So much of literature over the past hundred years has been forged by Latinx authors. We hear Latinx voices in the rise of Magical Realism, often emulated but rarely mastered; in the long, rambling lines of postmodern authors unafraid to take their time. Certainly, these stories have left their mark on me, as well. In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, here are four authors to whom I return again and again.
You’ve probably encountered a lot of hyperbole about Gabriel García Márquez, considered by many the father of Magical Realism. I’m here to tell you every word of it—like every word of his stories—is true. That, I think, is the real magic of them; I doubt anyone can read “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and fail to see their own hometown reflected within. One Hundred Years of Solitude is of course his most famous work, but for me personally, I find myself reading and re-reading his short stories every few months—particularly the aforementioned story of the Old Man. His short stories also have the benefit of being a bit more portable than the always-gigantic Solitude. To enjoy the beautiful rise and fall of his prose, try “Eyes of a Blue Dog”; to satisfy your Modern tastes, “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship”, a story told within a single sentence.
I was in middle school the first time I read Isabel Allende. It was a bit of good timing—she’d just released her first Young Adult novel, and I’d just become a Young Adult. My mother bought me City of the Beasts (in English, which I imagine pained her just a little), and would not stop asking me if I’d finished it. I didn’t understand why until the answer was “yes, when is the next book out?”. City of the Beasts isn’t Allende’s best work—but it did immediately suck me in like no other young adult novel I’d read at the time. To this day whenever I hear her name I imagine myself in the jungle of City, staring at a jaguar in a cage.
René Marqués wrote La Carreta (The Oxcart) in 1953, during the first great wave of Puerto Rican Immigration to New York City. The play follows a family of rural farmers who, after the death of their patriarch, move to San Juan to find their fortune. When that doesn’t work out as planned they move—as so many do—to New York. Though it shows its age in some places and occasionally falls into the trap of “you can write this, but you can’t say it”, I find it’s still relevant today. So much of Puerto Rican identity is wrapped up in our land and the way we leave it, the way we return to it, the pieces of ourselves that, like morivivi, are both alive and dead. Are we Americans, or aren’t we? And if we are Americans—what happens to the old parts of ourselves? What do we have to give up in pursuit of a dream that may not want us to dream it?
Before I sit down to write, I read poetry. Lately it’s been Heian court poetry, but before that, it was Neruda. I’ve always been an absolute sucker for love poems, especially those that sweep you up in the everyday divinity of falling in love. Every time one of my high school crushes went unfulfilled I sighed and wrote out “Tonight I Write the Saddest Lines” in the margins, right next to Evanescence lyrics. Of course, not all of his poems are about love: “Ode to Broken Things” is as eminently quotable as it is morose; “The Dictators” is full of vivid, repugnant imagery; he even makes a napping cat a thing of wonder in “Cat’s Dream”.