Writers sense a trend as modern Hispanic novel evolves
Peter Kelton, EXAMINER, July 9
While literary meetings in Albuquerque haven't quite gained the stature of Big Sur conferences, they do rise to the level of a healthy literary tributary, according to many of the writers who attended this year's annual National Latino Writers Conference and other seminars at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
The novelists that these Hispanic writers recommend gives a clue to what's going on in their thinking. They indicate they have begun to see their words morph into a new kind of Hispanic modernism, an evolutionary maturing that shows a broader perception of what the novel can be. And it's not sensed only in Albuquerque, but wherever Hispanic writers let their thoughts be known.
For example, Sandra Cisneros, founder of The Macondo Foundation in San Antonio, held a book signing at the Hispanic center in October of 2006 for her 2002 novel "Caramelo" (Random House). Last month she completed a book tour for the 25th Anniversary edition of her novel "The House on Mango Street" (Arte Público Press, reprinted by Vintage Random House). Both novels were clearly autobiographical. Yet today, among the books she recommends on her web site is "The Uncommon Reader," a novella by Alan Bennett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The British author imagines a world in which literature becomes a subversive bridge between powerbrokers and commoners. The genre is a long way from Cisneros' coming-of-age Mango story of 1984.
Writers at a recent seminar suggested a variety of Hispanic novelists as "must" reading. They were: Roberto Bolaño (Chile), Benjamín Prado (Spain), Blanca Riestra (Spain), Israel Centeno (Venezuela), Edmundo Paz Soldán (Bolivia), Ricardo Menéndez Salmón (Spain), and the venerable Carlos Fuentes (Mexico).
What's happening apparently involves a combination of traditional magic realism and the newer gritty reality of the McOndo movement. The latter pokes fun at Macondo, the fictional town created by Nobel Prize writer Gabriel García Márquez in his classic "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (HarperCollins). Cisneros named her foundation after Macondo, a graphic example of magic realism, but the foundation's writing workshops work toward helping all kinds of young writers in a variety of venues, and has led to numerous book publishings by Macondistas. The next such workshop is scheduled July 29-Aug. 1 in San Antonio.
The term magic realism, according to Dr. Robert P. Fletcher of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, describes the prose fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), as well as the work of such writers as Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), Gunter Grass (Germany), and John Fowles (England). These writers interweave, in an ever-shifting pattern, a sharply etched realism in representing ordinary events and descriptive details together with fantastic and dreamlike elements, as well as with materials derived from myth and fairy tales.
Fuentes, of course, has written in both styles for some time. "La muerte de Artemio Cruz [The Death of Artemio Cruz]" (Spanish bySuma, English by Penguin Group USA) for example, has a McOndo touch. The revised edition, "The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 1991) is a better translation. His "Terra Nostra" (Dalkey Archive Press) uses magic realism to move through history brilliantly, according to its reviews.
About the McOndo trend, the maturing Fuentes told The New York Times six years ago, "I really support what they're doing," and joked that Fuentes himself belonged to "the prehistoric age." He's published 24 novels.
The Hispanic center bestows a literary award every couple of years. Early recipients included Rudolfo Anaya, considered by many to be the founder of modern Chicano literature. Anaya is far from "prehistoric" in the Fuentes sense. He's professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His early novel, "Bless Me, Ultima" (Grand Central) is set in the 1940s, is highly moralistic, and quite distant from the newer Hispanic novels. He still deals in a world of magic, mystery and redemption in his recent book, "The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories" (University of Oklahoma Press). That distance from Anaya to current Hispanic novels appears about as great as the upcoming 2010 Census will be from the first Census in 1790, done on horseback. The 2010 Census will be done with hand-held computers.