A joy to be guest-blogging from Albuquerque, where temps reach the high-80s or 90s, and the staff of the National Hispanic Cultural Center can't believe the cooler, rainy weather of recent weeks has finally cleared up in time for their annual Latino Writer's Conference. Key themes of the day, in reverse order:
7pm Awards Banquet: The Beneficent Domino Effect of Rudolfo Anaya's Life & Work
Premio Aztlan recipent Gloria Zamora (Sweet Nata, University of New Mexico Press, 2009) said that she had permission to write about her life growing up as a rural NM farmer's daughter because Rudy had published books about the kinds of people she knew from this region. She'd also been personally encouraged by Anaya. NHCC Literary Award recipient Luis Alberto Urrea (www.luisurrea.com) was also encouraged early on by Anaya, and named Anaya's novel Tortuga as a primary influence and source of inspiration. Urrea also rememberd being struck by something "Saint Rudy" said while Urrea was helping to drive him around for a speaking gig in southern California years ago. Urrea asked: "What do you say to people who accuse you of not being political enough?" The Anaya response invovled a firm dismissal of said detractors that included a well-placed f-bomb. All in the audience had a good chuckle, picturing the grand-tio of Chicano literature cutting loose with this human response---all including Rudolfo Anaya himself, surprise guest of honor at the banquet.
Question to tuck under your pillow: How would you finish this sentence? "Without _________, I could not do the writing that I do." Tonight, I'll fill in the blank with Pat Mora, Valerie Martinez, and Juan Felipe Herrera (the latter's here to deliver a poetry workshop at the Latino Writer's Conference, btw.)
4:30pm Break/Sight-seeing time: Nachos Supreme and Sopapillas Go Well with Discussions of Politics and We Heart Leslie Marmon Silko
The above is a brief summary of themes touched on over margaritas and an old-town stroll with University of Arizona Press/Camino del Sol editor Kristen Buckles and conference keynote speaker (best keynote EVER, per NHCC Literary Arts director Carlos Vasquez) Rigoberto Gonzalez. The politics? Arizona, of course, and tales of getting pulled over or fearing getting pulled over in AZ and/or the fear of being embarassed about one's home state. I was so glad to finally meet Kristen in person, after working with her on Flexible Bones, and it was good to see Rigo mobile and thinking ahead to books he's looking forward to promoting as reviewer and Latino literature advocate. The hearting of LMS began with recalling her essay about being pulled over by La Migra in Yellow Woman...
3:00pm-4:30pm Small Press Publishers Panel: One Nice Thing You Could Do
I really enjoyed moderating this panel of small press publishers, one of the highlights of which was Achiote Press editor Craig Santos Perez's remarks that if the kind, dedicated people at a small press go to the trouble to publish a book of yours, "one nice thing you could do is sell your books." Francisco and I have frequently remarked that the best-selling Momotombo Press chapbooks are those whose authors take a very proactive approach to reaching readers and buyers. Audience members had good questions about how each press defines worthwhile Latino literature ("Does it have to have certain themes to be considered Latino?"---I said abuelita poems are ok, but not required) and about the relationship of chapbook-length publications to book-length publications (Brent E. Beltran, of Calaca Press, doesn't retain any copyright of work Calaca publishes, and is happy to see the work reprinted wherever/whenever/however it can be). Hope Maxwell-Snyder, founder and editor of Somondoco Press, noted that she reads and accepts work from a variety of writers, and that while she doesn't have a particular focus on Latino writers, she does get to know each of the writers she's published before she becomes, or even has the possibility of becoming, their publisher. Brent put it more bluntly with the remark that "at Calaca, we do background checks on our authors," meaning that it's important for him to know that he can get along with, and enjoy becoming familia with, this person with whom he's going to be working so closely. He also likes to know that the writers have real-life-cred as activists, so that their work as writers legitimately supports Calaca's activist roots and mission.
Speaking of mission, learn more about each of these presses, and their missions, at the following sites:
If you don't find one that's a good match for your work, but you're an emerging writer with a calling to get your work out there, consider starting your own small press. This was another theme echoed across the panel.
No doubt by now your tea is boiling/child is crying/favorite show is on/dog is ready to go out, so I'll end with a breeze back through the morning in reverse: informal Chicano Studies platica with Lucha Corpi, Brent Beltran and Rigoberto Gonzalez (Lucha remenisced about her tight little group of young writers in the Mission district of SF, helping each other along a decade before she published her first book---the details of which I hope she'll put in an essay!) and a memoir workshop with the radiant Demetria Martinez (she inspired us with the idea of writing as a devotional practice) where the conference's workshop faculty in travel writing, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, happened to be sitting in. Demetria is wrapping up a new collection of short stories (ahua!) and Stephanie will have new chronicles of the Texas border colonia communities coming out in the Dallas Morning News in early June. I raise my bedside glass of water to these two powerful women!
Maria Melendez, Acquiring Editor, Momotombo Press