Several years ago, the Colorado Review devoted a special issue to Latino writers. It was guest edited by Alberto Ríos with indispensable assistance from Richard Yañez. From this distance, I only recall, meaningfully, one item from that issue. It wasn’t a poem. It wasn’t a story. It wasn’t an essay. It was an e-correspodence between Yañez and Manuel Muñoz.
I hadn’t met either of them at the time. I wouldn’t meet Rich until the Fall of 2001 in South Bend, and I wouldn’t meet Manuel until the summer of 2002 in New York City. But their e-correspondence spoke to me and, I think, to any aspiring artist of color embarking on the journey of trying to be a writer from a context in which a college degree was seen, above all, as a path to a stable well-paying career. In other words, not a writer.
Manuel and Rich, when that e-correspondence was taking place, hadn’t met each other either, and yet one could clearly detect a growing kinship between them in those exchanged e-mails, a kinship that comes from being involved in a common endeavor (in their case, trying to make their way as fiction writers) without any clear indication that “success,” however one defines that term, was around the corner. They had both been publishing stories in journals, but their first full-length books hadn't been published yet. I say this not knowing if book publication was something that was a burning issue for them at that time. But one thing was unmistakable from their exchanges: they viewed themselves as writers---writers very aware of the Chicano communities they were writing from and about. They were serious writers in it for the long-haul.
As a reader and aspiring writer without a book, it felt as though the bond and kinship between them extended to me, as well—a kinship that was made manifest when, in our respective trajectories, our paths would cross, and cross again.
And so I share fully Eduardo Corral’s enthusiasm in announcing Manuel Muñoz’s good fortune last night at winning a Whiting. Those of us who know Manuel and his writing aren’t at all surprised. And this isn’t the first distinction of this nature that Muñoz has enjoyed. He won an NEA fellowship in 2006 for prose; his last book of short fiction, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, was short listed for the 2007 Frank O’Connor award in Ireland; and Muñoz was recently named a 2008 Fellow in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
But, somehow, this distinction feels extra special.