11 Afro-Latinx Writers Whose Work Traverses the Americas

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Keenan Norris (Electric Lit) recommends Afro-Latinx writers. Along with classics like Piri Thomas and Nicolás Guillén, Norris lists mostly lists the latest crop of writers. Here are excerpts:

While the idea of Blackness is very much associated with the United States of America, the first Africans in the historical record to enter the Americas were, in fact, Afro-Latinxs. African-descended populations peopled Central and South America in large numbers long before they were deposited by slavers in places like Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. This fact matters because it suggests how America-centric our understanding of transatlantic slavery and the history of the Americas is. 

Whether writing about the past, the present or the future, Afro-Latinx writers grapple with issues of identity and hybridity, immigration, isolation and assimilation, and what it means to occupy the nexus point between Blackness and Latin Americanness, two identities that within the United States context are still deeply marginalized.

As a writer myself, I am interested not just in the stories that are marketed in the mainstream, but those stories that happen on the margins. My novel The Confession of Copeland Cane is a story that is on its face about police violently vamping down on Black boys and men, but in its totality speaks to not just that reality, but also environmental injustice, over-medication, over-sentencing, and, finally, the possibility of escape from an increasingly unfree American future. Like Copeland’s cordoned world, the Black diaspora is sectioned off by national borders and language barriers, but literature, whether of the future or the past, has the ability to reach across these lines. 

Here’s a brief list of Afro-Latinx fiction writers current and past whose work traverses the Americas.

Naima Coster: Dominican American writer Naima Coster’s novels Halsey Street and What’s Mine and Yours showcased her brilliance as a major literary talent. Coster’s work explores an array of headline issues through the intimate prism of American families in all their love, diversity, dysfunction, and denial. [. . .]

Aya de Leon: Aya de Leon is a heist fiction novelist, an emcee, a scholar of crime fiction in film and books. As a novelist, de Leon came to national prominence with her widely acclaimed novel Uptown Thief. The heist narrative set in Spanish Harlem features a former sex worker turned Afro-Latina Robin Hood, Marisol Rivera, and the battered women, most of them sex workers, whom she shelters. But de Leon was already well-known in Bay Area spoken word poetry circles as the creator of the one-women hip-hop theatrical Thieves in the Temple: The Reclaiming of Hip-Hop, a production which anticipated Lin Manuel Miranda’s more famous hip-hop theatrical (perhaps you’ve heard of it) by almost ten years. 

Though the Bay Area is de Leon’s adopted home, she’s a native New Yorker and her fiction is set there, as well as Puerto Rico (she is of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage) and Cuba. [. . .]

Elizabeth Acevedo: Dominican American poet and novelist Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the great young writers in America. Acevedo’s wildly successful debut Young Adult novel The Poet X received the 2019 Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and was a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist. Subsequent novels With the Fire on High and Clap When You Land have further established Acevedo as a major voice in contemporary literature. She is a CantoMundo and Cave Canem fellow, which represents her dual poetic identity within the Latinx and Black poetry communities.

Aja Monet: Cuban Jamaican, East New York-raised Aja Monet became the youngest winner of the Nuyorican Poets Café’s Grand Slam. The year was 2007. She was 19-years-old. You can read and listen (on audiobook) to Monet’s surrealist blues poetry and storytelling in her chapbook The Black Unicorn Sings and in the anthology Chorus. Her first full-fledged book of poetry, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, received critical acclaim, as well as a nomination for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. [. . .]

Jamie Figueroa: Jamie Figueroa is a Puerto Rican novelist of Afro-Taíno descent. She published her debut novel Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer in February 2021. The novel has received praise from the New York Times, LitHub and Publisher’s Weekly. [. . .]

Sofia Quintero a.k.a. Black Artemis: Puerto Rican Dominican writer Sofia Quintero—who publishes both under her government name and also as Black Artemis—is the author of Explicit ContentPicture Me Rollin’Divas Don’t YieldNames I Call My Sister, Efrain’s Secret, and Show and Prove. A master of hip-hop fiction, also commonly called street lit, Quintero in her Black Artemis alter ego is often grouped with African American writers of the hood like Vickie Stringer, Sister Souljah and Terri Woods. But, like so many writers of color, Quintero’s work is too easily type-cast. [. . .]

Junot Diaz: Junot Diaz’s short story collection Drown is both a portrait of life at the impoverished edges of the Dominican Republic and a rugged bildungsroman that, in the main, follows Yunior, a child whose family escapes the political violence and poverty of the D.R. only to find themselves in the urban squalor of ’80s era New Jersey. The book’s finale, the story “Negocios”, is an archetypal American immigration narrative that Diaz delivers in painstaking detail.

Diaz returns to Yunior as a far less sympathetic adult in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. A more ambitious book than its predecessor, Oscar Wao encompasses much of mid and late 20th-century D.R. history, as well as a complicated, hyphenated, semi-absurd American present. The book’s emotional heart is not Yunior, but his attitudinal antithesis, the nerdy and star-crossed Oscar Wao. [. . .]

For full article, see https://electricliterature.com/11-afro-latinx-writers-whose-work-traverses-the-americas

[Photo above by Valeria Melendez, @medusavisual.]

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