mostly in English, some in Hebrew translation (she has also translated hundreds of Hebrew poems into English). She has performed with a rock band half her age, hosted a television show, and teaches poetry at Tel Aviv University, where she encourages students to produce an anthology of their poetry in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. >>READ MORE
My connection to the Middle East is, in part, a connection that other people make or imagine, and because of the politics behind that imaginary connection, there’s no escaping it. It’s a trap.
CONSIDER THIS: A young boy born to Lebanese immigrants in Detroit, Michigan, whose family members were victims of a senseless war thousands of miles away. Such is the legacy of poet Hayan Charara.
Charara is a true poet, committed to the act of poetry, using his words to paint truths. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history. For Charara, poetry that reveals truth becomes a way of taking back power. Not only the power to express oneself, but to actively engage with the events of a world that seem to render ordinary people helpless. >>READ MORE
Multicultural visionary. Activist. Executive Director of Glide’s 52 programs. Janice Mirikitani has produced a body of work that is an eloquent testament to a literary commitment that spans over four decades. In this interview, we learn about her literary odyssey during the 1960s and its impact today.
JANICE MIRIKITANI IS AN IMPORTANT FIGURE in the Asian American community and in the literary world. Her unique trajectory of activism — from her participation in the San Francisco State Third World Student Strike in 1968, to her current work with the Glide Foundation — has unequiviocally informed her literary works. Mirikitani also helped spearhead an Asian American movement that helped to define and carve out a place for Asian American writers and their own literature, as well as promoting ways in which ethnic minorities can come together to achieve positive literary and sociocultural results. >>READ MORE
THE DEMAND FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN children’s and young adult literature has increased steadily over the past four decades. It wasn’t that long ago when African Americans faced few depictions of themselves in American arts and letters, and if they did, it was nothing more than cruel stereotypes. Children’s literature didn’t fare any better. In fact, when one reviews the classics of the late nineteenth century (often referred to as the “Golden Age” of children’s literature), the profusion of books designed specifically for a young audience, including Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, and the Horatio Alger stories, did little to provide black children stories of self-esteem that honestly depicted their lives. It wasn’t until Amelia E. Johnson (known as Mrs. A.E. Johnson) began publishing her series of children’s and young adult books in 1890, that the genre of African American children’s and young adult books was born. >>READ MORE
A DYNAMIC AND WELL-ROUNDED INDIVIDUAL James Piatt’s ancestry is an intriguing combination of French, Dutch, Pawnee Indian, and English. He spent his early years excelling academically as well as athletically, becoming the youngest Eagle Scout in the history of Santa Barbara County, and spending three years of his high school career as Class President.
Against the advice and criticism of others, Piatt and his wife, Sandy, married at 20 and 18 respectively. They’ve been happily married for 56 years now, and continue to celebrate a wonderful life together. After dropping out of college to support his young family, he became an electro-mechanical draftsman for Aerophysics Development and aided in the design of the Dart Missile System.
IN THE VAST REALM OF NATURE WRITING — nonfiction writing with a focus on nature and the environment – the contributions of writers of color have been overlooked. However, these points-of-view have the potential to widen the breadth of eco-criticism and environmental writings. With African-American nature writing being such a rarely noticed art form, it has come to the attention of several scholars and organizations that American culture needs to be more informed, open, and accepting of nature writing by African-Americans in the present as well as in the past. Because there have been so many Caucasian writers and poets in the Eco-literature genre, African-Americans have often felt alienated from nature, perceiving an invisible division between their culture and nature. >>READ MORE
“Overall, I think visual artist and poets share the same instrument of their artistic trafe: the image.”
AN ANCIENT TRADITION CARRIED through to present time, ekphrasis is a poetic description of, or commentary on, a visual work of art. While painters and sculptors have been inspired by literary works, writers have continued to translate their interpretation of visual artwork into written form. In this interview, scholar and poet Susan B. Anthony Somers-Willett discusses ekphrastic poetry and her writing process, including the connections between visual and written art – as well as her take on bringing the ancient tradition of ekphrasis into the 21st century. >>READ MORE
CAN ONE SINGLE WRITER make such an impact on a whole literary genre of writers? Simon J. Ortiz appears to have done so. By the time he published his poetry collection, A Good Journey (1977), which exemplified Ortiz’ journeys literally (he traveled throughout the country to teach and share his voice), as well as figuratively (his journey as it relates to Acoma culture), Ortiz’ role of traditional Acoma Pueblo storyteller became firmly established. >>READ MORE