Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘Sandra Cisneros’

Book Hoarding and other things I admitted to on Book Riot

imagesMy heroes at Book Riot have a new podcast series called Reading Lives, where authors talk about pretty much anything except their own books. I’m on there today, episode #2, where Jeff O’Neal and I talk about my book collection fetish, as well as all the titles and authors (some surprising) that have shaped everything from my sense of culture to how I parented.

These days I do a lot of interviews, but I can’t remember a time when doing one was this much fun. Maybe it’s because Jeff (aka @readingape on Twitter) is so charming, but maybe too because the hook is so simple. Two people talking about the books we love, old and new. What can I say?  It’s a literary geek’s dream.

If you’ve got some time, check it out. You can subscribe on i-tunes, too.

 

Gracias Sandra Cisneros

So, I got home from the Nat’l Book Festival on Saturday. I had dusty toes and a tired back, but my head was swirling with gratitude for the way of the world.

True, the lines inside the Barnes & Noble tent were obnoxiously long, but it was a great event in every other way. My friend Katharine and I set out by train – a pleasant two-hour ride – and spent our day strolling the  grounds, eating Snicker bars in the sunshine, and generally marveling at the mass of people who came from all over the country to celebrate the best our country has to offer in terms of books and authors.  I got to meet illustrator Rafael López and his lovely wife, Candice, who chatted with us about their mural projects, their new Obama poster, and our shared friends, whose talents we both admire.

But in the afternoon, I received a gift I never expected from this festival. I’d managed to snag a chair inside the tent where Sandra Cisneros was speaking.  I read The House on Mango Street in the 1980s, of course, and I’ve been a fan ever since, devouring her short stories, picture books and novels as soon as they’re published. Her voice always rings fierce and true, and like so many other Latina authors, I can point to her work as an influence on why I like to capture Latino culture in fiction. She is, in my view, a literary madrina to our whole country. As soon as she took the stage, I was starstruck.

Her newest book is Have You Seen Marie?, an illustrated short story.”I wrote this when my mother died, and I was feeling like an orphan,” she told us.  She’d had a difficult relationship with her mother, and yet, when her mother died, Sandra felt completely lost.

I sat perfectly still.

Some of you already know that my mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer last Christmas and that she decided against radiation or chemo. (“I’m too old to put myself through that,” she said.) Instead, we packed her things in Florida, and by February, she and my aunt (the famous tía Isa) moved in with us in Richmond. Suddenly I was in charge of caring for eccentric elderly women whose bodies were failing and whose habits were slipping into manias.

We go through our days peacefully enough, filling pill boxes, going to doctor appointments, dragging me (there is no other way to say it) through Walmart. There are occasional eye rolls and snappish answers when one of us is careless. Twice I have had full shouting melt-downs. I get endless advice (about cooking, folding laundry, parenting, yes, even writing) whether I want it or not. I get full daily reports on people’s body functions. And I get a lot of new responsibilities – scary ones – for the things that she is appalled to discover that she can no longer manage or remember how to do. Fighting with insurance companies, online banking, official letters in English that she wants carefully translated. Behind everything, though, I know that we are readying ourselves to say  goodbye with clear hearts, even if neither one of us dares to say so.

Our relationship was sometimes volatile, often distant, sprinkled with finger-pointing and criticisms. Maybe every mother-daughter relationship is this way. (This is what Sandra Cisneros thinks.) Maybe it’s especially acute when cultural divides come into play. There are times we lived through that I don’t like to remember, if only because I am ashamed of how one of us — or both — behaved. And yet, here we are, our days counting down, and the only thing we can grab on to is that we each did our best. When it’s all said and done, the thought of not having my imperfect and maddening mother  makes me feel like an orphan, too.

Sandra finished her reading, an ending filled with acceptance and hope. I was scarcely breathing. In taking questions, she offered this advice to the writers in the audience.

“Don’t write the stories about things you remember.  Write the ones about the things you wish you could forget.”

So, here is my first baby step.

Latino reads for you

Last Saturday I did a Hispanic Heritage presentation at Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore. Here is the list a couple of you have asked for. These are some of my favorite Latino reads, oldies and new releases, from picture books to adults. I could list dozens more, but here is a start. Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section. (P.S. Fountain had most of these titles on their shelves, so give them a call.)

Picture books 

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales

A poetic spanglish romp on Halloween night. Gorgeous illustrations. Fantastic bilingual vocabulary

http://marisamontes.com and http://yuyimorales.com

La Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos

A farm maiden decides to make arroz con leche – rice pudding. Energetic, bilingual vocabulary, gorgeous illustrations.

www.samanthavamos.com

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, by Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen is a storyteller of Cuban origins. Also the author of Growing Up Cuban in Decatur Georgia. This is a classic folktale about how to find the right mate in life. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gets at kids funny bone.

http://carmenagradeedy.com/

My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown

Brown presents a beautiful bilingual biography of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.

http://www.monicabrown.net

Middle Grade 

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis

This middle grade novel is about the early life of poet Pablo Neruda. It is written in a style that parallels Neruda’s THE BOOK OF QUESTIONS. Here Muñoz weaves Neruda’s love of the natural world, his struggle against his father, and the sounds of poetry in the every day and ordinary.

http://www.pammunozryan.com

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

A look at the savage presidency of Trujillo (Dominican Republic) through the eyes of 12-year-old Anita. Excellent historical fiction.

http://www.juliaalvarez.com

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle 

Margarita Engle’s work captures historical fiction through verse. In the Firefly Letters, she retells the life of Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish suffragette who traveled to Cuba in 1851. It’s a slim book that touches on women’s rights and slavery tucked inside often forgotten history.

http://margaritaengle.com/

Young Adult

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Published in 1984, this is the classic coming-of-age YA story told through interwoven short stories. Fierce and gritty. Often taught in schools.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Cuban War for Independence as told through the eyes of Rosa, who knows how to heal sickness with medicines made from wild plants. (Herbera). In verse. Creates amazing tension and characters in this look at war.

http://margaritaengle.com/

We Were Here by Matt de la Peña

Miguel finds himself in juvie and eventually on the run from the law on his way to Mexico. Gritty characters, funny and tragic. Matt creates full characters and shows their humanity as they try to find forgiveness and redemption.

http://www.mattdelapena.com/

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

(author of The Mambo Kings…) Racism. The narrator is a Cuban in NYC during the 1970s, where being light-skinned has its problems. Runs away to Wisconsin, only to find a new kind of racism.

The Red Umbrella by Cristina Gonzalez

Cuba 1961 – The Peter Pan flights – during which parents sent their children to live with American families in order to give them a chance to escape Cuba.

http://www.christinagonzalez.com

Adult

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

An annual family trip from Chicago to Mexico City descends into generational family storytelling that really tries to find out why Awful Grandmother got to be awful. Funny and powerful.

http://www.sandracisneros.com/

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

Non-fiction about her life. Picks up where Paula left off. Unflinching look at herself – endearing, appalling, fabulous in every way.

http://www.isabelallende.com/

Women with Large Eyes by Angeles Mastretta (in translation)

Mexican writer. Amazing group of stories that feature strong women.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Stunning, sexy, and funny. Through the most creative use of footnotes I’ve ever seen, Junot gives us a history of the Dominican Republic against a sad-sap story set in Washington Heights today.

http://www.junotdiaz.com/

In Her Absence by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Molina is a highly decorated writer from Spain, but he is only now gaining a reputation here in the states. In this short novel, Mario López is working as a draftsman in the small city of Jaén. The novel chronicles his passionate and painful relationship with Blanca, his artistic and wandering wife of six years.

Before Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas

Memoir that describes life inside Castro’s Cuba for gay writers.  Set in the 1970s and early 80s. Powerful and tragic – and a testament to the artistic spirit.