Those seeking to read and teach Latino literature have a new tome to place next to their dusty British Nortons.
At a recent presentation in New York, general editor Ilan Stavans and other lead editors, including Edna Acosta-Belén, Harold Augenbraum, and Gustavo Pérez Firmat, unveiled the first W.W. Norton Anthology of Latino Literature to an intimate crowd at the Americas Society.
A compendium of Latino literature, the anthology’s historical expanse of 201 Chicano, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican writers allows readers to trace the rich trajectory of “ how Latinos use the [English] language,” said Stavans.
Work on the anthology began in 1998 and lasted for nearly 13 years. Augenbraum, who edited the Central American, Dominican, Mexican, and popular culture sections of the anthology, admitted that in the end, it was in their best interest that the process had taken that long. If they had finished the anthology at their anticipated date of 2002, then, among other selections, they would not have been able to include a section of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Díaz is now the first Latino to serve on the Pulitzer board.
Clocking in at some 2,700 pages, 1.4 million words, and 2,340 footnotes, the anthology covers the wide variety of Latino literature in the U.S., including influential essays, novels, folklore, music lyrics, and even comic strips.
While it is certainly the most ambitious collection to date, the anthology is not the first attempt to chronicle the rich history of U.S. Latino writing. Augenbraum himself edited The Latino Reader in 1997 and for years, the University of Houston’s Arte Público Press has housed the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, which is a “national program to locate, identify, preserve and make accessible the literary contributions of U.S. Hispanics from colonial times through 1960.”
Dismantling assumptions about Latino literature is one of the anthology’s goals. “Latino literature is not an English-only zone; it’s bilingual and it’s inter-lingual,” said Firmat, adding, “We also didn’t want to include only writing about being Latino.”
A quick look at the table of contents also reveals the longstanding prominence and diversity of queer writers in Latino letters, such as Chicana feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa and detective novelist and attorney, Michael Nava.
In this bleak era of ethnic studies banning, the anthology provides renewed hope for educators and professors who seek a text that will bring them both the familiar and established voices of the past and the emerging and vibrant voices of the present. Firmat is proud that the anthology could potentially produce at least “five different courses” on Latino literature.
In the end, the anthology promises not only a literary experience but also an existential one on the question of Latinidad, or Latino identity, in this country. For Latinos readers, the experience should be one of encountering and re-encountering the ways in which we invent ourselves for ourselves and for others. As Stavans said, “We are in a constant process of translating ourselves, without an original.”