Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Los pasos de nuestra literatura

 José Emilio Pacheco in Guadalajara

A good part of the buzz yesterday at Guadalajara's FIL, on the day after he was given an homage here, was the announcement from Madrid, Spain, that José Emilio Pacheco had won the Cervantes Prize. He joins the likes of Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, and others who have won the Spanish language's highest literary honor.


Another busy day at the LA Pavilion, including running into Gabriela Jauregui, who will be taking part in a very special event on Friday----after, alas, I'm slated to be back in DC: it seems Jauregui and a co-editor have been busy preparing the publication of Los Vampiros de Whittier, a "selected poems" in Mexico by Juan Felipe Herrera, to be put out by Sur +. JFH will be here at FIL for a very special book launch, which I hope to be able to offer something about here at LLB.


And finally:

At Café Literario, I attended a very interesting conversation conducted by writer Aimee Bender, who interviewed her former MFA student Salvador Plascencia. In attendence were mostly young men, all of them wearing ear phones to hear the simulaneous translation from English to Spanish. And yet during the Q&A, Plascencia more than held his own answering questions posed in Spanish in Spanish.


Something I learned, which made the session particularly poignant:  he was born near Guadalajara, Mexico and lived the first eight years of his life in Jalisco, before his family migrated to L.A.  It was quite interesting to hear him speak about how reading titles published by Dalkey Archive Press was a seminal experience for him as an aspiring writer; how discovering and reading Tristam Shandy was another such experience. He spoke about the ambivalence he felt as a Chicano for choosing to pursue an aesthetic path that was not overtly political as he understood Chicano literature to be. And he spoke about how, even after publishing The People of Paper, he was often contacted by people (white editors I imagine) and asked to contribute pieces that were more "Mexican"; or asked to contribute something in Spanish. In short: frustration at being expected to fulfill pre-conceived notions of chicanismo or latinidad. My admiration went out to him for staying true to his vision and art and complicating, expanding, enriching our literature:

And then this, during the Q &A:  Luis J. Rodriguez stands and identifies himself as one of those "old school" Chicanos Plascencia had made reference to in his remarks. In essence, he says to him (I'm paraphrasing here):   

"The struggles and battles we old school Chicanos had to wage in the past was so that writers like you could pursue your art as you see fit and excercise your creative freedom fully. And those people who want to put you in some kind of straight-jacket or expect you to write about certain things, or in a certain way.....just don't understand how our literature has evolved. You're the proof and I commend and salute you."

It was a moving moment. I felt privileged to be in that room, in México.


Deborah A. Miranda said...

AMAZING!! Thank you again for reporting back to us about this phenomenal gathering. And I love the story about Luis - although I smile at the thought of him being "old school Chicano" (is that possible?), he is absolutely right. Reminds me of those arguments about strategic essentialism; sometimes you have to claim an identity that can't really exist (as such a definite, immovable thing) in order to, one day, transcend it. Gracias, Luis.

Daniel Olivas said...

Thank you for this reporting. Salvador and Luis both have pieces in "Latinos in Lotusland" ... I remember when Sal (which is how he signed his emails) sent me a chapter from his as yet unpublished novel, my jaw almost hit my desk. It was one of the most amazing pieces of fiction I'd read so I immediately accepted it. As for Luis' story that ended up in the anthology, I loved his collection, "The Republic of East L.A.," and wanted one of the stories. After contacting Luis (who was gracious, per usual), and working with his agent, we got the approvals for reprinting his story, "Miss East L.A." I am so proud that both of these writers (and 32 others) sit side-by-side in "Latinos in Lotusland."

Rebel Girl said...

LOVE the story about Plascencia and Rodriguez.