As part of the PEAK6 celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are highlighting five well-known American authors of Hispanic heritage. From novelists to poets, each has created outstanding pieces of literature guaranteed to educate and inspire.
“In the Time of Butterflies”
Set during the waning days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, this historical fiction novel by Julia Alvarez was inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez imagines the lives of these historical figures known as “las mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” from their teenage years through their involvement in the revolution in this novel of courage, love, and the human costs of political oppression.
Alvarez has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and Américas Awards for her books for young readers, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. In 2013, she received the National Medal of Arts.
“Bless Me, Ultima”
Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera healer who cures with herbs and magic. The book explores the difficulty of reconciling cultural differences when young Tony finds himself caught in the middle of an ideological tug-of-war between his father’s vaquero (cowboy) heritage and his mother’s Catholic ways.
Known as the father of Chicano literature in English, Rudolfo Anaya won the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol for “Bless Me, Ultima.” Among the many awards he received are two Governor’s Public Service Awards from the state of New Mexico, the American Book Award, a Kellogg Foundation fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) literature fellowships, and the NEA National Medal of Arts Lifetime Honor in 2001.
“The House on Mango Street”
Heralded by critics and readers alike, this coming-of-age novel tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Author Sandra Cisneros uses vignettes to paint a fuller picture of Esperanza’s life in what many call a modern classic of Chicano literature. The book has sold more than six million copies, has been translated into over 20 languages, and is required reading in many schools and universities across the United States. “The House on Mango Street” also won the American Book Award in 1984.
Cisneros received the National Medal of the Arts in 2016. Her other honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Texas Medal of the Arts, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both poetry and fiction, the Dobie-Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, and an Illinois Artists Grant. Cisneros won the PEN/Nabokov Award in 2019.
“The Book of Unknown Americans”
“The Book of Unknown Americans” gives voice to the American immigrant story. It centers on two families who live in the same apartment block whose teenagers — a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl — fall in love. Told through multiple first-person points of view, the novel shines a light on people coming to a new land with hope in their hearts and deep desires for better lives.
The novel was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Henriquez is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father. She has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and is an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate.
“Notes on the Assemblage”
Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera is America’s first Latino poet laureate. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in the migrant fields of California. He is the author of 30 books of poetry, novels for young adults, and collections for children, including “Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008),” winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award.
Herrera’s “Notes on the Assemblage” explores the themes of erasure, translation, and elegy as he writes of the issues troubling the country today, his Mexican heritage, and the chasm between English and Spanish speakers. The book was named one of the Best Books 2015 by Poetry-Library Journal.