Monday, July 01, 2013


Welcome back, readers. I took some time off from blogging but have continued to read outstanding books by our American Latina/o authors and write book reviews. For new visitors to this blog, I've been focusing on modern American Latina authors who "broke the glass ceiling" in literature, whose books have won notable awards, whose works are often taught in literature classes in the United States, and who are often considered to be among our best.

The series--which I call "Pioneering Modern American Latina Authors"--reviews books published in the U.S. in the 20th century, from 1974-1996. These reviews include novels, poetry, nonfiction, and mixtures of these. Most of these books were "break-out" books, or books that brought recognition to the authors. Almost all of the books won the prestigious American Book Award, or at least one other award similarly important in the literary world on a national level.

So far, the ground-breaking books reviewed here were written by these authors, in this order: Nicholasa Mohr (1974); Estela Portillo Trambley (1975); Lorna Dee Cervantes (1981); Cherrie Moraga (1983); Sandra Cisneros (1984); and Pat Mora (1986). Included in today's post are three others: Gloria Anzaldua (1987); Ana Castillo (1987); and Alma Luz Villanueva (1989).

Many of these women authors were, or are, considered "feminists" because of their advocacy of women's rights and their speaking out against the discrimination against and devaluing of women in the U.S., especially Latina women. The writings are often taught in light of the women's rights movement in America, but continue to be universal in their depictions of Latina/o characters in our country. These books appeal to men and women across cultures and across the generations. Let's enjoy them again!

[All these book reviews were originally posted in a prior version in , owned and hosted by the author, director, and filmmaker, Jesus Salvador Trevino.]
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by Gloria Anzaldúa (1987)
203 pages
This book is written by a deeply wounded soul, an author whose pain and grief are almost palpable from start to finish. Borderlands: La Frontera, the New Mestiza is a powerful, highly polished collection of cultural and personal essays, mini-memoirs, and poetry that prick and prod our emotions and makes us think deeply on all the borders Anzaldúa deftly describes to us.

It is a dual story of traumatic conflict told in parallel tracks: the borderland assaults on Mexican and indigenous peoples by the White culture throughout recorded history; and the cultural assaults that Anzaldúa, as a woman of color, and as a representative of women generally, endured in establishing her autonomy and worth as a human being in a chauvinistic world.

Born in Texas just north of the Mexican border, Gloria Anzaldúa was a sixth-generation American, “a border woman,” as she calls herself, someone never comfortable with the American culture but who was instead keenly bonded to her identities as Indian, Mexican, española, Chicana, Tejana, and mestiza. Her usage of code-switching throughout this book, as well as entire portions written in Spanish, reinforces this cultural split—between American and Mexican, English and Spanish primarily—that consumed and defined Anzaldúa till the day she died in 2004 at the age of 61.

Borders and Their Pain

“I have been straddling that tejas-Mexican border, and others, all my life,” she says in the Preface to her book. “It’s not a comfortable territory to live in, this place of contradictions. Hatred, anger and exploitation are the prominent features of this landscape.” Toward the end of the book, after we have seen the immensity of her cultural turbulence, she states in a poem: “To live in the Borderlands means you/…are carrying all [the] races on your back/ not knowing which side to turn to, run from;/….you are at home, a stranger,/…you are wounded, lost in action/ dead, fighting back” (p. 194).

Added to these complex mixtures of identities are Anzaldúa’s lesbianism and—according to some reports, bisexuality—as well as her staunch rejection of male dominance. Anzaldúa writes: “I made the choice to be queer (for some it is genetically inherent)” (p. 19, Anzaldua’s emphasis).” The book examines these sexual and gender conflicts at length. Anzaldúa’s poem, “Creature of Darkness,” describes the personal yet universal battles that rage inside her as a “deep place/ this underplace/ this grieving place/ getting heavier and heavier/ sleeping by day creeping out at night….I want not to think/ that stirs up the pain/ opens the wound” (p. 186).

A rebel since early childhood, Anzaldúa straddled symbolic borders even within her family, as she renounced expectations handed down through generations of women: that she do domestic chores instead of studying, that she marry and demur to her husband and males in general, that she live and work in Texas. Instead, she earned college degrees, remained single and childless, and became the first person in her family’s history “to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me” (p. 16). She lived life on her own terms, moving to California and the east coast, but paid dearly with rejection by her mother and others.

Racial Conflicts: Natives vs. Encroachers

Borderlands is heavy on history. It recounts how the ancient ancestors of Mexicans and Texans—the Cochise, Aztecs, and others—peopled the Southwest for centuries, only to have White “invaders” steal their lands, terrorize, expel and defeat the native peoples, and institute oppression that continues to this day. The border fences built by Whites between the United States and Mexico starkly symbolize the separation of races and relegation of Mexicans to undesirable, inferior status. Anzaldúa describes the border as “una herida abierta (an open wound) where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (p. 3).

The theft of lands is personal to Anzaldúa, since her own family and neighbors, who had owned ranches in the Rio Grande Valley for many generations, lost theirs to greedy White encroachers. Anzaldúa decries the gringos’ “fiction of white superiority” (p. 7) and recounts how her people were “jerked out by the roots, truncated, disemboweled, dispossessed, and separated from our identity and our history” (p. 8). In the poem, “We Call Them Greasers” (p. 134), she describes the brutal rape of a Mexican tejano rancher’s wife by a White man who stole the ranch, assaulted the woman in front of her husband, brutally killed her, then lynched her husband.

Anzaldúa’s clear-eyed but mournful retelling of her antecedents’ history represents a deep cultural trauma to her and the Tejanos, who have never recovered their sense of belonging in their own ancestral lands. Her inability to identify as “American” is unquestionably linked to this. In the poem “Don’t Give In, Chicanita,” Anzaldúa says: “yes, they’ve taken our lands./ Not even the cemetery is ours now…./ where they buried your great-great-grandfather./ Hard times like fodder we carry/ with curved backs we walk…./ But they will never take [our] pride/ or our Indian woman’s spirit” (p. 202). The author’s voice is grieving but defiant.

Being “Queer,” and Other Inner Struggles

Anzaldúa’s exploration of gender and the subjugation of women may seem like a tired topic in the 21st century; but in 1987, iniquities against women were more pronounced, and Latina voices writing against this were rare. The author discusses female archetypes familiar to Latinas—La Malinche, Coatlique, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and La Llorona—and she lashes out against being boxed into any of these or any other stereotypes by chauvinistic expectations of men and Mexican tradition.

Anzaldúa also discusses the loss of native spirituality among her people and others of color. She takes organized religion to task, especially the Catholic Church, as vehicles of oppression, primarily toward women, and as denouncers of any spirituality besides their own ideology. She also decries “machismo” as representing men’s fear of tenderness and their excuse to abuse and demean women. Mostly, however, Anzaldúa delves into her own fears of inadequacy, of not being “normal.”

Many other writers have explored these issues, as well as the ostracism of homosexuals and “others”—but hardly anyone has done this more eloquently, more passionately, and with greater poignancy and genuine pain than Anzaldúa does. She is a complex woman who lived these subjugations and marginalizations, beginning her life with medical and physical deformities, skin dark like an Indian’s, and culminating in her decision to be “queer” (lesbian).

The New Mestiza

The 25 years that have passed since this book’s publication have not diminished its relevance. This is a sad statement to make, but the issues Anzaldúa rails against are still raw and present, especially for contemporary women. In her lengthy discussion of “the new mestiza,” the author depicts this racially mixed woman (part Indian, part Hispanic), her hero and savior-to-be, thus:

“The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity….She learns to juggle cultures. She…operates in a pluralistic mode….The future depends on the breaking down of paradigms,…the straddling of two or more cultures. By creating a new mythos—that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave—la mestiza creates a new consciousness” (p. 80). This description sounds like the multi-tasking career woman of today.

The new mestiza, through centuries of cross-breeding, has the best of many different genes, is stronger, and thus better able to survive. Anzaldúa confers her surest bets for a more enlightened, progressive society on this Latina, who can effectively navigate different cultural environments and who “could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war” (p. 80).

Anzaldúa’s Place in Literary History

Better-known as the co-editor of the ground-breaking This Bridge Called My Back : Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), (with another pioneering Latina author, Cherrié Moraga, previously profiled in this series) Gloria Anzaldúa was one of the first feminist, lesbian Latina authors published in the 20th century. This Bridge won the prestigious Before Columbus American Book Award in 1986. Borderlands was named one of the best 38 books in 1987 and one of the 100 Best Books of the Century by three prominent literary organizations. Anzaldúa also won other awards for her literary accomplishments.

A university professor on the east and west coast, Anzaldúa influenced generations of young thinkers for over 30 years and contributed significantly to academic theories regarding Chicanos, feminism, homosexuality, racism, and multiculturalism, especially regarding mestizaje, or the state of thinking in dualistic rather than unitary terms due to mixed heritage. She was awarded a doctoral degree posthumously by the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2005.

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Mix Letters coverThe Mixquiahuala Letters
by Ana Castillo (1986)
138 pages

Ana CAstillo headshotANA CASTILLO is one of those rare authors who makes a name for herself across genres. She has published well-received poetry, short stories, essays, novels, a play, a children’s book, and a memoir. She defies categorization primarily because of the high quality of her work, with admirers in each genre claiming her for their category above all others.

But the truth is, despite poetry being her first love—with her first publication being a collection of her poems in 1977—Castillo’s fame has been cemented more by her novels than by any other work she has done. She was asked by an interviewer once how she saw herself: “As a fiction writer who also writes poems? A novelist or a short story writer?…an essayist who writes plays?” She replied simply: “Writer.” Yet it was her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, which catapulted her onto the literary radar. It received the prestigious American Book Award in 1987 and set Castillo on her path to fame.

The book is an epistolary novel (one told through letters), with the letters all written by one of its two protagonists. The letter-writer, Teresa, is a poet, an American Latina of Mayan descent, a young woman accustomed to discrimination based on her dark skin, slanted eyes, and humble roots. The recipient of her letters is Alicia, a pale, evanescent woman of mixed heritage, with Spanish gypsy blood in her, but basically considered an Anglo from a privileged background. Alicia is an artist who loses herself in her watercolors, other artwork, numerous doomed love affairs, and long stretches of silence and withdrawal in which she sometimes appears disembodied.

Plot and Characters

The two women are 20 years old when they meet in Mexico City in a summer cultural study program sponsored by an American group. The six women in the program are basically “California blonds and eastern WASP’s, instructors who didn’t speak Spanish” (p. 24), so Teresa—with her “Indian marked face, fluent use of the language, undeniably Spanish name” (p. 25)—soon absconds and chooses to absorb and learn Mexico on her own. Alicia, immediately attracted to Teresa’s earthiness, goes with her. The two vagabonds, low on cash but high on living life on their own terms, traverse Mexico, off the proverbial beaten path, to savor the rusticity and authenticity of the nation’s past and its unpredictable present.

Their encounters in that summer of wanderlust might prick the sensibilities of conservative readers, especially mothers, as the two young women are verbally and physically accosted, sexually harassed, almost raped, robbed, and humiliated. Yet Teresa and Alicia manage to hang on to their dignity, starting with a memorable weekend in Mixquiahuala, an ancient village of Toltec ruins, no street lighting, lamb barbecues, and pushy men who promise marriage in exchange for sex. The young women live meagerly among peasants and native women washing clothes in streams, fishermen battling elements, and a motley crew of men indistinguishable one from the other for their ingrained belief in female inferiority. Yet the elemental aspect of life in untouched nature, the kindness and generosity of strangers, the fluidity of time, the solitude and introspection that their journeying evokes, feed the women’s spirits sufficiently to keep them trekking despite hardships.

Teresa and Alicia return to their colleges and turbulent lives after that first summer, Teresa facing a disastrous marriage and Alicia a tormented love affair. Throughout the decade spanned by The Mixquiahuala Letters, the women stay in contact with one another as they battle societal expectations they cannot accept and struggle to find a balance between what’s in their hearts and what the world dictates they must be. Teresa describes it thus:

“I was no longer prepared to face a mundane life of need and resentment, accept monogamous commitments and honor patriarchal traditions, and wanted to be rid of the husband’s guiding hand, holidays with family and in-laws, led by a contradicting God, society, road and street signs, and, most of all, my poverty.” (pp. 28-29)

The novel is not linear. Though the letters are presented in a semblance of chronology, from 1-40, they swoop in and out of time, taking the women from Mexico to Chicago to California and New York, and back to all these places again, from lover to lover, from crisis to crisis, with highs and lows. The women travel to Mexico again a year after their first trek, with Mexico seemingly their touchstone as to who they really are, and how they are fully authentic with one another only in that ancient land, though Mexico is a “country where relationships were never clear and straightforward but a tangle of contradictions and hypocrisies.” (p. 60) Ultimately, these contradictions color these women’s friendship as well.

The women are constant, though antithetical to one another. They complement one another: the yin and yang, strength and frailty, with Teresa strong, defiant, coarse, courageous; and Alicia “mystical….the ocean, immense and horizontal, your hair the tide that came in to meet the shore,” as Teresa described her. (p. 27) It is a friendship deeper than marriage, stronger than blood, yet more painful than star-crossed lovers. Teresa and Alicia are an odd couple embodying the dynamic tension that prevails, ironically, even in a relationship of equals.

Themes and Historical Significance of the Book

The American feminist movement was still toddling when this book was published in 1986. Though readers today, especially Latinas, might feel that the themes of male oppression and suffocating Mexican traditions are passé, we must keep two things in mind: (1) oppression still exists, and (2) it’s a matter of degree. When Castillo’s book emerged, the issues the author railed against were more immediate and raw. Still, we are sometimes amazed at the relevance today of Castillo’s comments in her book, such as:

“When a woman entered the threshold of intimacy with a man [marriage], she left the companions of her sex without looking back. Her needs had to be sustained by him. If not, she was to keep her emptiness to herself.” (p. 35)

“Love…describes in one syllable all the humiliation that one is born to and pressed upon to surrender to a man.” (p. 117)

“I had left [my husband] because I thought I was fighting a society in which men and women entangled their relationships with untruths.” (p. 133)

Throughout the novel, Teresa and Alicia, but especially Teresa, fight to maintain their humanity, their uniqueness as women, apart from men in their lives. Teresa aborts her baby rather than be under the thumb of her oppressive lover and risk never being rid of him. Alicia’s resistance to the parasitic clinging of another lover ends with his suicide. Both women are traumatized by these events, but the episodes were inevitable in the toxic ambience of their relationships. When this book was published, Castillo was hailed as a feminist, and her book continues to be read in women’s studies classes throughout the U.S.

Castillo’s Inspiration and Tribute to “the Master”

The book was inspired by the brilliant Argentinian author, Julio Cortázar, who wrote the 1963 “interactive novel” Rayuela (Hopscotch), an experimental 500+ page masterpiece whose chapters and sections can be read in different sequences for different effects and interpretations. Cortázar’s book was a tour de force, with its integration of stream of consciousness, philosophy, music, art, politics, and existential threads questioning “the conundrum of consciousness,” as one reviewer has called it. Cortázar’s cast of characters spanned two continents, with most of the interactions set in Paris and Buenos Aires. It is often considered an intellectually heavy, pioneering novel.

Castillo’s novel, on the other hand, is more modest in scope. It centers primarily on the two women, and their “conundrum” is one of sexual/gender identity amidst misogyny and social barriers. Teresa and Alicia are predictable in the traps they fall into: pushing back against machismo, yet succumbing again and again to the same brand of male—entitled, arrogant, dismissive toward women. One wonders when each woman will learn from past errors and make better choices. But perhaps Castillo’s message in 1986 was that there are no men available outside this chauvinistic mold.

At times, Castillo’s epistolary structure is too contrived, too stilted to be believable, and some letters, such as Letter 30, interminably recounts the meeting between Alicia and her last lover, something which the letter’s recipient (Alicia) of course knew already. Serving as the driver of the novel’s plot, the letters must, of course, provide details and conversations. Sometimes this seems authentic (e.g., Letter 39), primarily when Teresa, the letter-writer, focuses on her own events rather than recounting what Alicia had experienced.

Like Hopscotch, Castillo’s novel can be read as the author organized the chapters, or the reader chooses to sequence the chapters, with the author’s suggestions. Another similarity in the two works is the vivid language. Castillo’s birth as a poet is clear in her descriptions, be they images of feelings, conflicts, events, or landscape. Her language is often powerful, as in Teresa’s description of her abortion: “I erupted, a volcano of hot wine, soft membrane, tissue, undefined nerves, sightless eyes, a miniscule, pounding heart, sightless flesh, all sucked out in torn, mutilated pieces. How long does death take? My drugged head was heavy and oblivious to time.” (p. 114) Some of the letters are actually poems.

Castillo’s Legacy

Born in Chicago in 1953, Ana Castillo continues to be an active, highly influential writer. She lives in New Mexico after having resided in California, New York, and other states. She has published 7 novels, including the famed So Far From God (1993), and The Guardians (2007); a short story collection, Loverboys (1996); 6 volumes of poetry, including Women Are Not Roses (1984); a play, “Psst…I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor”; and a seminal nonfiction work, Massacre of the Dreamers (1994), which she created in lieu of a dissertation for her Ph.D. degree.

Of her future, Castillo said in an interview in 2008: “Our generation [the Baby Boomers] fought the establishment and saw us through extraordinary times. We most assuredly won’t simply go off into the good night without a whimper….So, as a writer, I continue to portray unprecedented literary characters, independent, fiery Latinas….I am also able to write cross-generationally.”
It is precisely these attributes that maintain Ana Castillo in the top tier of American authors today and will hopefully continue to do so for many more generations. Visit her website at .
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Book Review #9
The Ultravioletn SKy book coverTHE ULTRAVIOLET SKY
by Alma Luz Villanueva (1989)
379 pages
From the outset, defiance runs through this book—not like a thread, but like a surging river. It is a stubborn defiance, rock-hard and take-no-prisoners style. It’s also vulnerable, collapsing in tears and castigations. It’s a defiance that stabs us with discomfort, that makes us see ourselves in painful recognition, or that makes us weep to remember the times we wrestled with those demons, too. It is a defiance built of granite and wolves, built of clouds and angels. But it is a defiance that has no choice but to exist.

Alma VillanuevaWhat else could we expect of Alma Luz Villanueva, one of the first prominent Latina feminist authors in the U.S.? A poet, essayist, and short fiction writer as well as a novelist, Villanueva has devoted her artistic life to exploring and exposing the ugly terrain of misogyny, of misguided oppression and abuse of women, of the destruction of our planet by militaristic patriarchies, the violence of war, and the obliteration of spirituality that springs from connection to natural life and the forces of the earth. Villanueva is the voice of the voiceless, and defiance in the face of destructive forces is her weapon.

Rosa, the Novel’s Hero, and Her Battles

When we first meet Rosa Luján, we recognize her immediately as a woman who will not be subjugated. She’s arguing bitterly with her husband Julio regarding their infant daughter, car repairs, schedules, and typical trivia that unhappy couples often quarrel about. The first few dozen pages of the novel are saturated with her fury and defiance against Julio’s attempts to impose his will upon her. Her stubborn resistance is, in fact, too heavy for a contemporary reader, with Rosa baring her teeth like an animal, clutching a knife, threatening her reclining husband with a sharp fireplace poker, and risking her safety by sleeping outdoors late at night when even she realizes it’s dangerous. Whatever she can do to resist Julio, to make him squirm, to show him that he doesn’t own her, she does. In the beginning, being sympathetic toward Rosa is a bit difficult. The reader wonders if she can tone it down, if she can be less domineering herself, less preachy about female oppression and machismo, and if she can get that gigantic chip off her shoulder.

But then we learn more about this 35-year-old artist, teacher, and mother of a teenage son. We learn that she was abandoned by her mother as a young child and raised by an aunt and grandmother. We learn that Rosa became pregnant as a young teen, that she is half-German and regrets this heritage because of what Germans did to humanity, that she raised her son Sean alone and has struggled mightily to survive. All she has known is barriers and male expectations that she bow down to stereotypical roles and that she—especially as a Latina—must accept her status in life. We see how her aunt and grandmother were trapped thus in servitude to the dominant men in their lives.

Rosa describes the “Mexican Man,” or “M.M.,” (p. 243) as she sometimes jokingly refers to him, an archetype she has vowed never to marry: “He’s the man I’ve seen women make the endless piles of tortillas for, as he grows fat and stupid while his brain shrinks to fit his narrow mind that dictates boys are better than girls, boys become men, girls become wives, men have moments of freedom, release, women count the tortillas and the children. Men have affairs, women become whores. Puta. La Puta. You know, that word used to send shivers down my spine.” Rosa tells her husband about M.M. and why she fights for her freedom and independence. Julio is no M.M., but he often seethes against her stubbornness to do things as her soul dictates, such as when she leaves him to go live alone in the mountains.

The Mountains and Their Symbolism

Rosa’s spirituality and connectedness to nature, to Earth, is a theme throughout this book. She is part Yaqui and also knows about the history of the ancient Mexican people: their gods and goddesses, especially “the infinite, ever-present Quetzalpetlatl,” whom she often invokes. Rosa’s dreams elucidate many of her struggles, with goddesses and animals often the source of revelations for her waking life. It is in a dream that Rosa “sees” a cabin in a remote part of the mountains six hours away, surrounded by wolves and other creatures. Rosa seeks that mountain, that cabin, and finds it.

She realizes that she must sever all tethers to status quo: leave Julio, leave the city, leave the trappings of civilization to find her inner core, to establish her independence fully, to allow her art to flourish unbounded. She wants this need to be understood and accepted by people close to her—her husband, son, friends—and is disappointed when their concerns for her safety and their ties to stereotypes trump their embracing of her journey. But her power struggles with Julio, his jealous possessiveness of her, especially regarding her platonic male friends, overwhelms her spirit, and she buys the cabin and moves alone to the mountain.

She wonders: “If he loves me, why does he continue to insist that I relent and relent and relent. As though that would be proof that I love him. This is why people kill each other….This is why nations war.” (p. 286) But Julio—a Vietnam War veteran often tormented by his experiences, a Nativist with Mayan roots, and a polished professional—is yet too bound by his culture to understand Rosa’s rebellion and support her quest. Though he, as well as Sean and Rosa’s friends, visit her at the cabin, maintaining their ties to her, each of their visits is a battle to make Rosa return home. Rosa feels alone and fights even harder to prove them wrong.

Rosa’s Evolution

Some of the most important events in Rosa’s evolution as an independent human being occur in the mountains: giving birth to her and Julio’s unplanned baby, raising her alone, having her first extramarital affair after she and Julio agreed to an open marriage while Rosa decides whether or not to return to him. But most important: Rosa’s art flourishes, and the title of the novel comes into play: Rosa’s most cherished painting, one in which the exact color of a lilac sky long eluded her, is completed, with “an ultraviolet sky.” In a flash of insight, Rosa says: “That’s the color of the lilac sky. That’s why I can’t see it. I’ll never be able to see it. I can only witness what it does. The way it births us, the way it kills us…the ultraviolet light, like love.” (p. 378)

One particular incident captures Rosa’s soul and view of life. While her neighbor and son are visiting her one day, an immense hawk accidentally flies against a window of her cabin. Stunned, the hawk lies on the ground, and Rosa instinctively goes toward it. Both men shout at her to stop, saying the hawk’s talons will rip her apart. Still, Rosa slowly picks up the hawk, its talons jabbing against her palms, and she speaks soothingly to it, carrying it gently to a hollowed stump, where the hawk slowly gathers itself, looks at Rosa, and flies away. Later, Rosa admits she had been afraid, “but I had to pick him up anyway.” (p. 368) Rosa’s life has been a continuous battle against her own fears as well as dangers, but it is a fight she faces, with a faith in the life forces of nature and her own instincts.

The Importance of this Novel and Villanueva

Besides Julio and Sean, almost all the male characters in this book hew the line regarding the subjugation, overt or subtle, of women: the husbands and lovers of her friends, the men who live in the remote mountains near Rosa, and even the doctor charged with saving Rosa’s premature baby’s life and Rosa herself. Rosa therefore has ample, recurrent confirmation of how women must fight for their identities and self-esteem. The female characters, with few exceptions, are connected to one another through their love of nature, of being together in natural elements, and believing in their dreams.

The sociopolitical flailings against male chauvinism in this book thus sound overwrought at times. But readers must read Villanueva’s words in their historical context: The modern American feminist movement was relatively young, and the cultural shifts that have enabled many attitudinal and social changes regarding women at this point were hardly in sight in 1988. Also, Latinas openly embraced the feminist movement later than their non-Latina sisters, so the issues Rosa faces were raw and hurtful ones when this book was published. A winner of the prestigious American Book Award in 1989, The Ultraviolet Sky is still considered significant in feminist fiction and is often deemed Villanueva’s most popular work.

Alma Luz Villanueva’s focus in almost all her writings has been giving women a voice, shining the spotlight on “poverty, the mistreatment of women…painful issues in women’s lives, such as drug abuse, rape, incest, prostitution, and murder.” (p. 1607, Norton Anthology of Latino Literature) Having had a traumatic childhood and highly difficult, turbulent adolescence herself, Villanueva often interweaves autobiographical elements into her poems, stories, and novels. She writes from the heart because her heart has experienced much of what she describes.

Villanueva’s body of work includes seven collections of poetry, with her most recent, Soft Chaos, published in 2008; one short story collection, Weeping Woman: La Llorona and Other Stories (1994); and three novels, with The Ultraviolet Sky being her first. Prior to this award-winning book, Villanueva, first and foremost a poet, had published four of her poetry books. Testimony to the pre-eminence of poetry in Villanueva’s arsenal of talents is the poetic language that is often interwoven into the descriptions in The Ultraviolet Sky. When we read this novel, we know we are in the presence of a mighty poetic soul.

Alma Luz Villanueva has taught in various colleges and universities, the latest one being Antioch University in Los Angeles. Villanueva has won numerous other literary awards, including the PEN Oakland fiction award; the Latino Literature Prize, New York; the Best American Poetry Award; and the 1976-1977 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. Her website is