Puerto Rican Author Eleanor Parker Sapia’s Feminist Historical Breakthrough, A Decent Woman, and the Future of #BoricuaLit

Puerto Rican Author Eleanor Parker Sapia’s Feminist Historical Breakthrough, A Decent Woman, and the Future of #BoricuaLit

ADecentWoman

 

by Charlie Vázquez

 

As the New York City coordinator for Puerto Rico’s Festival de la Palabra, I have the unique fortune of working with authors and poets from both sides of the bilingual Puerto Rican diaspora. Someone once asked me why I expend so much energy in doing so and my answer was: If you’re experiencing Puerto Rican culture in only one language, you’re seeing it with only one eye (try it). No depth of perception.

Eleanor Parker Sapia’s A Decent Woman is an English-language historical novel set in Ponce in the early 1900s, which follows the friendship between Serafina Martínez (a pretty teenager of higher station in life who marries into an affluent family), and Ana Belén, a black Cuban midwife who begins delivering Serafina’s babies when Serafina is just sixteen.

These two central point-of-view characters contrast stunningly to bring the institutionalized oppression of women on all levels of Puerto Rican society to focus. Something we are still contending with today.

For Ana, it’s the relentless street survival skills she must hone as a confidant to prostitutes, in an era where male doctors are pushing to replace midwives with often horrific results, and for Serafina it’s the humiliation and public shaming by her powerful philandering husband, Antonio San Patricio, who threatens to take everything away from her for confronting his infidelities. The friends provide support for one another and come in and out of one another’s lives as they transform as individuals.

Serafina and Ana’s friendship takes some dangerous twists and turns and I was seduced by Parker Sapia’s dense historical drama and edge-of-your-seat suspense. This feminist hallmark in Puerto Rican letters brought to mind Esmeralda Santiago’s sprawling Conquistadora at first (not a bad thing), but A Decent Woman is a world all its own, one which will shock and dazzle readers with fictional elements interwoven with history.

The complex web of interconnecting characters is well executed and springs many surprises and cultivates much intrigue, and although women are oppressed and relegated to “baby machines” in this world, the secret spiritual underworld of espiritismo (spiritualism) is where they’re able to compensate for the thievery of their civil rights and humanity. It’s when they’re among themselves that they convene with the spirit world, to foretell the future and seek guidance from ancestors.

On an editorial note, there are glitches in Spanish grammar, but they don’t minimize the telling of this well-constructed tale, and function to illustrate characters who are illiterate or with minimal education. This threw me off at first as an editor, but the frequency of it soon made this apparent.

This book will be particularly valuable to readers of #BoricuaLit who do not read in Spanish, since it exposes stunning historical details we’re rarely taught in the diaspora: the devastation brought on by Hurricane San Ciriaco, the introduction of telephones to the industrializing island colony’s infrastructure and the colorful formation of the mosaic of belief systems that combined to create Puerto Rican espiritismo.

Like Conquistadora, this is well-crafted and well-researched literature, and there are an increasing number of authors in Parker Sapia’s company that are publishing richly-textured novels of historical importance to the Puerto Rican people. These include Jonathan Marcantoni, author and CEO of Aignos Publishing, Manuel Meléndez the horror and suspense writer based in Queens, New York, and Theresa Varela, a playwright and novelist based in Brooklyn, New York.

The president of the Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter himself, author Richie Narváez, is a Brooklyn Boricua, and teaches crime and noir fiction writing (alternating with me) at the Poe Park Visitors Center through the Bronx Council on the Arts. Bronx-based author Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa published a tale about Afro-Puerto Rican women, which begins in 19th-century Puerto Rico, Daughters of the Stone, in 2009.

Charles Rice-González, Sofia Quintero, Torrey Maldonado…there are too many to list here…

This new crop of talented and diverse authors is enriching the canon of Puerto Rican fiction with books that need to be bought, read and taught. While the New York literary scene has orbited around the Nuyorican movement and the island around universities in the San Juan metropolitan area and elsewhere, Parker Sapia (West Virginia) and Marcantoni (Colorado) live nowhere near these population centers and are writing in places where we are fewer in number, as I did for years when I first started in Portland, Oregon in the mid-1990s.

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Miguel Algarín, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café, and I discussing the future of #BoricuaLit

New York City is just one of many centers of the stateside Puerto Rican presence these days, the one that’s enjoyed the most notoriety and prestige for decades, but this is already changing. Eleanor Parker Sapia’s crucial debut is proof of this and I’m certain this isn’t the end of it. Others I know of are writing at this very moment, in and out of New York City, and their books will come.

So how would I classify A Decent Woman and the works of the other authors I’ve mentioned in regard to genre? Post-Nuyorican English-language Puerto Rican literature.

This is #BoricuaLit

Let the world know!

 

Erotica and Noir Short Story Workshops at La Casa Azul Bookstore!

Hello everybody!

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written here, but that’s just because I’m writing everywhere else these days… Such as? I’ve had a story accepted for the upcoming San Juan Noir, by Akashic Books! Wuhú! And I’ve finished novel número tres and have some important folks reading it for final draft feedback…but more on that later. And other things…

Below is the info for the upcoming workshops at La Casa Azul Bookstore…I’m so excited about these!

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For those of you who are “fictionalists” (or aspiring “fictionalists”) in New York City: I’ll be conducting three short story writing workshops, with an emphasis on the erotica and noir genres I’ve been published in, at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. These will occur on July 10, 17, and 24, from 6pm-8pm. Individual sessions cost $20 but you’ll save $10 if you register for all three.

What we’ll be covering: structure, point of view, theme, dialogue, pacing and internal an external tension. It will be July after all, so come get hot with us! More soon…

Click below to register…(it’s at the bottom of the page that opens).

Click here to register through EventBrite

Documenting Our Oral Traditions Before They’re Gone

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I’d just returned to New York from a trip to Puerto Rico in 2011, when my mother recounted a family tale to me that her paternal grandfather had told her many times when she was little, one that even I had heard throughout the years.

(Photo by Bella Vida Letty.)

I’d invented characters and worlds over the years as a fiction writer, and never thought that the stories that had first captured my mother’s imagination–which she’d retained with precise clarity–would serve as the basis for a new body of writing based on my family folklore. Breathtaking stories and images that have survived in the oral tradition.

And how many such stories went to their graves with their last carriers? How many such stories deserved to be documented, studied, shared and read? I decided to document the few that were available to me, mostly tales from early 20th-century Puerto Rico and the difficult lives of my ancestors. The generation that moved from the countryside near Corozal, Puerto Rico to El Barrio in Manhattan in the massive migrations of the 1940s.

“Tiempo Muerto”, a short story just published by Drunken Boat, a literary arts journal, was first told to me when I was an adolescent, and the gruesome imagery stayed with me ever since. But it wasn’t until 2012-2013, when I began writing a new cycle of Puerto Rican-flavored terror tales as exercises for my third novel (which is almost finished), that I understood the inherent power and value of my family history–something that has always been with me.

Each of us has family folklore and this is what make us unique, what connects us to the past. English-language Latino literature is a young art form, and if we take the Nuyorican/stateside Puerto Rican genre as an example of this, and attribute the first English-language writings to figures such as Jesús Colón in the 1950s, we can establish that this particular branch of contemporary literature is only about 65 years old.

In other words, about my parents’ age. So now’s the time to start cataloging our lives and sharing our imaginations and histories. And this doesn’t just apply to stateside Puerto Ricans, but to all of us in the Latin American diasporas. We need to tell our stories, because if yours are anything like mine, they’re fascinating.

Our literature is in its infancy. And this gives those of us who are contributing to its formation the freedom to tell our tales as we wish to tell them–on our terms. Poetry, for all its dazzling virtues and social discourse, cannot carry this weight on its own. Our literary canon is in need of narrative: memoir, folk tales, fiction.

Do you have a story to tell, and how will you tell it? What do we hope for people to read about us in the future? Our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren deserve to read about their own people, in a way that we weren’t able to.

Click here to read TIEMPO MUERTO

@CharlieVazquez is an author, one of the original Latino Rebels, and the director of the Bronx Writers Center.

Festival de la Palabra Returns to NYC!

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Salón Literario Libroamérica, a not-for-profit organization that promotes reading and literary arts in Puerto Rico and the United States, announced the celebration of its third annual edition of  Festival de La Palabra (Written Word Festival) in New York.

The event will run from October 23rd thorough 26th, 2014, at El Museo del Barrio and the New York Public Library.  Events will include authors’ panels, readings, a book fair, and other functions for people of all ages. Admission is free.

“Festival de La Palabra” is a 4-day long literary conference.  Participating authors, educators and journalists from 21 Spanish-speaking countries, the United States and France, include Esmeralda Santiago (When I Was Puerto Rican, Almost a Woman, Conquistadora – Puerto Rico/EEUU), Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano – EEUU), Pastor de Moya (Dominican Republic), José Manuel Fajardo and Rosa Montero (Spain), Alvaro Enrique, Rosa Beltrán and Carmen Boullosa (Mexico),Sylvia Molloy (Argentina), Daniel Shapiro (EEUU), Veronique Ovaldé and Paola Olaixarac (France), among others.

The 2014 edition is dedicated to Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) in celebration of her centennial.

Info: festivaldelapalabra.net

“Festival de La Palabra NY 2014″

(Written Word Festival)

Event Description:

Third Annual Edition in New York of the celebrated international literary conference originated in San Juan, Puerto Rico, featuring writers from the United States, Latin America, Spain and France.

Events Calendar:
Free Admission.  Some events require RSVP and/or tickets

Thursday, October 23rd

6:30 – 8:00 PM: Opening Ceremony and Special Presentation. “Life, Legacy and Centenary of Julia de Burgos”, a talk with Esmeralda Santiago and Consuelo Saez-Burgos.

(Place: El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)

To Reserve Tickets Click Here 

8:30 – 10:00 PM: Welcome Reception.
(La Casa Azul Bookstore)

Reservation is required: rsvp.lacasaazul@gmail.com
(Please write down date and hour of the event in this email)

Friday, October 24th

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM: Book fair.

(Main lobby in El Museo del Barrio)

5:00 PM – 6:00PM: Panel, “Exiles, Migrations and Literature”.  Panelists: Pastor de Moya, Yara Liceaga, Karla Suárez and Francisco Goldman.

(Black Box Theater, 3rd floor, El Museo del Barrio)

6:15 PM – 7:30 PM: Master Panel: “Por Qué/Why Julia?, Women in Latin American Literature”.  Panelists:  Myrna Nieves, Mayra Santos-Febres, Liliana Ramos Collado, Sandra García and Wilda Rodríguez.

(Black Box Theater, 3rd floor, El Museo del Barrio)

8:00 PM – 9:30 PM: Film Screening:  “200 Letters/200 Cartas” (starring Lin Manuel-Miranda, Jaime Camil, Dayanara Torres and Monica Steuer; with Luis Raúl, Iris Chacón and Juan Manuel Lebrón). Written and directed by Bruno Irizarry. 98 minutes.

(Black Box Theater, 3rd floor, El Museo del Barrio)

To Reserve Tickets Click Here. 

SPECIAL EVENT:

Festival de La Palabra in French

Friday, October 24th

6:30 PM – 7:30 PM: “Sous joins autre peau ” (Under another skin). A special panel in French with authors Véronique Ovaldé, Karla Suárez and José Manuel Fajardo. Co-presented by the French Alliance and the French Embassy in New York.

(Bookstore Albertine Books in French and English/Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 972 Fifth Avenue and 79 street.)

Saturday, October 25th

12:00 Noon – 5:00 PM: Panels / Book Presentations

(New York Public Library, Mid Manhattan Branch)

* 12:00 Noon – 1:00PM: Panel hosted by the America’s Society. Participating authors: Mayra Santos-Febres, Yara Liceaga, José Rabelo, Alejandro Álvarez and Carlos Vázquez-Cruz.  Moderador:  José Manuel Simián.

* 2:00 – 3:00 PM: “Spirituality in Caribbean Literature”. Panelists Marta Moreno-Vega and others TBA.

* 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: “Rebellious and Damned: Lilith’s Daughters”. Featuring authors Liliana Ramos Collado, Véronique Ovaldé and Pola Olaixarac.

* 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: “Digital publications and New Multimedia Platforms in English and Spanish”. Panelists: Wilda Rodríguez, Asdrúbal Hernández (Sudaquia Editores) and others TBA.

6:30 PM – 7:30 PM: Master Conference, “The writer and his/her ghosts”.  Noted author and journalist Rosa Montero (Spain) discusses the literary creative process.

(El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)

7:30 PM – 9:00 PM: “Look Who’s Reading”, personalities and participating authors in “Festival de La Palabra NY 2014) get together for an evening of reading the poems of Julia de Burgos.  Featuring actress and author Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano).

(El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)

To Reserve Tickets Click Here. 
9:00 PM – 10:00 PM: Latin American Unity Reception.

(La Casa Azul Bookstore) Reservation is required: rsvp.lacasaazul@gmail.com

(Please write down date and hour of the event in this email)

Sunday, October 26th

Children and Family Day

12:00 AM – 5:00 PM: Children’s/Family Book Fair.

(El Café at El Museo del Barrio)

12:00 AM – 2:00 PM: “Look Who’s Reading to the Kids”, children’s short story readings by noted personalities.  Featuring Luis Salgado (actor/director, Broadway’s In The Heights, Rocky; Founder of R.Evolución Latina), Manuel A. Morán (actor/director, founder of the Latino Children’s Theater of NY – Teatro SEA), Esperanza Ceballos (news reporter, Univision 41), Edwin Fontanez (Children’s Author).

(El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)

To Reserve Tickets Click Here.

2:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Panel, “Cultivating Children’s Imagination Through Literature”, featuring José Rabelo, Carlos Vazquez Cruz and Willie Perdomo.

(El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Closing Event/”La Palabra Cantada” (Sung Word)/Musical Performance.

(El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio)
Festival Venues:

El Museo del Barrio / 1230 5th Ave at E. 104 St.

New York York Public Library Mid-Manhattan Branch /455 5th Ave at E. 40th St.

La Casa Azul Bookstore / 143 E. 103rd Street, at Lexington Avenue.

Albertine Books in French and English / 972 5th Ave at E. 79th  St.
Public Information:  www.festivaldelapalabra.net

Press Contacts:
Javier E. Gómez – (917) 533-1247 / javier@highpitchpr.com

Michelle Vélez  – (347) 345-6758 / michelle@highpitchpr.com

Writing the Detective – The Emotional “Drop”!

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Hello family and friends:

I’ve had the fortune of working with many writers across different genres and of varying skill levels over the years. And I’ve discovered that the mystery of storytelling, the art of writing itself, is something that not only mystifies those of us who dabble in this special brand of pleasant madness, but also the folks who experience it all from the other side of the page. The spectator or reader…

“Where do you get your ideas for stories?” is something I’ve been asked more often by non-writers than my fellow moon people.

So I’ll share a little bit about where I am right now with my latest endeavor, technically my third novel. The first one was such a completed disaster (I did “finish” it after all), that this one feels more like my second in regard to knowledge of craft. My second, Contraband, was a move in a more sensible direction.

CONTRA

My latest novel (which I’ll reveal more about as I get closer to completion) is a paranormal investigation story set in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico–a treasure box for speculative tales, as I discovered by reading Puerto Rican writers on the island publishing in Spanish, which I read better than I speak (still trying to figure that one out). But I do. Thank you, Universe!

My story deals with a very conflicted protagonist, a detective who is forced to change his views on the world and spirituality due to the complex nature of a crime (an assault) he’s been assigned to investigate. When all of his time-tested methods fail him and he feels as though he’s about to lose his mind (and he will), he also arrives at a crucial crossroads and accepts these changes as something positive and necessary. A happy ending? I can’t say.

I must say that it’ll be a relief to spend time away from him as his Creator, to be honest. I enjoy certain aspects of him and hope that others relate to him similarly. The paranormal investigation genre itself appealed to me for its fictional possibilities more than writing through the eyes of a calculating sleuth did, so I’m stuck with him for now. That’s life. The book is hovering at around 55,000 words and grows at a rate of 5-10 pages with each edit, which it will require three or four more of–at least.

So writers: How do you balance the forces of this strange and emotional place, the “drop” many of us go through psychically upon the completion of a large and emotionally-draining work?

I’m dying to know!

Non-writers: Are there any questions you would like to ask writers about writing? Fire away.

Abrazos,

Cousin Charlie

On Being Honored by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer for 2014 Hispanic Heritage Month…

Hello friends and family…

It began with a surreal email message that arrived a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know what to think. With so many people doing wonderful things out there, so many others more deserving than myself. But sometimes we need to kick our self doubt out of the way and accept what is offered to us. So it’s off to the former Five Points district next week to accept this recognition…

Someone out there decided I was deserving of such an honor. By the highest financial office in the City of New York. Very surreal, indeed. So I’m going next week, to accept it, and wanted to share this with all of you. The honor is all mine. Truly. Helping people shouldn’t always feel like work and I love what I do…I thank the universe every day for this.

Photo by Ricky Flores…at the Bronx Artist Documentary project opening recently with photographer David González…

BXADPFlores

Mr. Vazquez,

My name is Shane Braddock, and I am the Director of Special Events for NYC Comptroller Stringer.  Thank you for accepting his invitation to join us at his Hispanic Heritage Month celebration as an honoree. At the event you will be given the opportunity to give brief remarks (2-3 minutes).  Any further questions please don’t hesitate to give me a call at my office.

My BronxNet Interview with Rhina Valentin and More

The lovely Rhina Valentin invited me to speak about my work as a writer and editor on her BronxNet show “Open”. She surprised me by going ALL the way back, to the roots of it all. Wonderful lady, wonderful energy, wonderful show and crew. Make sure to check her show out!

Plus, tonight we will be at Chips N Salsa in Manhattan to celebrate the e-book release for Odilia Rivera Santos’ “Love When You Say Love”, a fantastic collection of Afro-Puerto Rican feminist poetry. 43 W 46th St, upstairs. 5-8pm.

Click Here to Watch My BronxNet Open Interview with Rhina Valentín

BRONXNET