Latin American literature travels frequently in its original form, in translation, and through the presence of writers who don’t stay put. In the U.S., works by Latin American writers make their way to readers mostly in translation. However, there is a growing appreciation for a readership interested in works in Spanish. A new movement is brewing. Its effects can already be seen in the growing number of independent presses dedicated to promoting the work of Latin American writers in the U.S., and in the presence of writers at conferences and readings across the country discussing their work in Spanish. It is not that Latin American writers living, writing, and publishing in the U.S. are a new thing, but a more defined literary presence has bloomed in recent years. One of the most notable explorations on this topic is the article by Naida Saavedra, “The New Latino Boom,” published by Latin American Literature Today (LALT), in which Saavedra points out that a new tendency to publish literature in Spanish in the U.S. has been growing in the 21st century.
In the past, most writers living outside their countries of origin hoping to publish work in Spanish had to establish and build collaborations with projects across borders and cultures. In theory, this practice may not seem that much different from what all writers have to do. However, virtual meetings, readings, and online submissions were not as popular before 2020. To build literary connections in Spanish-speaking countries, writers would have to travel, investing time and money. Additionally, other hurdles include issues with distribution and promotion. Suppose a book is published in a different country, away from the author’s circle of support. In that case, the book may only be available to an audience who is still unfamiliar with the author. Worse, the author’s friends and literary circle who want to buy the book may have difficulty getting a copy shipped to them from far away — unless the author has the rare fortune of working with a press with international connections.
Imaginar países: Entrevistas a escritoras latinoamericanas en Estados Unidos is a collection of interviews with Latin American writers edited by Dainerys Machado Vento and Melanie Márquez Adams. In it, writer Franky Piña, says, “So we said: if they don’t publish us, if there isn’t a platform for us, let’s create it. I think it is a characteristic of the immigrant: if you don’t have something, you invent it. You create an alternative” (translation).
Naida Saavedra was the first one to use the hashtag #NewLatinoBoom, on her Twitter account. Her article, followed by the book #NewLatinoBoom: Cartografía de la narrativa en español de EE UU, shares observations about this literary phenomenon in the United States. One of the main differences she notes about the New Latino Boom is that this one is in Spanish. She points to the importance of acknowledging how this movement will affect not only the U.S. but also Latin America. A brilliant quote from the article “New Paradigms in the Latin American Narrative” by Jorge Fornet reads, “It is clear that at this point we cannot erase, under penalty of self-mutilation, the production of Hispanic or Latino writers from the United States. To understand and to define Latin America implies drawing a new map that includes those displacements, those migrants that go from the South to the North, from the country to the cities, on foot, in rafts or in sailboats, and even by internet. All are providing a different face, and modifying the borders of the continent in which we live, and a new atlas is necessary that recognizes that.”
An important effect of publications in Spanish by presses based in the U.S. is that the popularity of these books has awaked the interest of English readers for Latin American literature. One more difference between the current generation of Latin American writers in the U.S. and past movements is that this one comes with bilingual writers. While many of these writers produce work in Spanish, parts of their lives, the personal and professional, are lived in English. Some of these authors write in Spanish, but also in English. Some translate their own work, the work of other writers, or if they decide to have someone else translate their writing, they are able to engage closely with the process. Translations and works in English, combined with new opportunities from emerging independent presses, cultural centers, and writers’ collaboratives, provide opportunities to pursue projects in the places where authors live.
It is still unclear what shape this new Latin American map will take, or if it will be accepted as such in the north, where some of these writers live, or in the south, where they are from. What is certain is that there is an increased effort to build and sustain collaborations among writers, editors, translators, and publishers from various parts of Latin America who have found a home in the U.S. And with translators being such an integral component of Latin American literature traveling these days, works originally written in Spanish are available to anyone interested in reading them. The reading suggestions below are novels by Latin American and Latin American/American writers. If you like these books, pull the thread to see what else is there, and you will find a beautiful web connecting the work of writers who are challenging the limits of place, culture, and language.
The Animal Days by Keila Vall de la Ville
The Animal Days by Keila Vall de la Ville (translated by Robin Myers) follows Julia’s journey of love and rock climbing across three continents. This is a story about not holding back; about finding control and balance; it is about “The relationship between the truth and its exact moment of emergence. If the shape of what we see depends on conditions external to us, if the truth depends on the timing of its arrival or the angle of its perception.” The Animal Days shows us the edges of precipices and the forces that make those edges attractive. It is a moving story, with beautifully crafted prose, about self-discovery, and about the price and the limits of freedom.
The Rooftop by Fernanda Trías
The Rooftop by Fernanda Trías (translated by Annie McDermott) is the story of a father and a daughter who close themselves to the world in an apartment building. The setting is a rundown place in an unnamed city in Uruguay, where the only witness to the protagonists’ isolation and its consequences is a pet canary. The space they inhabit is their shelter and their universe. Clara, the daughter, is the narrator, and we live with her the anguish of various stages of isolation, which include grief for the lost life as people who used to be in it fade away but also fear and distrust for the world beyond the walls. This book questions the root of pain and violence in such an original way that the story will stay with the reader for a while. After a year when so many people spent time in isolation, this novel will call readers to make new assessments of the world around them.
Subduction by Kristen Millares Young
Subduction is the debut novel of Kristen Millares Young. It was a staff pick by The Paris Review, won silver Nautilus and IPPY awards, and was a finalist for two International Latino Book Awards and a Foreword Indies Book of the Year Award. The story follows a Latina anthropologist named Claudia, who leaves a fractured marriage to take refuge in Neah Bay, a Makah whaling village on the jagged Pacific coast. Neah Bay presents Claudia with new challenges and with an opportunity to help find the truth of a long-lost story that demands answers. This novel invites us to think about how family, loss, and culture intertwine to build our identity. It also reflects on the effects of outsiders on the lives of Indigenous people. Once you start reading Subduction, you won’t be able to put it down.
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell) is an autobiographical novel about a young Chilean writer who recently relocated to New York for doctoral work and suffers a stroke, leaving her blind and increasingly dependent on those closest to her. Seeing Red questions the alliances we have with our bodies and shows us how terrifying it is to have those alliances broken or lost. In addition to the struggle to regain her sight, the protagonist must face the instability of personal relationships brought by her new condition. Meruane does not shield the painful and uncomfortable moments, thus offering a story that provides an opportunity to examine the value of every moment when we are well and when we are not. As Enrique Vila-Matas noted, this is “A novel of genius and disturbing intelligence.”