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Redeeming Words

Language and the Promise of Happiness in the Stories of Döblin and Sebald

Probing study of how literature can redeem the revelatory, redemptive powers of language.

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The Riddle of Cantinflas

Essays on Hispanic Popular Culture, Revised and Expanded Edition

Ilan Stavans’s collection of essays on kitsch and high art in the Americas makes a return with thirteen new colorful conversations that deliver Stavans’s trademark wit and provocative analysis. “A Dream Act Deferred” discusses an issue that is at once and always topical in the dialogue of Hispanic popular culture: immigration. This essay generated a vociferous response when first published in The Chronicle of Higher Education as the issue of immigration was contested in states like Arizona, and is included here as a new addition that adds a rich layer to Stavans’s vibrant discourse. Fitting in this reconfiguration of his analytical conversations on Hispanic popular culture is Stavans’s “Arrival: Notes from an Interloper,” which recounts his origins as a social critic and provides the reader with interactive insight into the mind behind the matter.

Once again delightfully humorous and perceptive, Stavans delivers an expanded collection that has the power to go even further beyond common assumptions and helps us understand Mexican popular culture and its counterparts in the United States.

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Sex as a Political Condition

A Border Novel

Sex as a Political Condition: A Border Novel is a raucous, hilarious journey through political dangers that come in all shapes, cup sizes, and sexual identities, a trip into the wild, sometimes outrageous world of the Texas-Mexico border and all geographical and anatomical points south.
 
Honoré del Castillo runs the family curio shop in the backwater border town of Escandón, Texas, and fears dying in front of his TV like some six-pack José in his barrio. Encouraged by his friend Trotsky, he becomes politically active—smuggling refugees, airlifting guns to Mexican revolutionaries, negotiating with radical Chicana lesbians—but the naked truths he faces are more often naked than true and constantly threaten to unman him. When a convoy loaded with humanitarian aid bound for Nicaragua pulls into Escandón, his journey to becoming a true revolutionary hero begins, first on Escandón’s international bridge and then on the highways of Mexico. But not until both the convoy and Honoré’s mortality and manhood are threatened in Guatemala does he finally confront the complications of his love for his wife and daughter, his political principles, the stench of human fear, and ultimately what it means to be a principled man in a screwed-up world.

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Shakin' Up Race and Gender

Intercultural Connections in Puerto Rican, African American, and Chicano Narratives and Culture (1965–1995)

By Marta E. Sánchez

The second phase of the civil rights movement (1965-1973) was a pivotal period in the development of ethnic groups in the United States. In the years since then, new generations have asked new questions to cast light on this watershed era. No longer is it productive to consider only the differences between ethnic groups; we must also study them in relation to one another and to U.S. mainstream society. In “Shakin' Up” Race and Gender, Marta E. Sánchez creates an intercultural frame to study the historical and cultural connections among Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Chicanos/as since the 1960s. Her frame opens up the black/white binary that dominated the 1960s and 1970s. It reveals the hidden yet real ties that connected ethnics of color and “white” ethnics in a shared intercultural history. By using key literary works published during this time, Sánchez reassesses and refutes the unflattering portrayals of ethnics by three leading intellectuals (Octavio Paz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Oscar Lewis) who wrote about Chicanos, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans. She links their implicit misogyny to the trope of La Malinche from Chicano culture and shows how specific characteristics of this trope—enslavement, alleged betrayal, and cultural negotiation—are also present in African American and Puerto Rican cultures. Sánchez employs the trope to restore the agency denied to these groups. Intercultural contact—encounters between peoples of distinct ethnic groups—is the theme of this book.

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Spilling the Beans in Chicanolandia

Conversations with Writers and Artists

By Frederick Luis Aldama

Since the 1980s, a prolific “second wave” of Chicano/a writers and artists has tremendously expanded the range of genres and subject matter in Chicano/a literature and art. Building on the pioneering work of their predecessors, whose artistic creations were often tied to political activism and the civil rights struggle, today's Chicano/a writers and artists feel free to focus as much on the aesthetic quality of their work as on its social content. They use novels, short stories, poetry, drama, documentary films, and comic books to shape the raw materials of life into art objects that cause us to participate empathetically in an increasingly complex Chicano/a identity and experience. This book presents far-ranging interviews with twenty-one “second wave” Chicano/a poets, fiction writers, dramatists, documentary filmmakers, and playwrights. Some are mainstream, widely recognized creators, while others work from the margins because of their sexual orientations or their controversial positions. Frederick Luis Aldama draws out the artists and authors on both the aesthetic and the sociopolitical concerns that animate their work. Their conversations delve into such areas as how the artists' or writers' life experiences have molded their work, why they choose to work in certain genres and how they have transformed them, what it means to be Chicano/a in today's pluralistic society, and how Chicano/a identity influences and is influenced by contact with ethnic and racial identities from around the world.

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A Stitch in Air

Long a venerable monastery, the Convent of Saint Margaret in Granada is known throughout Spain for its production of the most exquisite laces of the time, the laces that robed dukes and counts, princesses, and even the king and queen of Castile.
           Set in the sixteenth century against the backdrop of Andalusian Christian, Jewish, and Islamic influences, A Stitch in Air is a love story involving Hernán de Vigo, a priest/playwright, and an earnest nun named Adela. Unbeknownst to the sisterhood, de Vigo has been sent by the Holy Office of the Church (the leadership of the Inquisition) to Saint Margaret to explore claims of heresy. Under the guise of playwright, he investigates these claims. He writes and directs two comedias during his stay and casts the sisters in his plays. Mystical and mysterious events occur along the way, among them miracles seemingly arranged by the Virgin Mary.
           The first American novel to treat conventual life in Spain, A Stitch in Air is a tribute to The Golden Age, as well as a humorous and inspirational tale of love, hope, and faith.

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Taking Their Word

Literature and the Signs of Central America

Arturo Arias

Central Americans are one of the largest Latino population groups in the United States. Yet, Arturo Arias argues, the cultural production of Central Americans remains little known to North Americans.

 

In Taking Their Word, Arias complicates notions of the cultural production of Central America, from Mexico in the North to Panama in the South. He charts the literature of Central America’s liberation struggles of the 1970s and 1980s, its transformation after peace treaties were signed, the emergence of a new Maya literature that decenters Latin American literature written in Spanish, and the rise and fall of testimonio. Arias demonstrates that Central America and its literature are marked by an indigenousness that has never before been fully theorized or critically grasped. Never one to avoid controversy, Arias proffers his views of how the immigration of Central Americans to North America has changed the cultural topography of both zones.

 

With this groundbreaking work, Arias establishes the importance of Central American literature and provides a frame for future studies of the region’s culture.

 

Arturo Arias is director of Latin American studies at the University of Redlands. He is the author of six novels in Spanish and editor of The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy (Minnesota, 2001).

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Telling Border Life Stories

Four Mexican American Women Writers

Donna M Kabalen de Bichara

Voices from the borderlands push against boundaries in more ways than one, as Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara ably demonstrates in this investigation into the twentieth-century autobiographical writing of four women of Mexican origin who lived in the American Southwest.

Until recently, little attention has been paid to the writing of the women included in this study. As Kabalen de Bichara notes, it is precisely such historical exclusion of texts written by Mexican American women that gives particular significance to the reexamination of the five autobiographical works that provide the focus for this in-depth study.

“Early Life and Education” and Dew on the Thorn by Jovita González (1904–83), deal with life experiences in Texas and were likely written between 1926 and the 1940s; both texts were published in 1997. Romance of a Little Village Girl, first published in 1955, focuses on life in New Mexico, and was written by Cleofas Jaramillo (1878–1956) when the author was in her seventies. A Beautiful, Cruel Country, by Eva Antonio Wilbur-Cruce (1904–98), introduces the reader to history and a way of life that developed in the cultural space of Arizona. Created over a ten-year period, this text was published in 1987, just eleven years before the author’s death. Hoyt Street, by Mary Helen Ponce (b. 1938), began as a research paper during the period of the autobiographer’s undergraduate studies (1974–80), and was published in its present form in 1993.

These border autobiographies can be understood as attempts on the part of the Mexican American female autobiographers to put themselves into the text and thus write their experiences into existence.

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Territories of History

Humanism, Rhetoric, and the Historical Imagination in the Early Chronicles of Spanish America

By Sarah H. Beckjord

Sarah H. Beckjord’s Territories of History explores the vigorous but largely unacknowledged spirit of reflection, debate, and experimentation present in foundational Spanish American writing. In historical works by writers such as Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Beckjord argues, the authors were not only informed by the spirit of inquiry present in the humanist tradition but also drew heavily from their encounters with New World peoples. More specifically, their attempts to distinguish superstition and magic from science and religion in the New World significantly influenced the aforementioned chroniclers, who increasingly directed their insights away from the description of native peoples and toward a reflection on the nature of truth, rhetoric, and fiction in writing history. Due to a convergence of often contradictory information from a variety of sources—eyewitness accounts, historiography, imaginative literature, as well as broader philosophical and theological influences—categorizing historical texts from this period poses no easy task, but Beckjord sifts through the information in an effective, logical manner. At the heart of Beckjord’s study, though, is a fundamental philosophical problem: the slippery nature of truth—especially when dictated by stories. Territories of History engages both a body of emerging scholarship on early modern epistemology and empiricism and recent developments in narrative theory to illuminate the importance of these colonial authors’ critical insights. In highlighting the parallels between the sixteenth-century debates and poststructuralist approaches to the study of history, Beckjord uncovers an important legacy of the Hispanic intellectual tradition and updates the study of colonial historiography in view of recent discussions of narrative theory.

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Thinking en español

Interviews with Critics of Chicana/o Literature

Jesús Rosales; Foreword by Rolando Hinojosa-Smith

Thinking en español captures conversations with leading Chicana and Chicano literary critics. This unique book consists of interviews with founding members of Chicano criticism conducted by the author, Jesús Rosales, who, through his conversations with leaders such as Luis Leal, María Herrera-Sobek, Tey Diana Rebolledo, and Juan Rodríguez, shows the path of criticism from 1848 to the present.

The twelve critics interviewed for this project share certain characteristics. For each one, Mexico plays an essential role in his or her personal and academic background, and each is bilingual and bicultural, having received formal literary education in Spanish graduate programs. As products of the working class, each scholar here shares a sense of social consciousness and commitment that lends an urgency to their desire to promote Chicano literature and culture at the local, regional, national, and international levels. They serve as a source of inspiration and commitment for future generations of scholars of Chicano literature and leave a lasting legacy of their own. 

Thinking en español legitimizes Chicana/o criticism as an established discipline, and documents the works of some of the most important critics of Chicano literature at the turn of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. This timely book immortalizes literary historical figures and documents the trajectory of Chicano criticism.

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