Reading Recommendations for Hispanic American Heritage Month

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month! From September 15 to October 15, our country is honoring the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our culture and nation. Hispanic Americans have positively influenced many aspects of American life, from politics to the arts to civil rights. They have also had a huge impact on our nation’s literature and literary traditions. To celebrate this impact, we are highlighting some of the incredible fiction by Hispanic authors in our collection.

Dominicana by Angie Cruzcover image for Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights will be captivated by this coming-of-age story which explores immigration, love, and the shifting tides of the American Dream. In 1965, Ana Canción moves from her beloved Dominican Republic to the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, so that she can marry and create a path to immigration for her family. Lonely and isolated in her adopted city, she plans to flee until political turmoil back home and a new romantic entanglement open her eyes to what a life in America could be.

cover image for The Spirit of Science FictionThe Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño

Fans of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and Jean Rhys’ Quartet will be drawn in by Bolaño’s portrait of 1970s Mexico City. This genre-bending novel follows the romantic and creative escapades of two aspiring Chilean writers as they struggle to carve out a place for themselves in the literary world. While one writer sinks into a dizzying creative oblivion, the other finds himself becoming a flâneur, haunting the dingy and beautiful streets of Mexico City with a circle of extravagant writers.

cover image for the Naked Woman

The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers

The premise for The Naked Woman can be distilled simply: a woman’s feminist awakening drives a hypocritical village to madness in rural Uruguay. But this description can only hint at the brilliant brutality of Somers’ text and Maude’s translation. This intense, surreal novel exposes the violence of the male ego and the destructive power of societal misogyny. Originally published in 1950 to an audience shocked by its graphic eroticism, it is now considered an iconic work of feminism.

 

cover image for fruit of the drunken treeFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Inspired by Rojas Contreras’ own life, this debut novel explores youth and childhood in Colombia under drug lord Pablo Escobar’s violent reign. Born and raised in a gated community in the city of Bogotá, Colombia, seven-year-old Chula has grown up sheltered from the violence and crime that ravaged the city’s streets. But when she grows close to her family’s new maid, Petrona, Chula finds herself drawn into a new realm of secrecy and betrayal. As the novel rockets to its conclusion, both girls find themselves faced with impossible choices as their world descends into chaos.

What’s on your “To Read” list for Hispanic American Heritage Month? Let us know!

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2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Congratulations to the 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners! The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917  through the will of Joseph Pulitzer, a visionary American journalist, who wished to incentivize excellence and innovation in American journalism and letters. 

This year, the literary works recognized demonstrate an increased interest in social justice and honoring the exemplary work of writers addressing the brutal history and complex reality of race in America. Below, we have highlighted a few of the winners currently in our collection. But we encourage you to peruse the full list of finalists and winners here

 

Fiction: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The Night Watchman is based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s  grandfather, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C. This powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a master craftsman.

History: Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain

A nuanced account of the complicated role the fast-food industry plays in African-American communities, Chatelain’s work is a portrait of race and capitalism that masterfully illustrates how the fight for civil rights has been intertwined with the fate of Black businesses. From civil rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America.

Biography: The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X. The Dead are Arising is the result—A powerful and revelatory account of the civil rights activist, which rewrites much of the known narrative and offers insight into his character, beliefs and the forces that shaped him. Les and Tamara Payne have crafted a riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.

Poetry: Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem is a collection of tender, heart-wrenching, and defiant poems that explore what it means to love and be loved in an America beset by conflict. It is an anthem of desire against erasure, demanding that every body carried in its pages—bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers—be touched and held as beloved.

 

General Nonfiction: Wilmington’s Lie : The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino

Wilmington’s Lie is a gripping account of the overthrow of the elected government of a Black-majority North Carolina city after Reconstruction that untangles a complicated set of power dynamics cutting across race, class and gender. It gives an account of a racially-motivated insurrection launched by white supremacists, which halted gains made by Black people and restored racism as official government policy, cementing white rule for another seventy years. 

Pulitzer Prize winner David Zucchino uses contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, letters and official communications to create a riveting and compelling narrative that weaves together individual stories of hate, fear, and brutality. This is a dramatic and definitive account of a remarkable but forgotten chapter of American history.

–Summaries adapted from the publisher

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Summer of Cinema!

Keep an eye out for these recent Cinema Studies acquisitions at the Literatures and Languages Library!

Cinematic settlers: the settler colonial world in film Edited by Janne Lahti

In this anthology, the contributing scholars explore examples of settler colonialism in film. Settler colonialism is a method of colonization that displaces the indigenous peoples of a colonized territory and replaces them with new settlers. Taking a broad international approach, scholars analyze specific films, study genres, and examine national trends in film making. This volume seeks to add to the study of settler colonialism by evaluating the ways film contributes to and validates settler narratives.

Projecting the nation: history and ideology on the Israeli screen by Eran Kaplan

This book tackles 70 years of Israeli cinema history. Kaplan analyzes films that cover “the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide, the kibbutz and urban life, the rise of religion,” to examine the way film represents the life and culture of modern Israel. He also questions the ways these films have shaped our understanding of Israeli history.

 

Contemporary Balkan  Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits Edited by Lydia Papadimitriou and Ana Grgić

Looking at key subject characteristics and aesthetics of Balkan films, this book analyzes the impact of transnational links and the role of international film festivals in the production and distribution of films from this region. With each chapter focusing on a different region, scholars examine cross cultural exchange and the importance of Balkan Cinema.

 

A Cultural History of the Disney Fairy Tale: Once Upon an American Dream by Tracey Louise Mollet

“In all of its fairy tales of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Walt Disney studios works to sell its audiences the national myth of the United States at any one historical moment.” This book analyzes the shifting ethos of the Disney Fairy tale through time in order to meet changing national viewpoints and keep the utopian myth of the United States alive. Using Disney films and tv shows, Mollet investigates the links between Disney morality and the American Dream.

Experts in Action: Transnational Hong Kong–Style Stunt Work and Performance by Lauren Steimer

In this book Steimer explores the transnational influence and spread of Hong Kong film aesthetics, stunt work, and fighting styles. Analyzing the work of specific stunt people in film and tv, this book explores the mixing of artistic influences, genre, and localities, with Hong Kong style fight work.

 

 

Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power Edited by Susan Liddy

The topic of this series of essays from international scholars is gender-based discrimination in the film industry. Detailing the industry culture in seventeen different countries, these essays argue for an end to gender discrimination and more opportunities for women in film.

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Reading Recommendations for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. As Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise and the AAPI community is threatened by ignorance and cruelty, this APAHM feels particularly important. It is a time to reflect on all of the tremendous gifts, literary and otherwise, that the Asian-American community has contributed to our country and the world. With this in mind, we are highlighting some of the incredible new works by Asian-American authors in our collection.

cover art for Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless GirlsLong Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

Literary essayist Madden’s debut memoir pulls no punches in depicting her coming of age as queer, biracial teenager in Boco Raton, Florida. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls fearlessly lays bare the many contradictions of Madden’s young life–from the immense privileges of her wealthy upbringing, to the trauma and isolation wrought by her parents’ drug addiction, to the precious and devastating nature of friendship between fatherless girls.

 

cover art for The Color of AirThe Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama

Tsukiyama’s brilliant historical novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family, set against the backdrop of Hawai’i’s sugar plantations. Just as long-standing family secrets and tensions appear primed to explode, another devastating eruption occurs: that of Mauna Loa volcano.

 

cover art for The Unpassing

 

 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Lin’s gripping debut novel interrogates the myth of the American Dream through a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to get by in Anchorage, Alaska. When tragedy strikes, the resultant upheaval forces the family to reckon with grief and guilt amidst unfamiliar, and often unforgiving, surroundings.

 

cover art for How Much of These Hills is GoldHow Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In Zhang’s epic Western set during the American Gold Rush, the orphaned children of Chinese immigrants set out across a harsh and unforgiving landscape in the hopes of burying their father, and their past. The unforgettable sights and adventures they encounter along the way provide a fascinating glimpse of the future that might await them.

 

cover art for Pachinko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Lee’s powerful historical novel follows a single Korean family through a dramatic saga of betrayal, sacrifice, ambition, and love. The family’s tumultuous story begins with a young Sunja’s unplanned and potentially devastating pregnancy. Unbeknownst to her, the choices Sunja makes will reverberate through generations to come.

 

 

Anti-Violence and Anti-Racism Resources to Support the AAPI Community:

https://anti-asianviolenceresources.carrd.co/

https://www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/anti-asian-hate

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-racism-resources-support-asian-american-pacific-islander-community-n1260467

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a35862857/stop-asian-hate-organizations-to-support/

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Weston Morrow

This week, UIUC MFA student Weston Morrow reads “She Decides She Prefers Longing Over Satisfaction” by Maya Jewell Zeller and “I Consider My Grandfather Going Home” by Weston Morrow. Watch his readings on our Instagram here and here, and read his reflections below:

Both the poems I’ve chosen to read here consider the landscape—of both nature and the self. I was sitting at my desk recording these this morning with the aid of the increasing natural light and, for the first time in what feels like forever, I worried whether the birds outside might sing loud enough to interrupt my audio.

Like the speakers in both these poems, I’ve felt a sense of dread, of loss, and loneliness, these past twelve months. I’ve sat inside my house with nothing to do at times but look out the window by my desk. I watched the trees shed their leaves and my world shrink with the winter light as I slipped further into myself and further away from others.

I haven’t found myself able to read for fun in months, but the dogwood across the street is blushing pink, the light is finding its way back into my room through the curtains, and I’m reading again. Maya Jewell Zeller’s poem reminds me that the world is always there, awaiting my return, and no matter how calloused I become, the grass will come back each spring, and give my feet a soft place to land.

Poetry, like nature, can recede from my consciousness at times. It can feel frivolous in the face of loss — as people I love, and the world we call home, are dying. Eighty years ago, W.H. Auden wrote a line quoted still today, by lovers and haters of poetry alike, “[P]oetry makes nothing happen…” But, consider, if you will, the rest of the section:

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

As I sit here at this desk, hardly having moved this past year, I’m thinking—finally—like Zeller’s speaker, who “wanted to know / how far the wind went / after it rounded the tool- / shed, the river bend…”

Who knows what lies ahead. I’m nervous, but excited. I think I’ll go outside. I might even take my shoes off.

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Summer Reading in the Classics

Looking for some classics-inspired reading to sink your teeth into this summer? Check out this list of fiction set in the ancient world or drawing inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology.

Blue cover with a golden Grecian helmet emblazoned with the book title.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Click for catalog link.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A heartbreaking retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Patroclus. Our narrator meets the heroic Achilles at a young age, and we watch alongside him as his companion grows into a seemingly invincible warrior. Throughout their adolescence and preparation for war, their relationship develops into one of profound love. By the time the pair reach the beaches of Troy, the plot churns forward as the audience braces for an inevitably tragic end. Fans of this novel should definitely check out Miller’s Circe and her earlier novella Galatea.

 

 

Purple and gold illustration of the Trojan Horse with five women in front of it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Release date: June 2021.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Set in the aftermath of the sacking of Troy, this novel gives a voice to the women left behind in the aftermath of a bloody Greek victory. Briseis, a Trojan royal captured by Achilles, navigates the shattered world of her ruined city alongside the other overlooked women of the former court. A gritty, visceral imagining that pairs seamlessly with Barker’s previous novel set during the Trojan War, The Silence of the Girls.

 

 

 

 

Illustration of Roman women in archways with stars in the distance.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. Release date: May 2021.

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

A story about Pompeii that fleshes out the people living in the ill-fated town. Amara is a sex worker in a city brothel (a lupanar, or wolf den) attempting to assert her agency in a society that denies her bodily autonomy. An absorbing tale of womanhood and resistance that will resonate with contemporary readers looking for strong female characters in a vivid reimagining of the past.

 

 

 

 

A still life of a Roman feast with a robed figure standing next to it.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King. Click for catalog link.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Enslaved Thrasius navigates a dangerous political climate and the changing whims of his avaricious gourmand of a master, Apicius, as he serves extravagant dishes to Rome’s most powerful patricians in the Augustan age. Richly detailed and emotionally evocative, King presents a sumptuous feast of a novel inspired by a centuries-old collection of recipes. Her world-building is excellent; she instantly draws readers into the past through her sensory-laden prose. May leave you hungry, may not — depends on how deeply you crave peacock meatballs, milk snails, and flamingo tongues.

 

 

A woman underwater covering her face.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons.

The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons
A clever reimagining of Medusa that tackles relatable themes of loneliness and companionship. It follows Medusa through her daily life of isolation as she reminisces on her long-lost days of human existence and waits for something to break the monotony of life as a lone monster. She begins to seek solace in visits from the god Hermes, and as the years roll by, their relationship strengthens. A feminist take on Medusa that grants her much more happiness than the myths.

 

 

 

An illustration of a woman in all orange with sun rays radiating from her head.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne is a formidable new force in mythological retellings. It follows Ariadne and Phaedra, princesses of Crete, from the birth of their younger half-brother Asterion (more popularly known as the Minotaur) to their subsequent separations, marriages, and tragic ends. This is a well-written woman-centered story that breathes life into mythical characters. Saint raises questions of women’s autonomy and her characters acknowledge and challenge their own limitations in a world that disproportionately punishes women. Fans of Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Barker will find much to savor in this bold new story.

 

A girl in a pink coat holds a statuette of the Eiffel Tower.

Lovely War by Julie Berry. Click for catalog link.

Lovely War by Julie Berry
Set against the backdrops of World War I and II, Lovely War follows Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares as they recount the lives of four teenagers finding love during the Great War. Filled with memorable characters, lush prose, and vivid settings, the novel considers how love persists even in immense peril. The Olympian trio provides a timeless framing to the woven narrative of the two young couples fighting for their lives and their happiness amidst a global catastrophe.

 

 

 

A black cover with a bust of a Grecian marble statue with the title "The Maidens" covering the eyes.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. Release date June 2021.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
One by one, the students of a brilliant, charismatic Cambridge classics professor are found dead. Grieving therapist Mariana receives a panicked call from her niece Zoe, whose friend and classmate is the first to show up brutally murdered in the woods off campus. Rushing to Cambridge – a place imbued with memories, as she recalls meeting her recently deceased husband when they were young students there – Mariana comforts Zoe and starts to pick apart the threads of the mystery unraveling before her. If you’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt, this classics-inspired contemporary thriller should definitely be on your to-read shelf.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Stuart Albert

Our celebration of National Poetry Month continues on this penultimate Thursday of April. Today, we are proud to feature LitLang’s own Stuart Albert reading Reed Whittermore’s “The Tarantula.” Watch Albert read his selection here and read his reflections below:

The Tarantula”, by Reed Whittemore, is a long-standing favorite of mine. As a dramatic monologue, it lends itself well to reading aloud. And… I don’t want to ruin the surprise with too much preamble… but I think many readers / listeners will find the narrator something of a kindred spirit.

After some cursory research, I’m inclined to think this poem inspired by the essay “The Spider and the Wasp”, by the much-cited authority Alexander Petrunkevitch, published in Scientific American magazine in August 1952. It’s always interesting to me, to see how often (and how far) the poetic imagination is launched by the tangible, the imminent, the seemingly dry and merely factual.

Incidentally, I held a tarantula once. Decent fella, name of Cecil.

P.S. I don’t know if lagniappes are allowed, but here’s another poem, by Howard Nemerov, that I think pairs well with “The Tarantula”. Like William, Oliver is someone I think many of us can identify with.

http://poemhunter.blogspot.com/2007/08/make-big-money-at-home-write-poems-in.html

 

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Christel Thompson

Our celebration of national poetry month continues with Christel Tompson reading her poem, “Aubade.” Christel Thompson is a writer and student currently pursuing a Bachelor of Liberal Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Watch her reading on our Instagram account and read her reflections below:

When I wrote “Aubade”, I set out to put something on the page that was purely honest– I think that poets have the tendency to embellish, to make “more beautiful”, and lose transparency along the way. This is why I chose to meditate on the clarity of sleep, the in-between spaces that come before and after waking— there is no room in those moments for even a whisper of dishonesty. How can there be? There’s no pretending when you’re asleep.

In traditional aubades, the dawn brings with it a physical parting with a lover. But in the realm my poet inhabits, it’s not leaving that the speaker fears, but rather, the dishonesty that morning will bring– the cowardice. The quiet comfort of night, of slumber, is what brings these two lovers an authentic existence.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Professor Ángel Garcia

Dr. Ángel Garcia is Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned a PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.F.A. from the University of California-Riverside.

He is the author of Teeth Never Sleep, winner of a 2018 CantoMundo Poetry Prize published by the University of Arkansas Press, winner of a 2019 American Book Award, finalist for a 2019 PEN America Open Book Award, and finalist for a 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Professor Garcia Ángel is also the cofounder of the non-profit organization, Gente Organizada, which educates, empowers, and engages communities through grassroots organizing.

Watch Professor Garcia read his poem, “Dina Olimpico” on our Instagram here. He reflects on how Natasha Trethewey and Geffrey Davis inspired his poem below:

What I love and what I want to honor in Natasha Trethewey’s poem “The Southern Crescent” from her book Native Guard and in Geffrey Davis’ poem “King Country Metro” from his book, is their recognition of ancestry and how one arrives in a particular place. Thinking about my own family, I wanted to document the seemingly innate need for one to return home and also point to some of the constraints and challenges one might face in doing so. To further complicate the idea of returning, I wanted to acknowledge the long familial history of moving from place to place across several generations.

 

But another important way to think about ancestry is poetic ancestry. I wanted to honor my own lineage of poetic ancestry, particularly Black poets like Natasha Tretheway and Geffrey Davis, who by writing about their own migratory experiences have inspired and influenced me to write about the migrations of my own family. National Poetry Month, with the availability of so many reading, events, and poems, is a wonderful time for students and poets to discover their own poetic ancestry, digging through books, journals, and archives to discover poems that speak to their experiences. Going one step further, we can continue that lineage by then writing imitation poems based on the original poems of our poetic ancestors.

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UIUC Poetry Spotlight: Isaac Willis

For today’s celebration of National Poetry Month, Isaac Willis, a student in UIUC’s Creative Writing MFA program, reads Jericho Brown’s “Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry.”

Watch Willis’ reading on our Instagram and read his reflections below:

To me, this is a perfect poem. Maybe that’s because I may or may not have taken a field trip to a slaughterhouse. (My alma mater, Monmouth College, nearly touched one of the largest slaughterhouses in the Midwest.) Maybe that’s because I want another gimlet, another good book. It’s also the perfect poem for America right now. Written during a time of racial reckoning, of an international pandemic, of quarantine, the poem subtly navigates the politics of place and being in it. “I have PTSD / About the Lord,” says Brown’s speaker. But then, “God save the people who work / In grocery stores.” Audre Lorde famously said, “Poetry is not a luxury.” She also said, in the same essay, “it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.”

I can’t help but feel, when I read this Jericho Brown poem, that something new and necessary is being architected. I naively thought, a year ago, when the University and the world were effectively locked down, that staying shut up inside would make me a better person. If anything, it has exacerbated my fears and anxieties and biases even more. I texted something along those lines to a friend awhile back, and he responded, “Or you are a better person, and you don’t like what the new light has shown you.” Maybe so. Maybe grief, when it’s so thick you can touch it, is a balm. Maybe I’d rather be able to sit and talk with my friend, while we sip lavender gin. Maybe it’s a privilege to say so. Thank you. I’m sorry.

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