Thursday, October 06, 2005

Latino Boom

Good news for literature. The recently released Latino Boom (now with its very own website!) is a unique and unprecedented anthology of Latino fiction, poetry, short stories and drama, and by all accounts an essential volume for any teacher in the complex and growing field. Or for that matter just any lover of literature. Anyway I've had the chance to read through a good portion of it, and it really is very good.

From the preface:
Latino Boom presents some of the best Latino Literature from the past 20 years. As the first anthology of its kind to supplement its selections with contextual background materials, it also maintians a holistic approach that distinguishes it...Based on our own firsthand experience as teachers...this work has been tested where it counts most...
Indeed, I can vouch for this, as one of the editors is my brother.
By maintaining this focus on recent writings, dating from 1985 to the present, we have been able to concentrate upon works in four major genre–the short story, poetry, drama, and the essay–and include selections our students have often found most enjoyable and fascinating. Yet we want to emphasize the fact that this anthology presents only the tail end of a long tradition of writing by Latinos, one that stretches back to the European conquest of the Americas in the early 1500s, and much of it written in Spanish.

Beyond the need to limit the scope of the book, we have chosen to concentrate on the modern period because it offers some of the richest literary achievements that have substantially changed the landscape of Latino writing. After all, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the labels themselves–Hispanic American literature and Latino literature–came into common use. All over the United States, prolific young Latino writers are reinventing the literary landscape. The explosion of South American literary works in the 1970s and 1980s–a period referred to as the "Latin American Literary Boom"–is now mirrored in the U.S. Latino literature.

Focusing on contemporary works also allows us to broaden the book's range to include Latino authors who have been underrepresented in anthologies and other collections, namely women and other less–well-known writers from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. With an eye toward looking at works in their entirety, we have avoided excerpts from longer fiction such as novels. There are a few exceptions to this general guideline, however: Sandra Benítez's "Fulgencio Llanos: El Fotógrafo," and–it could be argued–Edgardo Vega Yunqué's "The Barbosa Express" are both stories and individual chapters in genre-bending novels composed of a series of connected short stories.

It's got a lovely cover, doesn't it?

In very short, the anthology renders a complex period bravely accessible, while steering admirably clear, in its conception, of such things as over-simplification and easy polemic. The approach is deeply pedagogical and literary, with careful outlines of various schools of reception, and detailed engagement with such questions as revolve today around narrative and autobiography, just to name a few. There is throughout a very native, deeply polyglot sense for this literature's often hybrid, heterogeneous origins and currents. As such, it is also a collection with a very real social conscience, and obviously unafraid to grapple with issues of cultural and historical context (there are wonderful, detailed maps and admirably unflinching, politically objective timelines detailing various U.S. invasions throughout the years, and so on). Needless to say, however, the literary is nowhere sacrificed purely to questions of mere politics. All in all, a highly original, and admirably-contextualized compilation. Clearly an indispensable volume not only for teachers, but for anyone concerned for the future of literature in the 21st century. There will no doubt be much more to come (provided, of course, we are to survive, to some day read about it, and in places other than the NYTBR.).

nb. Might I also direct your attention to some very wonderful scans, perhaps of related interest: A Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of Nicaragua (courtesy of Mark Woods).

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