April 27, 2022, 7:00 p.m.
Shedding profound natural light on the inner lives of migrant workers, Jaime Cortez’s debut collection ushers in a new era of American literature that gives voice to a marginalized generation of migrant workers in the West. The first-ever collection of short stories by Jaime Cortez, Gordo is set in a migrant workers camp near Watsonville, California in the 1970s. A young, probably gay, boy named Gordo puts on a wrestler’s mask and throws fists with a boy in the neighborhood, fighting his own tears as he tries to grow into the idea of manhood so imposed on him by his father. As he comes of age, Gordo learns about sex, watches his father’s drunken fights, and discovers even his own documented Mexican-American parents are wary of illegal migrants. Fat Cookie, high schooler and resident artist, uses tiny library pencils to draw huge murals of graffiti flowers along the camp’s blank walls, the words “CHICANO POWER” boldly lettered across, until she runs away from home one day with her mother’s boyfriend, Manny, and steals her mother’s Panasonic radio for a final dance competition among the camp kids before she disappears. And then there are Los Tigres, the perfect pair of twins so dark they look like indios, Pepito and Manuel, who show up at Gyrich Farms every season without fail. Los Tigres, champion drinkers, end up assaulting each other in a drunken brawl, until one of them is rushed to the emergency room still slumped in an upholstered chair tied to the back of a pick-up truck. These scenes from Steinbeck Country seen so intimately from within are full of humor, family drama, and a sweet frankness about serious matters – who belongs to America and how are they treated? How does one learn decency, when laborers, grown adults, must fear for their lives and livelihoods as they try to do everything to bring home a paycheck? Written with balance and poise, Cortez braids together elegant and inviting stories about life on a California camp, in essence redefining what all-American means.
“[The author]’s debut story collection, … opens with “The Jesus Donut,” where a group of kids living in a fictional but all-too-real Gyrich Farms Worker Camp get a visit from a mobile doughnut vendor. …[The story] sets the tone for the collection’s waggish and tender look into this significantly ignored world of California migrant communities, here set around Watsonville in the 1970s — both documented and undocumented — mostly through young Gordo’s point of view and his local cast of characters. …Cortez, a Bay Area author, masterfully navigates adverse conditions of migrant life while prioritizing in these stories the way people adapt to their circumstance — managing to find joy and amusement, love and triumph, that which makes us delightfully human — amid its challenge.”— Mia Jeffra, San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2021.
May 18, 2022, 7:00 p.m.
Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment by
Winner of the Western Literature Association’s 2017 Thomas J. Lyon Book Award in Western American Literary and Cultural Studies Mexican American literature brings a much-needed approach to the increasingly urgent challenges of climate change and environmental injustice. Although current environmental studies work to develop new concepts, Writing the Goodlife looks to long-established traditions of thought that have existed in Mexican American literary history for the past century and a half. During that time period, Mexican American writing consistently shifts the focus from the environmentally destructive settler values of individualism, domination, and excess toward the more beneficial refrains of community, non-possessiveness, and humility. The decolonial approaches found in these writings provide rich examples of mutually respectful relations between humans and nature, an approach that Priscilla Solis Ybarra calls “goodlife” writing. Goodlife writing has existed for at least the past century, Ybarra contends, but Chicana/o literary history’s emphasis on justice and civil rights eclipsed this tradition and hidden it from the general public’s view. Likewise, in ecocriticism, the voices of people of color most often appear in deliberations about environmental justice. The quiet power of goodlife writing certainly challenges injustice, to be sure, but it also brings to light the decolonial environmentalism heretofore obscured in both Chicana/o literary history and environmental literary studies. Ybarra’s book takes on two of today’s most discussed topics–the worsening environmental crisis and the rising Latino population in the United States–and puts them in literary-historical context from the U.S.-Mexico War up to today’s controversial policies regarding climate change, immigration, and ethnic studies. This book uncovers 150 years’ worth of Mexican American and Chicana/o knowledge and practices that inspire hope in the face of some of today’s biggest challenges.
“[The book] attempts to bring ethnic studies & environmental studies into conversation. … [She] positions goodlife writing within the interstices of mainstream environmental studies, Chicana/o studies, & Mexican American literary texts that emerge out of experiences of dispossession, poverty, and racism. [Her] decolonial stance is defined by engaging values & processes that reject Western epistemologies in order to make space for indigenous practices that have survived colonizing structures. … In this sense, [the book] proposes a more nuanced understanding of environmentalism, one invested in building bridges between […] strands of knowing that posit mutually beneficial relationships between humans & the natural world. Goodlife writing embeds traditions of community, nonpossessiveness, & humility that never succumbed to modernist values.”— Cordelia E. Barrera, Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities
June 22, 2022, 7:00 p.m.
Home Ground: Language for An American Landscape edited by
Barry Lopez asked 45 poets and writers to define terms that describe America’s land and water forms — phrases like flatiron, bayou, monadnock, kiss tank, meander bar, and everglade. The result is a major enterprise comprising over 850 descriptions, 100 line drawings, and 70 quotations from works by Willa Cather, Truman Capote, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, and others. Carefully researched and exquisitely written by talents such as Barbara Kingsolver, Lan Samantha Chang, Robert Hass, Terry Tempest Williams, Jon Krakauer, Gretel Ehrlich, Luis Alberto Urrea, Antonya Nelson, Charles Frazier, Linda Hogan, and Bill McKibben,Home Ground is a striking composite portrait of the landscape. At the heart of this expansive work is a community of writers in service to their country, emphasizing a language that suggests the vastness and mystery that lie beyond our everyday words.
“[The book is] a glossary of terms used to describe the landscape of North America… ‘but the writers’ intent was not to be exhaustive, let alone definitive.’ [Introduction] Instead, the aim was, in the windswept language of landscape writing, to name ‘the things we’ve picked out on the land,’ names we’ve held on to ‘to make ourselves abiding and real.’…Literature, or something like it, hovers over the project like an impending storm… ‘What many of us are hopeful of now, it seems, is being able to gain — or regain — a sense of allegiance with our chosen places…,’ [Introduction]” — Robert Sullivan, New York Times, December 3, 2006