New York Public Library: Hispanic Heritage Month


Hispanic Heritage Month: Recommending Female Latin American Authors
Adriana Blancarte-Hayward, Outreach Manager

Latin America is known for its rich literary tradition, marked during the 1960s and 1970s by the Latin American Boom, a movement that introduced the world to such heavyweights as Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

While these male authors get a lot of time in the limelight, talented women have also captured the political and emotional landscape of Latin America in their books, from the Boom and beyond.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here is a selection of recommended books by classic and contemporary female Latin American and Latina authors for you to enjoy!


Estados Unidos de Banana / United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi
Giannina Braschi was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives in New York City. She writes in three languages: “Spanish, Spanglish, and English,” a medley familiar to countless Latinos in the United States.

United States of Banana is an absurdist novel that takes place at the Statue of Liberty in post-9/11 New York City. Three unlikely characters—Hamlet, Zarathrustra, and Giannina—are determined to free Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo.

Segismundo has been imprisoned by the King of The United States of Banana, who also happens to be his father, for the crime of being born. Eventually, the king reconciles, frees his son, makes Puerto Rico the fifty-first state of the country, and grants American passports to all Latin American citizens. Unexpected power shifts ensue.

Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral by Gabriela Mistral
The first Nobel Prize in literature awarded to a Latin American writer went to Mistral, a Chilean poet. Though famous and beloved in Latin America and Europe, Mistral’s reputation in the United States has has often been overshadowed by fellow countryman, Pablo Neruda. Translations and selections of her poems in Spanish have tended to soften her work towards the realm of tenderness and motherhood; this translation includes the strangeness, darkness, and intensity of her poems.


In the Time of the Butterflies / En el tiempo de las mariposas by Julia Alvarez
Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, then raised in the Dominican Republic until her family had to flee during General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s regime in 1960.Months after Alvarez and her family escaped the island, three sisters were found dead due to a jeep accident, according to official reports. What these official reports failed to mention was the three sisters were among the leading opponents of Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were known popularly as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies). With her imagination and heart, Julia Alvarez brings the Butterflies back to life again to expose the human cost of political repression.

Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa
Boullosa is a Mexican novelist who has written widely on issues of feminism and gender roles. In her family saga, Leaving Tabasco, Boullosa follows protagonist Delmira Ulloa through her difficult journey out of the imagined state of Tabasco, where magic is embedded in everyday life. In this town, Delmira’s grandmother floats over her bed at night, stones have been known to turn into water, and torrential downpours can be purchased at the market during the rainy season.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
In the stories of Her Body and Other Parties, Machado unflinchingly reveal the implicit violence of inhabiting a female body. A wife refuses her husband’s wish to remove a green ribbon from her neck, a woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity, and a weight loss surgery results in a shadowy houseguest.A writer of Cuban descent, Machado received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. She credits Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as influences.

Absolute Solitude by Dulce Maria Loynaz
Until being awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1992, Cuban poet Dulce Maria Loynaz lived in relative obscurity in her homeland. Absolute Solitude presents a selection of her prose poems about nature, emotions, and love. The book includes Loynaz’s works from the 1950s through her emergence in the 1990s. During her life, Loynaz came into personal contact with writers such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Gabriela Mistral, and Alejo Carpentier.


El Infinito en la Palma de la Mano / Infinity in the Palm of her Hand by Gioconda Belli
Gioconda Belli grew up in upper-class Managua Nicaragua. In 1970, a blossoming awareness of the social inequities in Nicaragua led her to join the Sandinistas in the struggle against the Samoza dictatorship. Her book, A Country Under My Skin, chronicles her journey from society girl to paramilitary rebel. She later published El Infinito en la Palma de la Mano, a parable about Adam and Eve. This book follows the couple as they come to grips with their expulsion from paradise, discover their responsibilities and limits, and make sacrifices to survive in a world of their own making.

In The Vortex Of The Cyclone by Excilia Saldana
Saldana is an Afro-Cuban poet, translator, and professor who won the prestigious Nicholas Guillen Award for Distinction in Poetry in 1988. This first-ever bilingual anthology contains a wide-ranging selection of her work including lullabies, erotic letters, autobiographical poems, and quiet reflections on Cuba.

Cola Franzen, translator of Jorge Guillen’s Horses in the Air and Other Poems said about Saldana’s collection, “A wonderful book, strong, with enormous energy, fast-paced, truly poetic, with a varied and rich vocabulary ranging from the vernacular to the exalted. This is poetry to be said aloud, sometimes chanted, sometimes shouted, sometimes sung… a book that is both original and significant.”

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
Argentine writer Ocampo has been called “one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the short story.” Italo Calvino once said about her, “I don’t know another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don’t show us.”

Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her writing life. Her spooky stories include the likes of a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, and a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros
Rounding out the list is a more recent book from the beloved Mexican-American author of The House on Mango Street. A House Of My Own centers on Cisneros’s search for her own constructed space, drawing inspiration from the Chicago streets where she grew up to a place in Mexico where “my ancestors lived for centuries.” This compilation of nonfiction stories creates an intimate album of this literary legend’s life and career.


Library of Congress National Book Festival 2012

BookNews, Washington, DC, June 2012:

With the President and Mrs. Obama serving as Co-Chairs, the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival will convene headlining poets and writers such as Philip Roth, Mario Vargas Llosa, Giannina Braschi, Jeffrey Eugenides, Philip Levine, and Nikky Finney.

The National Book Festival will take place on Saturday, September 22nd and Sunday, September 23, 2012, between 9th and 14th streets on the National Mall. The event, free and open to the public, will run from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, rain or shine. Festival-goers can meet and hear firsthand from the poets and writers, have books signed, and take their photos with PBS storybook characters. An estimated 200,000 people will attend.

Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for “American Pastoral.” In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House, and in 2002 received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Plot Against America” won the Society of American Historians’ prize for outstanding historical novel on an American theme in 2003–2004.

Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, has used his writing to oppose authoritarianism and to condemn societies that fetter personal freedom. His works include “The Time of the Hero” (1963), “The Green House” (1966), “Conversation in the Cathedral” (1969), “The War of the End of the World” (1987), “The Storyteller” (1987) and “The Dream of the Celt” (2010). In the early 1970s Vargas Llosa began to advocate democracy and the free market. In the late 1980s he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Peru, recorded in his memoir “A Fish in the Water” (1993).


Giannina Braschi, called “one of the most revolutionary voices in Latin America today” by the PEN American World Voices Festival, wrote the postmodern poetry classic “Empire of Dreams” and the Spanglish tour de force novel “Yo-Yo Boing!” The Associated Press praised Braschi’s explosive new book “United States of Banana” (AmazonCrossing 2011) as a work of unlimited imagination and fearless language. She writes in a blend of poetry, prose, and drama, also mixing Spanish, Spanglish, and English. She writes in these three languages to express the enculturation process of millions of Hispanic immigrants to the USA and to explore the three politic options of her native Puerto Rico–Nation, Colony or State. She has won grant/awards from National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Ford, Danforth, and Reed Foundations, Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, and PEN American Center.

Jeffrey Eugenides, a native of Detroit, published his first novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” to acclaim in 1993. His novel “Middlesex” won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Best American Short Stories, The Gettysburg Review and Granta’s “Best of Young American Novelists.”

Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, a child of activists. She came of age during the civil rights and Black Arts Movements. Finney has authored four books of poetry: Head Off & Split (2011); The World Is Round (2003); Rice (1995); and On Wings Made of Gauze (1985). Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky, Finney also authored Heartwood (1997) edited The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007), and co- founded the Affrilachian Poets. Finney’s fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.

The Library of Congress Pavilion will showcase treasures in the Library’s vast online collections and offer information about Library programs. Sponsor Target will reprise its “Family Storytelling Stage” featuring authors and musical acts popular with young children. The 2012 National Book Festival is made possible through the generous support of National Book Festival Board Co-Chair David M. Rubenstein; Charter Sponsors Target, The Washington Post and Wells Fargo; Patrons the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts and PBS KIDS; Contributors Barnes & Noble; Digital Bookmobile powered by OverDrive and Scholastic Inc.; and—in the Friends category–the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, The Hay Adams and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Thanks also to C-SPAN2’s Book TV, The Junior League of Washington and The Links. The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may be accessed through the Library’s website,