Author’s Corner: Laura Esquivel

Saludos a todos,

As we wrap up the fall term and the 2017 calendar year, we’re looking forward to a lighthearted and memorable book group meeting focused on Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. We’ll meet at Red Door Brewing in downtown Abq to enjoy the book and share in a potluck meal inspired by the same. For the moment, though, we want to take this time to share a bit more about the author and her work.

A Mexican essayist, novelist, and playwright, Esquivel is, of course, best known for her magical realist-inspired novel, Like Water for Chocolate. It was first published in Spanish in 1989 under the full title Como agua para chocolate: novela de entregas mensuales, con recetas, amores y remedios caseros (Like Water for Chocolate: a novel in monthly installments with recipes, romances, and home remedies) and was followed shortly by the release of the feature film – with the novel adapted for the screen by Esquivel herself and her husband of the time, Alfonso Arau. The novel itself was a success in Mexico and was well-received by English-speaking audiences when translated, but it was truly the success of the film in 1992 that thrust Esquivel into the international spotlight.

Before becoming an award-winning novelist, Esquivel was first and foremost a teacher, beginning in the 1970s. She would go on to become a playwright, writing scripts for children’s television and theater. For her work on the film Chido One, she was nominated for the Ariel Award, Best Screenplay, by the Mexican Academy of Motion Pictures in 1985.

Following Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel would go on to publish the novel La lay del amor in 1996, a book of essays titled Intimas suculencias in 2000,  the novel Tan veloz como el deseo in 2000, Escribiendo la nueva historia: cómo dejar de ser víctima en 12 sesiones in 2014, and  A Lupita le gustaba planchar in 2015. Most recently, she has returned with a crime thriller, Pierced by the Sun (2016). As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports in an interview with the author, “Now author Laura Esquivel is tackling crime and corruption in modern day Mexico. Her novel “Pierced by the Sun” – just out in English – has a female protagonist who battles crooked politicians, criminal gangs, as well as her own demons”

But of course it was with Like Water for Chocolate that Esquivel entered women’s hearts and homes across the world. In an essay examining how the novel represents women, particularly Latin American women, scholar María Elena de Valdés begins by pointing out that part of the novels’ success was due to how Esquivel parodied an already popular genre. Forgive me in advance for this a long quote, but I’m personally fascinated by the novel’s points of commonality with the genre: “The genre in question is the Mexican version of women’s fiction published in monthly installments together with recipes, home remedies, dressmaking patterns, short poems, moral exhortations, ideas on home decoration, and the calendar of church observances. In brief, this genre is the nineteenth-century forerunner of what is known throughout Europe and Americas as a women’s magazine.” De Valdés observes that “Como agua para chocolate is a parody of nineteenth-century women’s periodical fiction in the same way that Don Quijote is a parody of the novel of chivalry. Both genres were expressions of popular culture that created a unique space for a segment of the population.”

Whether we accept that Esquivel was parodying this informal genre (I do) or not, readers of the novel quickly learn that her novel elevates the act of cooking and the traditions associated with it. She effectively reclaims the space as one of power and authority – an act which no doubt resonates with many women in many countries. In an interview with the NYTimes in 1993, the author herself acknowledged that “As a very young girl, I understood that the interior activities of the home are as significant as the exterior activities of a society…food can change anything,’ she said.” She went on to explore this significance even further, writing two subsequent novels that build Como agua para chocolate into a trilogy:  El diario de Tita and Mi negro pasado. 

Amid the ongoing legacy and love surrounding Like Water for Chocolate, Esquivel has continued to write and recently, even, undertaken a fourth career, becoming a politician serving in the Chamber of Deputies for the Morena Party in her hometown of Mexico City. We’ll all have to stay tuned to see where she takes life next.

Cheers,
Keira

p.s. special shout out to LAII graduate student, Jacob Sandler, for his help with writing this feature!


Image: Photograph of author reprinted from Goldey-Beacon College.

Author’s Corner: Ibi Zoboi

Saludos a todos! This week we are taking a moment to celebrate and feature author Ibi Aanu Zoboi, the writer behind this month’s featured novel, American Street, which we’ll read next week on November 13th at Tractor Brewing on 4th. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s oeuvre, as well as more personal details that have informed her work.

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  She immigrated to the United States as a young child alongside her mother and currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their three children.

She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an accomplished writer, with publications in The New York Times Book Review, the Horn Book Magazine, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut novel, American Street, was published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, this year. Her work has a received an impressive range of awards, accolades and recognition, but, most notably, American Street was nominated for a 2017 National Book Award, one of the greatest literary honors in the country.  Her next YA novel, Pride, is due out in the Fall of 2018, and a middle grade novel, My life as an Ice-Cream Sandwich, is forthcoming.

Zoboi’s writing is powerful and rooted in a celebration of her Haitian heritage. More than celebratory, however, her writing confronts and challenges how Haitian culture is generally portrayed – and how young women of color, particularly young Black and Latinx women, appear in literature and the media.  She grapples openly with questions of poverty and institutional racism, white supremacy and violence.  And in the process, her writing helps to humanize individuals whose lives are too frequently dehumanized, degraded, and stigmatized  in popular media – if they’re fortunate enough to appear at all. As Zoboi writes in her blog, “what matters most is that we black content creators within all-white industries take the helm and steer the ship to tell stories that are true and humanizing – narratives that pull from lived experiences and are based on a deep love for black people.”

This inspiration is apparent in American Street, a novel that brings individual stories to life through empathy, emotion, and truth – while also acknowledging complexities of  immigration, poverty, love, patriotism, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, and so much more. In truth, Zoboi’s writing is deeply intersectional and multilayered, nuanced with keen observations about lived experiences. In an interview with Zoboi, Alice Cary of BookPage hones in on this complexity, calling Zoboi “a novelist who digs deep into what happens when cultures, nationalities, races, and religions collide.”  It fits, then, that Zoboi’s  work appears in literary outlets which emphasize speaking with honesty. Her award-winning story, “At the Shores of Dawn,” for instance, first appeared in the literary journal of One?Respe!, an educational organization focused on the power of reflection, taking its name from a creole expression loosely meaning Honor and Respect.

Perhaps just as important as the themes she addresses are the audiences for which Zoboi writes. Her audiences range from children to adults, leading s blogger for Kreyolicious to observe that, “to call writer Ibi Zoboi ‘versatile’ is an understatement. Her pen will write a compelling essay one minute, a short story the next, and a children’s book the next.”

After reading through Zoboi’s work, it is clear that part of her trademark style is a rare ability to write fluid, internal dialogue that fleshes out social nuances often difficult to put into words – and to write stories on behalf of lesser-known, lesser-voiced protagonists who are too often omitted from the broader publishing world. Hers is most certainly a writing worth seeking out, be it one of her essays, her children’s book, or her first YA novel. We highly recommend it.

And for those who want to learn more and about from the woman herself, we encourage you to visit Zoboi’s website and blog, where she describes her writing in more detail, tackles issues of representation and blackness in literature, and explores and what it means to write children’s literature with empowered brown characters.

~ Keira

p.s. special shout out to LAII graduate student, Jacob Sandler, for his help with writing this feature!


Photograph of Ibi Zoboi reprinted from author website.

Author’s Corner: Socorro Acioli

Image result for socorro acioliSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature author Socorro Acioli, writer of this month’s featured book, The Head of the Saint, and the topic of our April book group meeting. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of her life.

Socorro Acioli is a Brazilian author who holds a Master’s degree in Brazilian literature and is currently pursuing her PhD in Literary Studies at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro. Although Aciolo’s literary career as a novelist and children’s book author is relatively new, she has already garnered worldwide recognition and prestige. She has lectured internationally and was a visiting researcher at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany. Acioli also took part in a workshop called ‘How to tell a tale’at the San Antonio de Los Banõs International Film and Television School in Cuba. The workshop was conducted by Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez. Márquez chose Acioli himself to be a participant in the workshop based on her recent work The Head of the Saint.

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Author’s Corner: Lynn Joseph

Image result for lynn josephSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature author Lynn Joseph, writer of this month’s featured book, Dancing in the Rain, and the topic of our March book group meeting. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of her life.

Lynn Joseph is originally from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. At the age of ten, she moved to Baltimore but continued to return to Trinidad for her summers. According to an interview with Joseph on her personal website, she started writing because of the nostalgia that was born from her bicultural childhood: “So, I lived two separate lives: an American school life and a Trinidad summer life. I began writing because I missed Trinidad so much; riding my bike everywhere, building forts in the hills, and just limin’ (hanging out) with friends. I also missed the steel pan music, and the joy I felt in Trinidad. The energy on my island is incredible.” Like this month’s featured book, Dancing in the Rain, most of Joseph’s books include elements of Caribbean culture. Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize, and skillfully focuses on the intersection between the culture, society and current events of New York City and the Caribbean. While exposing readers to certain Caribbean traditions and ways of life, this book also emphasizes the strong influence of Caribbean culture here in the U.S., particularly in New York.

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Author’s Corner: Oscar Hijuelos

HijuelosSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature the renowned, Cuban-American author, Oscar Hijuelos, and his body of work. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of his life and legacy.

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) is a Cuban-American author who wrote several adult and young adult books, mostly focusing on Latin American protagonists or themes. Hijuelos was the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction when he was recognized for his 1989 novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was turned into a movie in 1992. Hijuelos also won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2000. Through his iconic work, Hijuelos endures as a prominent figure of Latino literature, describing the immigrant experience, questions of identity, and the many hurdles of communication, through witty and endearing prose.

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¡Mira, Look!: Author’s Corner: Edwidge Danticat

edwidge danticatSaludos todos! As many of you know, once a month we like to take the time to give special attention to our featured authors and their writing.This week we are featuring Edwidge Danticat, the prolific, inspiring author of many children’s, young adult, and adult books, whom many of you may also recognize from several of my previous ¡Mira, Look! posts. Danticat is originally from Haiti and her books often deal with the culture of Haiti and the immigrant experience, providing a wealth of information on the country’s history, culture and current events.

Here is a short synopsis from Goodreads of Danticat’s life and her abundant accomplishments:

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures.

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Author’s Corner: Cristina Henríquez

Image result for cristina henriquezSaludos todos! I’m popping in to share with you some information about Cristina Henríquez, the author of our November book group title, The Book of Unknown Americans. According to her personal website, The Book of Unknown Americans “was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014 and one of Amazon’s Top 10 Books of the Year.” In addition, “It was the Daily Beast Novel of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, an NPR Great Read, a Target Book of the Month selection, and was chosen one of the best books of the year by BookPage, Oprah.com, and School Library Journal. It was also longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.”

Henríquez earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and participatedin the the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. She currently lives in Illinois, and is a prolific writer for various literary magazine and journals. Some of her other works include The World In Half (a novel) and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.

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