Biography Writing Teaching Appearances  

September 2009 Archives

Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton California Book Tour

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Hey all,
With school and readings, it's been a bit busy but I'm back on the blog and first want to thank dear Belinda Acosta for her visit here to Lincoln.  Her reading on September 16 reminded me of what writer Julia Alvarez said about Belinda's novel:  honest and rich.  Belinda's family was there too which made the experience all the more intimate and poignant. If you don't have your copy yet, run out and get Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz!  

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Amelia Montes, Belinda Acosta, Joy Castro--
in Omaha for the Omaha Lit Fest!

I also want to thank Joy Castro for her mention of my Penguin edition of Who Would Have Thought It on her blog.  I gave a reading at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Union Bookstore and I also read at the downtown public library last Sunday--saw many of you there!  What I love most about reading are the questions and discussions that happen afterwards.  I'm always interested in why a person chooses to come to a talk or reading and what their thoughts are afterwards.  So thank you to all (and you know who you are!) who attended these readings  You enrich my writing life as well as my personal life with your presence! 

A special shout out and thanks to Professor Susan Belasco who made the initial contact to the Executive Editor of Penguin Classics, Elda Rotor.  It is because of Susan that I was able to meet with Elda and present my ideas for a new edition.  This is what it's all about:  appreciating and supporting each other's work.  Thanks!  

It was also wonderful attending the Omaha Lit Fest last Saturday.  Thank you Tim Schaffert for organizing yet another wonderful gathering of writers!  It was an honor to be on the panel regarding publishing with Belinda Acosta and Joy Castro.  


Now I am about to take off for a California Book Tour.  First stop is Loyola Marymount University (LMU)!  I'll be there this Thursday (October 1) for a 5:30p.m. reading at their new William H. Hannon Library that overlooks the ocean.  LMU is my alma mater--but when I was there, the Chicano Studies did not exist.  It was Dr. Graciela Limon (now well-known Chicana author) in the Spanish department who was my guide to Mexican and Chicana/Chicano literature and who set plans in motion for Chicano Studies. Today at LMU, Chicano Studies is a Department. Thanks to Professor Karen Mary Davalos (Chicano Studies Chair) for arranging this reading.  

I look forward to continuing a discussion here on Ruiz de Burton as I embark and journey through this book tour.  If you're in California--check out my schedule (on my "appearances" link).  I'd love to see you and hear your thoughts on this fascinating and complex Mexican American novelist from the nineteenth century.  

See you on the tour!

Patterns in Carpets

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Today's New York Times magazine features novelist Margaret Drabble who, at 70, has just published a memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet:  A Personal History with Jigsaws.  Kudos to Drabble for taking the topic of games, researching its history, and weaving the metaphor of play through a history of her life and the lives around her.  I've been a Drabble fan since the 1970s when I read her novel, The Needle's Eye.  A friend had recommended it after our lively discussion on Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie.  Both novels focus on class and people's preoccupations with money (or the desire to eschew it) and the career choices or interpersonal decisions they choose when they place money or reputation based on wealth as the object of desire.  In the article, Drabble's family is described as "first-generation bourgeois, one foothold removed from working class."  Margaret and her sister were the first in her family to go to college.  This perspective is key to her work, key to creating such multi-dimensional characters whose desires lead to compromises that then lead to incomplete lives.  Her characters are like watercolors:  layers upon layers of washes that add up to truths about themselves, about our human condition.  

On another topic (that may or may not be connected but this is where my head is going):  This past week, Ellen Degeneres was hired on to replace Paula Abdul on "American Idol".  I have always been an Ellen Degeneres fan for her comic timing, her sharp wit.  This past summer when she sat in on one show of "So You Think You Can Dance," her comedic remarks interrupted the serious business of judging. Perhaps they asked Degeneres to judge due to critical comments about the show's homophobic bent but if this is true, the solution doesn't fit the problem.  I was not a fan of Degeneres sitting on the judge's panel.  The judges on "So You Think You Can Dance" are all veteran dancers and choreographers.  They speak the technical dance jargon; they know dance.  Ellen's comments during the episode focused on a dancer's cute face and eyes.  Some may think this is essential to a TV show in order to draw viewers.  I say keep it serious in order to educate viewers about dance and the craft of dance (and maybe this is why I am not in the TV business).  Simon Cowell (who creates and produces all these 'rags to riches" reality contests) often decides to comment on a singer's costume, body shape or hair cut instead of what is most important:  how the singer sang the song. It says looks trump talent (not that this is a new adage--it's older than Dreiser's Sister Carrie).  

A few weeks ago, my partner and I went to hear Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal in concert.  They were fabulous.  Looks had nothing to do with their breathtaking vocals.  And anyway, we could hardly see them--we were way in the back.  It didn't matter!  Bonnie Raitt once said in an interview that if she were to start her career now, it would never happen because the focus is all about looks.  She said the focus on craft and the time needed to hone your craft is not often valued.  Susan Boyle (from "Britain's Got Talent," another Cowell show) shattered Raitt's comment but just for a little while.  

All these shows:  "American idol," "So You Think You Can Dance," "Britain's Got Talent," etc. remind me of little Caroline Meeber at the beginning of Dreiser's Sister Carrie.  There is Caroline on the afternoon train with her faux alligator-skin satchel "full of the illusions of ignorance and youth" on her way to "fame and fortune" in Chicago.  I think of all the thousands of people who line up to audition every year for American Idol, etc. and often wonder--are they there because their desire is to be famous or rich or because they truly are passionate about the craft of dance, music, singing?  

In England, Margaret Drabble writes about people who have misdirected desires and carefully reveals what they do to achieve their desires, how it forms who they are (specifically those who have been raised as working class or "one foothold removed from working class").

During my senior year in high school, after feeling the pressure of so many people telling me what I should study in college to "get the job," "make a lot of money," "rise above my working class background," I approached a career counselor I trusted and still value his words today. He said not to even think about a job or career.  Instead he told me to take those classes that would make my heart sing.  "Follow your passion and use that passion to develop what you love to do."  I've tried to do that but as I have discovered, it's never easy.  Bonnie Raitt at times has swerved into the pop music realm (going for catchy simplistic tunes) to stay afloat or paid the big bucks to keep her hair that lovely red.  The pressures are intense:  a jigsaw of a puzzle at times.  At 70, Margaret Drabble is not flashy or pretty.  She's smart and wise.  Her novels have consistently returned to the theme of choice.  "Can we . . . unmake our beginnings, or are we always acting willy-nilly on the promptings of the past?  Are our individual stories foretold, or do we create them as we go along?" To answer these, Drabble has always chosen family to work out this puzzle but I have always broadened her theme to include social norms, societal expectations. Can we really disengage ourselves from desiring what society and family want us to desire or from what society and family deem an authentic life?  Can we truly seek out our own desires to arrive at an authentic truth?  

What do you think?  


Silenced on 9/11 and Today

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Countless undocumented workers lost their lives on 9/11. They were hard-working parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts who kept the World Trade Center windows, bathrooms, offices sparkling clean, worked the restaurants, maintained the lobbies. Today we honor the dead, but in the media no mention will be made of these individuals.  No mention will be made of their family members who mourn today. 

There were also countless undocumented who were not inside the buildings but came to the site and spent many weeks in the rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts.  "According to Oscar Paredes, director of Latin American Workers Project in Jackson Heights, about 3,000 undocumented workers assisted with the clean-up. . . most without the proper equipment to protect against exposure to hazardous materials. . . They and thousands of others hired by subcontractors got paid between $5 to $8 an hour for 8-12 hour shifts, sometimes working up to seven days." ("Sick 9/11 Shadow Workers")  Many of these individuals are also suffering psychologically.  

Two bills:  "The September 11 Family Humanitarian Relief and Patriotism Act" and "The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act" are eight years old. Legislators are still trying to get these bills passed.  

I post these sites as well as the following link to a testimonio in honor of all of these individuals.  Testimonio:  read the story of Nayibe Padredino and her sister here.  These sisters are brave to tell us their story of how they cleaned buildings that were near the WTC site.  All they were given were paper facemasks.  

Read also Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's efforts to pass these 9/11 health bills here.
Next:  give a call/e-mail the legislator in your state to help make these bills a reality.