Sunday, November 20, 2011

Oscar Casares @ Notre Dame

On Tuesday November 16, I had the privilege of attending a reading by Mexican-American and Brownsville, Texas native, Oscar Casares at McKenna Hall—the building housing Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. Oscar is the author of a collection of short-stories Brownsville: Stories (Back Bay Books, 2003) and the novel Amigoland (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) for which he has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a James A. Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award and a Dobie Paisano Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. He is the Susan Taylor McDaniel Fellow in Creative Writing and directs the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Texas at Austin. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, and on "All Things Considered" for National Public Radio.

Tall and strikingly good-looking, Oscar Casares is as sharp as is his fiction. And it is not just that Oscar is the preeminent Mexican-American fiction writer of his generation but as Professor José Limón elaborated in his introduction, Oscar’s fiction—like all great literature—is sure to transcend the test of time. Oscar Casares’ fiction is firmly rooted in Brownsville, Texas and offers compelling and complex portraits of the people and their struggles with one another in this the U.S.’ southern most city. I imagine Oscar’s characters—so intimately connected to this city—taking root in that soil and among the company of notable Brownsville natives such as Americo Paredes and these whispering back, breathing life into his characters. Take for example his novel Amigoland in which an elderly barber breaks his older brother from a retirement home to go on an epic quest through Mexico in search of their grandfather’s ranchito, from where he was kidnapped and abandoned en el otro lado after an Indian raid.  Yet unlike much of long-established Mexican-American fiction which has occupied itself with issues of race and class, Oscar’s fiction—while emitting subtle echoes of the race and class conflicts that have shaped much of the Mexican-American experience in the U.S. and in particular along border regions such as Brownsville—is much more grounded in place and in telling the stories which capture the worries and humor of everyday life in Brownsville and which are in subtle opposition to the alienating hegemony of a dominant Anglo-American culture. And keep Oscar on your radar for a special interview: this event was followed by a taped interview between Oscar Casares and Professor José Limón for Letras Latinas’ Oral History Project.

Professor José Limón and Douglas Franson, Assistant Director, Institute for Latino Studies

Oscar Casares Signing a Poster for the Institute for Latino Studies

Initial Reception at Oscar Casares Reading

Professor José Limón Introduces Oscar Casares

Oscar Casares

Book booth and a Small Group of Students at the Reading Reception

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