April 4, 2016

BOOK OF THE MONTH: OCELOCIHUATL BY XANATH CARAZA


Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.
― Dylan Thomas

Poetry is an act of peace. Pablo Neruda




Mouthfeel Press
April is Poetry Month and The Latina Book Club is celebrating with exciting and powerful poets that make us sit up and read and imagine.  Hence, we have chosen a book of the month that makes us do all that.  

OCELOCIHUATL by Xánath Caraza brings a lump to your throat, a tear to your eye and a sigh to your heart.  It’s a beautiful, haunting bilingual poetry collection written in vibrant imagery about a Jaguar woman – a spirit guide, if you will –  that prowls and growls at the land, at society, at herself. 

Ocelocíhuatl straddles two worlds and struggles to unite those worlds and make a place for herself.  But violence, pain and suffering – like the 43 missing Mexican students and the slain teen Michael Brown – make her sad, angry, and frustrated.  So the Jaguar Woman roams across different lands, eager to heal, desperate for peace.

Poetry should make you feel, and readers will feel a whole range of emotions as they journey alongside the courageous Ocelocíhuatl. Readers will also fall in love with the cover for it too tells a pulsating tale of journeys taken, unity sought and healing found.#



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet and short story writer. She teaches at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and presents readings and workshops in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S. She is a 2015 International Book Award for Poetry winner and an Honorable Mention for Best Book of Poetry in Spanish winner. She is the author of CONJURO, and short story book LO QUE TRAE LA MAREA/ WHAT THE TIDE BRINGS by Mouthfeel Press. She writes the column, "US Latino Poets en Español". Caraza is a writer for La Bloga and for Revista Zona de Ocio, and teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). She is an advisory circle member of the Con Tinta literary organization. Visit her at http://xanathcaraza.webs.com/


READ POETRY.  READ LATINO.



April 1, 2016

REVIEW: LATINA AUTHORS & THEIR MUSES, EDITED BY MAYRA CALVANI

  
  
The artist must possess the courageous soul…The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies. – from THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin

LATINA AUTHORS & THEIR MUSES is a celebration of creativity, the writer’s life, the passionate quest for spiritual and artistic freedom. – Mayra Calvani 


Twilight Times Books 
I admit it.  I like to write in my books.  I add notes on the margins.  I underline, and if the quote is too long I fold the page for future reference.  Some of my family and friends cringe when I do, but I love it.  It’s a very definite way of knowing which books are “keepers” and LATINA AUTHORS & THEIR MUSES is a Keeper!

This book is a treasure trove of information.  It’s like a literary marketplace and who’s who rolled into one.  Mayra Calvani is to be commended for her hard work and vision in bringing 40 of everyone’s favorite Latina authors together for this marvelous collection; see list of participating authors at the end.  You have established authors and debut authors; some that write in English while others write in English and Spanish; some that only write fiction and others who write romances, vampires and thrillers.  

The best part is that this book will be loved by writers and readers alike.  

Writers will love the “candor and insight” into these authors’ backgrounds, routines and writing style.  They’ll have more how-to books to add to their TBR piles, and most importantly, will realize that writers are never truly alone.  There are other writers just like them.

Readers will love the wealth of information on their favorite Latina authors from where they were born to their past books to “their” favorite authors to how to connect with them on the web. Plus, they will be able to discover new authors.

Another good thing about this book is that you can start anywhere.  Pick any chapter. Start at the end and work forward or jump around as you choose your favorites or just start at the beginning.  You will meet an amazing woman and writer in each chapter.

I won’t name names – you’ll have to read the book to learn who I mean! – but did you know some authors have unusual quirks?  For example, some can only write their books in longhand; others write in windowless rooms; others can only write in busy hotspots; others only write at a specific time and place; and some cast their characters and make photo collages from photos taken from magazines.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

On writers block:  There is no such thing as writer’s block… Writers who succeed, slog (through it); they don’t think they’re precious. They know better.  – Alisa Lynn Valdes

On playing God:  I had the lives of my characters at the tip of my fingers.  I knew some of them had to go for the sake of the story. – Zoraida Cordova

On obsession:  Novels demand so much from writers that you’d have to be crazy to give that much of your time and life to something you’re not obsessed with.  – Carolina de Robertis

On writing: The story makes its own rules. Disappear and let the characters live. – Sandra Ramos O’Briant

On writing mottos:  Author Toni Margarita Plummer’s favorite is:  Write what should not be forgotten from Isabel Allende.

On doing something different:  Writers write. Never be afraid to spread your wings and try something different. – Caridad Piñeiro.

On writing in solitude:  Solitude forces you to confront yourself.  This can be terrifying. –Esmeralda Santiago


LATINA AUTHORS & AND THEIR MUSES is a Keeper!  I encourage all readers to let Mayra know which next group of 40 Latina authors she should look at for her new collection.  Happy Reading and Happy Writing! ---mcf


For an excerpt from the book, click here.

Participating Authors:
Marta Acosta
Lisa Alvarado
Julia Amante
Margo Candela
Kathy Cano-Murillo
Mary Castillo
Jennifer Cervantes
Leila Cobo
Zoraida Córdova
Lucha Corpi
Sarah Cortez
Angie Cruz
Liz DeJesus
Anjanette Delgado
Carolina De Robertis
Lyn Di Iorio
Teresa Dovalpage
Carolina Garcia-Aguilera
Iris Gomez
Reyna Grande
Rose Guilbault
Graciela Limón
Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Diana López
Josefina López
Dora Machado
Maria Gabriela Madrid
Michele Martinez
Sandra Ramos O'Briant
Melinda Palacio
Caridad Piñeiro
Berta Platas
Toni Margarita Plummer
Thelma T. Reyna
Lupe Ruiz-Flores
Esmeralda Santiago
Eleanor Parker Sapia
Alisa Lynn Valdes
Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Gwendolyn Zepeda


ABOUT THE EDITOR:  Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The Writer, Writer's Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she now resides in Brussels, Belgium. Connect with Mayra on the Web:


READ LATINO


March 29, 2016

NURTURING THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: NOT JUST A MONTHLY THING BY THELMA T. REYNA, PH.D.

  
  
The month is not over yet and neither is the Celebration.
The Latina Book Club is proud to welcome Poet Laureate of the Altadena Library District,
Dr. Thelma T. Reyna, who urges us to celebrate Women year round not just one month a year. 




As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it is easy for many of us to return to other issues that consume our attention daily. Women have been extolled throughout this special month of honoring, women’s “firsts” have been recognized and commemorated, and our collective desire to see women gain greater equity in all spheres of society has been duly expressed in various media throughout March.

But our awareness of women’s status in all nations, not just in ours, for the purpose of averting discrimination and expanding egalitarianism in all facets of existence must never be delimited to a certain slice of time. We need no boundaries--of time, place, emphasis--to further any worthy cause, and the cause of women’s advancement must be front and center alongside other vital issues, such as social justice.

So how do we maintain unwavering focus on the well-being and progress of half the world’s population, of half of all Americans? As with almost all important issues in civilization, it comes down to each of us as individuals: what we say, what we do, what we value. The counterbalance to “It takes a village” is “Each one, teach one.” What we do collectively is the product of what we do as individuals.

It Starts With “Me”

Each me--me the mother, me the sister, me the classroom teacher, me the neighbor, me the friend, me the spouse, me the boss. Gender is irrelevant regarding each of these “me”’s. What matters is the goal in each me of convincing each female in their lives that she is highly worthy and is never inferior to anyone because of her gender.

My mother and grandmother were my first me’s. They were poor and very hard-working, the daughter and wife of a migrant farm worker who never attended any school and was illiterate except for his ability to write his name. But these were strong women who survived and thrived in whatever limited fashion they could. Grandmother had no schooling at all, and my mother was a high school dropout, but they encouraged my education. They freed me from domestic duties so I could study. They found the funds for my field trips, and my second-hand clarinet, so I could be in the school band and travel throughout the state for performances. They insured my brothers picked me up in the evenings from school so I could stay late, working on the school newspaper or attending rehearsals.

When I was growing up in my ultra-conservative, small Texas town, Latina girls were generally sheltered, over-protected, but my mother and grandmother had faith in my dreams and insured that I had the freedom to be where I needed to be to rise academically. They publicly expressed pride in my achievements, and this encouraged me to continue striving. I was one child out of nine, with seven brothers. My mother and grandmother, both of whom raised me, could have focused all their support on just “the boys,” as was common in my community, in my Latino culture. But they realized the importance of their little girl’s dreams, so they nurtured me and freed me from cultural constraints. My success was their success, and their nurturance was my sustenance.

Luckily, my father fit that mold as well. As did my teachers, and brothers, and neighbors, uncles and aunts. They respected my need to study and achieve. They were glad that I was not getting married as a teenager, as many women of my generation did, dropping out of school to start a family. Implicitly, they were telling me that I could attain whatever goals I pursued, equally with the boys and men in our school, in the local college I attended. Thanks to all of them, I did.

Then It Comes Down to “Us”

If each of us resolves to treat each female in our lives as having no limits to what she can achieve, each of us will help dozens or hundreds of girls be engaged, productive members in society. The ripple effects will be exponential. In each home, each neighborhood, each town, each county and state, the female half of the population will be active participants in moving humanity forward.

Equality is a lie when half are unequal. The critical mass of motivated, energized girls and females taking their proverbial place at the table--as they debate laws in courtrooms, mend broken bodies in hospitals, design rocket ships, negotiate with world leaders on existential and practical issues, and show their competence in matters large and small--will remind us all that honoring and nurturing women is not something to be done in March. It is a necessity of daily life.#
  
  
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thelma T. Reyna is the national award-winning author of 4 books: a short story collection (The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories), 2 poetry chapbooks (Breath & Bone; and Hearts in Common); and a full-length collection of her poems, Rising, Falling, All of Us. She edited the Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2015, as well as the 2016 edition of the anthology. Reyna is Poet Laureate of the Altadena Library District. Visit her at www.thelmareyna.com
  
   

March 28, 2016

MAKING DOMINICAN WOMEN VISIBLE BY ERIKA M. MARTINEZ

   
The Latina Book Club continues its celebration of Women’s History Month. 

Hence, we are pleased to welcome as our guest blogger Erika M. Martínez
editor of an exciting and courageous new literary anthology by 25 Dominican women.  
The book will be released on April 15. Watch for it!




Announcing the call for submissions for Daring to Write: Contemporary Narratives by Dominican Women in environments full of machismo was quite the challenge. When I attended literary events in the Dominican Republic men offered to contribute to the anthology, yet their writing often objectified women, depicting them as helpless victims or as possessing only sexual power. “This is going to be an important work. It should include men,” someone said to me once. Men assumed they could speak for women, but it wasn’t enough to have female characters in a story. I had to defend my decision to concentrate my work on women writers.

At the 2009 International Book Fair in Santo Domingo, I gave a presentation to young students and pointed out that the reasons for my work were everywhere. Women in the country earn less than their male counterparts and face double the unemployment rates. In an hour-long presentation, I couldn’t go into all of the reasons for the inequities or share the anecdotes I’d heard from the many women writers who struggled to carve out space and time for writing with the multiples roles they play in the household. Instead, I had the young audience look at the photographs covering the walls from floor to ceiling; we were in the pavilion for Dominican authors. It didn’t take the students long to realize they were mostly surrounded by portraits of men. I explained that there were many more Dominican women writing then those who were featured in the pavilion. I didn’t know what the criteria had been for the selection of portraits, but it couldn’t have been publication because I knew of several female writers with published books whose photographs were not displayed.

I also told the students about one of the classes I was auditing at the university, “Autores Dominicanos,” that the male professor teaching assigned forty-eight authors and only four of them were women. This was not because there was a lack of women authors. The list could have been divided in half between male and female.

I chose to focus on women because after my parents’ divorce, I was raised by my mother and other strong single women in my family who struggled to make ends meet working in factories. Throughout my life I’d longed to see in books the stories I’d heard as I cooked, sewed and cleaned alongside my mother, cousins and friends without a male presence. A counter-narrative to the ways in which women are portrayed in men’s writings was what I needed. I was interested in exploring what it means to be a Dominican woman in the United States as well as on the island.

The anthologies of Latino writers I’d read on my own focused on authors of Mexican-American, Cuban-American and Puerto Rican-American descent, yet the Dominican-American population was growing exponentially, becoming the fourth largest Latino community in the United States. I could not have been the only one wanting to see our lives reflected in literature.

Common threads appeared throughout the short stories and personal essays submitted. The contributors of Daring to Write delved into how machismo, men’s infidelities and domestic violence shaped the perceptions and development of young women. We can now hear from the voices of those who are being objectified speaking as full subjects of their own lives. Together, the writers in this anthology are reshaping the image of Dominican women and making them visible.#


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Erika M. Martínez works with the National Writing Project in New Hampshire and is a staff member of their Invitational Summer Writing Institute. She has contributed to various anthologies, including Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education and Homelands: Women’s Journeys across Race, Place, and Time. She lives in Oakland, California.  To learn more about Erika and DARING TO WRITE, click here.
  
  
   
BOOK SUMMARY:

University of Georgia Press
Daring to Write: Contemporary Narratives 
by Dominican Women
Edited by Erika M. Martínez
Foreword by Julia Alvarez

With this new Latino literary collection Erika M. Martínez has brought together twenty-five engaging narratives written by Dominican women and women of Dominican descent living in the United States. The first volume of its kind, DARING TO WRITE offers readers a wide array of works on a range of topics, including love and family, identity and belonging, immigration and the meaning of home. The resonant voices in this compilation reveal experiences that have been largely invisible until now.

The volume opens with a foreword by Julia Alvarez and includes short stories, novel excerpts, memoirs, and personal essays and features work by established writers such as Angie Cruz and Nelly Rosario, alongside works by emerging writers. Narratives originally written in Spanish appear in English for the first time, translated by Achy Obejas. An important contribution to Latino/a studies, these writings will introduce readers to a new collection of rich literature.

Contributors: Marivell Contreras, Kersy Corporan, Angie Cruz, Rhina P. Espaillat, Delta Eusebio, Noris Eusebio-Pol, Yalitza Ferreras, Carolina González, Farah Hallal, Ángela Hernández, Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Ana-Maurine Lara, Erika M. Martínez, Miriam Mejía, Riamny Méndez, Jeannette Miller, Sheilly Núñez, Jina Ortiz, Sofia Quintero, Dulce María Reyes Bonilla, Lissette Rojas, Nelly Rosario, Ludin Santana, Leonor Suarez, and Sherezada (Chiqui) Vicioso.


READ LATINO.  CELEBRATE WOMEN.


March 24, 2016

BEYOND A STROKE OF LUCK: AN INTERVIEW WITH CELESTE LEÓN BY TERESA DOVALPAGE

   
It's March and The Latina Book Club is celebrating Women's History Month.  
To help us is Teresa Dovalpage, who shares with our readers her interview of an exciting new author with a great family tale to tell.




Meet Celeste León, award-winning writer and a 2013 alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. She is the recipient of First Prize in the annual contest for the High Sierra Writers group in Reno, Nevada for her essay, “Finding Home,” about her travels to Puerto Rico in search of her family roots. When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor read the piece, she said, “If your work on your short story reflects your work on your book, it will be successful.”

Bueno, Celeste has proved her right!  The piece was also a finalist in the 2014 annual contest for The Preservation Foundation. Her short stories “Sharing Luck” and “A Lucky Man” (both published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Celebrating People Who Make a Difference, and www.beliefnet.com) ultimately grew into her novel, Luck is Just the Beginning, released by Floricanto Press in November 2013.

Here, we chat about the book, her inspiration and her writing process.



Q: What motivated you to write Luck is Just the Beginning?

CELESTE: I’ve always been fascinated with my dad’s story since I was a child, how he literally saw a number and for the first time in his life, bought a full sheet of lottery tickets in his village in Puerto Rico and won! He spent everything he had saved since he was a child. It was an incredible stroke of luck, almost too good to believe, and rather than squander it, he used the money to achieve his dream of becoming a dentist, and follow in the footsteps of his village’s “humanitario”, the old dentist who helped my father and so many others.

Then ten years ago, I read The Color of Water by James McBride. The book is an autobiography. It reminded me of my dad’s story, who came here amidst tremendous hardship from Puerto Rico. James McBride was one of twelve children and my father was the last of fifteen! (Sadly, the first eight died in infancy in early 1900s, my dad was born in 1925.) So I thought, “I want to tell Dad’s story…” and I started writing. I took a creative writing class online and attended writers’ conferences, writing classes and workshops at my nearby community college and university (University of Nevada, Reno). I joined an amazing critique group of seven women, and thus began a project that unbeknownst to me, would take ten years to complete! It’s been life changing!

Q: Yes, “el humanitario” was such a positive influence on your papá. For me, he is the village hero, and then your dad takes after him. Did you interview your father “formally” for the book?

Floricanto Press
CELESTE: Yes, and ironically, when I first approached him about this project, he asked, “Why do you want to write a book about me?” It merely shows the kind of man my father is, extremely humble, and kind; his patience throughout the process was unwavering. Since he lives in Florida, most of the interviews were over the phone, and I have notebooks full of his stories. I also did an interview with an old fashion cassette tape recorder. In years to come, I know I will treasure it as my mother was part of the conversation and their voices will always be there for me! In my acknowledgements, I thanked my father for sharing the intimate details of his life so honestly with me. When I read that line, I still get misty-eyed.

Q: Sweet research, indeed. Qué bonito! After you finished the interviews, what was your writing process like? Did you write every day?

CELESTE: I did most of my writing on my days off from my job as a physical therapist with a break midday to walk or exercise, especially if I was stuck on a scene and needed to process it before getting back to it. I work part time, two long days a week, and would usually sneak in a little writing during my lunch break and weekends. I carried around a notepad (and still do!) to write down ideas when I was inspired to add to my manuscript later. Two times a month, I attended a critique group and that kept me motivated. I’m lucky in that I have a supportive husband and daughter; a wonderful balance of family, creativity and career. I still write daily, mainly blog posts, author interviews and articles. I recently wrote one for my local independent newspaper about my book’s evolution; click here for link.

                                                            
Q: Great idea to share it! It will certainly inspire other writers. Now, what was your favorite scene to write? And the most difficult?

CELESTE: This is a work of fiction based on a true story, and very close to the events as my father told them to me. One of my favorite scenes is when my uncle, Isidro, returned to Ponce from his tour of duty in World War II as part of the famous Puerto Rican 65th Infantry and my father went to pick him up in Ponce after he sailed from France. My father’s memories of that day are vivid, and the scene shows the love and admiration between two brothers separated by war. I hope it resonates with people who lived through that war, and since the book is considered historical fiction, I tried to paint a picture for younger readers, even my generation, of what World War II was like. For the most difficult scenes, I can’t give away too much of the plot, but I’d say the couple scenes in which the character, Ramón, behaves in ways he later regrets. This is all part of his growth, however, and in the end, his actions are selfless.

Q: Are you planning to present the book in Puerto Rico? I imagine that some of the people who appear in the book are still alive, like Leo and maybe Elsie…I was thinking of Ramon’s descendants, in particular. Did you use their real names? What kind of reactions do you anticipate?

CELESTE: Yes, I’d love to promote the book in Puerto Rico! I still have cousins there and I can’t wait to hear their impressions about the book and think the reactions will be positive. As I said, this is a novel based on a true story. I have kept many names and changed a few. Almost every character is real or based on a real person, and a few are fictitious whom I added for dramatic license. So who’s real and who’s not? I love a little mystery around the book and invite readers and book clubs to contact me! Sadly, almost everyone in the story is gone now (hint, a young nephew is still with us and now about 80!). My father was the youngest of a large family, and all his siblings have passed on. He just turned 90 and is frailer now, but doing quite well and living in Florida.

Q: And enjoying the book, I bet. Which writers have influenced you the most?

CELESTE: Gabriel García Márquez was one of the finest writers of all time. For more contemporary authors, I admire Alex Espinoza, Rudolfo Anaya, Désirée Zamorano and Puerto Rican writers Esmeralda Santiago, and Rosario Ferré. An instructor from a workshop at University of Reno, Nevada, author David Sundstrand, was a great influence and tremendous support for my work. Of course, all the women in my writers critique group have been with me since the book’s inception!

Q: Las buenas amigas! This is a very inspirational story. Do you have a favorite quote or motto or quote that you live by?

CELESTE: I love the quote from Maya Angelou on the dedication page: “If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” But more than luck, I live by one of the book’s themes, that perseverance and integrity are essential in accomplishing one’s goals in life. There are a few pearls of wisdom throughout this story, many of them revealed by the matriarch, my grandmother, Abuela Chepa. Two of my favorite quotes are near the end of the book: a friend tells Ramón, the protagonist, “Once your luck gets a little momentum, there’s no telling where it will take you, ay, my friend?” and a little jewel that Ramón shares with his brother, “It’s your family, your friends, and our belief in one another that count most in the end, isn’t it?”

Q: Right on. Así mismo es: la familia y los amigos. Are you working on another book now?

CELESTE: I have an idea for a young adult nonfiction book, and would love to collaborate with my thirteen-year-old daughter. She’s blossoming as a great writer; I think the craft comes far more naturally to her than to her mom!

To find out more about Celeste Leon and her book, visit www.celesteleon.com



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Teresa Dovalpage is an award-winning author of eight books including Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press). She is also a teacher, freelance journalist and playwright.  Her articles have appeared in Taos News, Hispanic Executive and El Crepúsculo.  Teresa writes in both English and Spanish.  She was born in Cuba and now lives in New Mexico.  Learn more about her by visiting her blogs.
Blog in English  http://teredovalpage.com/
Blog en Español  http://teresadovalpage.com/


READ LATINO.  CELEBRATE WOMEN.