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Hispanista: A Country of Earthquakes and Poets

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Chile was struck by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake last Saturday February 27 at 3:34 AM local time. The earthquake has left many Chileans homeless and hundreds killed. Chile is known to many as the most prosperous Spanish-speaking country in Latin America; Chile is also known for its copper exports, its empanadas (turn-overs), and its literary contributions. Chile has two Nobel prizes for literature: Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971 -both of them were poets.

Chileans have a special respect for nature; they’ve experienced so many earthquakes that those that live on the coast know to literally run for the hills to escape a possible tsunami after a strong quake. Along with this respect comes an admiration for nature. The two Chilean Nobel Laureates show this through their constant references to the sea, the forest, the mountains and the birds. Here are some examples.

Pine Forest by Gabriela Mistral

Let us go now into the forest.
Trees will pass by your face,
and I will stop and offer you to them,
but they cannot bend down.
The night watches over its creatures,
except for the pine trees that never change:
the old wounded springs that spring
blessed gum, eternal afternoons.
If they could, the trees would lift you
and carry you from valley to valley,
and you would pass from arm to arm,
a child running
from father to father

Those Who Do not Dance by Gabriela Mistral

A crippled child
Said, “How shall I dance?”
Let your heart dance
We said.

Then the invalid said:
“How shall I sing?”
Let your heart sing
We said

Then spoke the poor dead thistle,
“But I, how shall I dance?”
Let your heart fly to the wind
We said.

Then God spoke from above
“How shall I descend from the blue?”
Come dance for us here in the light
We said.

All the valley is dancing
Together under the sun,
And the heart of him who joins us not
Is turned to dust, to dust.

Water by Pablo Neruda

Everything on the earth bristled, the bramble
pricked and the green thread
nibbled away, the petal fell, falling
until the only flower was the falling itself.
Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colors,
takes limpid lessons
from stone,
and in those functionings plays out
the unrealized ambitions of the foam.

Bird by Pablo Neruda

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

-Silvia Viñas
Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Written by Whitney Teal

March 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Hispanista

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Hispanista: Three Latinas To Add to Your Reading List

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Latinos are the largest minority in the United States. Their savory food and upbeat music is unavoidable wherever you go; but despite their visibility, Latinos don’t tend to make the Book section of The New York Times. Regardless of the media attention Latinos receive, there is a distinct Hispanic-American literary movement, and –I think it is safe to say—female authors are at its forefront.

So tune into your local Latin radio station to get in the mood and read on. Here are three Latinas and six recommendations to get you started:

Cristina García

Picture from CristinaGarciaNovelist.com

Cristina García is a Cuban-born writer; she moved to the United States when she was two years old and grew up in New York City. She began her writing career as a journalist, working for The Boston Globe, the Knoxville Journal, and Time Magazine as a reporter, researcher and correspondent. In 1990 García left Time and began writing fiction. Two years later Dreaming in Cuban, her first novel, was published. It was a finalist for the National Book Award.

She has written three novels since then: The Agüero Sisters, Monkey Hunting and A Handbook to Luck. This year she will be releasing her fifth novel, The Lady Matador’s Hotel.

García’s writing is beautiful; sentences flow easily one to the next, making her novels painless and enjoyable to read. She is known for the way she approaches the Cuban-American experience, exploring the Cuban exile from different perspectives–not just the anti-Communist Revolution angle many expect her to take. Her novels are filled with universal motifs that can be understood by readers of all ethnicities.

Add to your to-read List: Dreaming in Cuban or The Agüero Sisters

Click here for her website.

Sandra Cisneros

Picture from Flickr user Gwinnett County Public Library used under Creative Commons License

Sandra Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street, a novel many schools include in their Middle and High School curriculum. She was born in Chicago and holds an M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. She has written one other novel, Caramelo, published in 2002. Caramelo was named “notable book of the year” by several newspapers like The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times among others.

She has also written short stories, poetry and a children’s book.

Cisneros is the queen of the Chicano Literary Movement, being the first woman in the movement to get her work published by giants like Vintage and Random House. She skillfully exposes gender and race inequality with an accessible yet substantial writing style; her work is easy to read, but she tackles subjects that allow for insightful analysis of universal themes.

Add to your To-Read List: Caramelo or Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (short story collection)

Click here for her website.

Julia Alvarez

photo copyright © by Bill Eichner. All rights reserved.

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City but shortly thereafter moved to the Dominican Republic. Her stay in the Dominican Republic didn’t last very long due to her father’s involvement in the underground opposition to dictator Rafael Trujillo. She returned to the United States when she was ten years old. Alvarez earned a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and published her first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, in 1991.

She has written five other novels (In The Time of the Butterflies, ¡Yo!, In the Name of Salomé, Saving the World and Return to Sender) as well as poetry, non-fiction, children and young adult books.

Alvarez is one of the most prominent Latina writers. Latinos living in the United States like the way her writing deals with issues they face; and Latinos living in Latin America like the way she describes significant historical and political events in the Caribbean. Her exceptionally well-developed characters have allowed women of all races to see their experiences reflected in her work.

Add to your To-Read List: In the Time of the Butterflies or In the Name of Salomé

Click here for her website.

-Silvia Viñas

Written by Whitney Teal

February 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

Posted in Hispanista

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