Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Guest Blogger Lucha Corpi

Today I'm honored to introduce to you a very facinating woman. Lucha Corpi.
Lucha is a poet, novelist, and children's book author. As a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, she has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature. Her art has always meant activism.
In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in Palabras de mediodia / Noon Words (Fuego de Aztlán Publications, 1980; bilingual edition Arte Público Press, 2001). Her first collection of poems appeared in Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets (Oyes, 1976), and a third poetry collection followed: Variaciones sobre una tempestad / Variations on a Storm (Third Woman Press, 1990).

In 1990, Corpi was awarded a Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, and she was named poet laureate at Indian University Northwest.
She was a tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for over 30 years.

An Essay by Lucha Corpi

I spent the first eight years of my life in a small tropical community that fostered the creation, performance, and appreciation of music and poetry, in addition to storytelling. Located in the southern part of the state of Veracruz, my hometown, Jáltipan, had a population of about two thousand when I was born.
Although we enjoyed the use of electricity, we lacked other modern conveniences. Since there was no tap water, for example, people caught rainfall in large drums for washing and bathing. Folks who could afford it paid water carriers to bring cans of drinking water to their doorsteps from the natural springs outside town.
Twice a week, Tirso, the water carrier, brought the spring water to my grandmother’s house. Sometimes Tirso would let my brother Víctor and I sit on his mules while he carried the cans inside. Water carriers were famous for being among the toughest and most foul-tongued men in the region. Our Tirso was no exception. But unlike other water carriers, he delighted in teaching the children in town some of his favorite colorful expressions. Víctor and I were only five and three years old, but we were Tirso’s star pupils.
Being a great deal more cautious than I, Víctor did not use this kind of colorful language in front of our parents, and he suggested I follow his example, a warning that I, naturally, didn’t heed. I filled up with those forbidden words, as if they were mangoes or guavas—meaty, sensual, sweet. Encouraged by my aunt’s and cousins’ chuckles, I practiced my newly acquired vocabulary quite often.
During one of those practice sessions, my mother heard me. “I’ll wash your mouth with soap if I ever hear you use bad language again,” my mother warned then added, “I promise you.” I gave her innumerable opportunities to keep her “promise,” and she did. That year I was the three-year-old with the cleanest, though not necessarily the purest, tongue in town.
Despite the two-year difference between us, my brother Víctor and I were inseparable, but he was already six years old and he had to begin school. Despite promises and threats, he refused to start school without me. I was four years old. The only way I could attend school was by permission from the principal and the first-grade teacher.
Whenever people became too nosy about each other’s private affairs, my mother was fond of saying that a small town can be a big hell. But one of the advantages of living in a “small big hell” is precisely that people know one another well. In my case, this proved to be a blessing since my parents knew Professor Martínez, the school principal, well. My father took Víctor and me to see him. My father explained the reasons for his unusual request. The principal agreed but warned, “You understand that even if she stays the whole year, she will have to start the first grade when she finally reaches the legal age to attend.”
My father and I agreed. Two days later, Víctor and I began school. I was given a desk in the back of the classroom. I liked sitting in a corner, thoroughly fascinated with the subjects we studied. During the next two-hundred school days, I sat in my little corner quietly content. Quietly also, I learned to read and write, to add and subtract, to tell fruit from flower, clock from calendar, caterpillar from worm, dolphin from shark.
At the end of my first year in school, naively, I asked if I could participate in the cultural program or if my drawings could be included in the students’ art exhibit. But I was refused. Everyone liked me and the teachers admired my tenacity and constancy, but I wasn’t even a name or a file number on the school roster. I was four, free to go to school or stay home, but I was also an illegal student. I was invisible. The next year, nonetheless, no one objected to my returning to school. So my brother and I started the second grade. At the end of the year, everyone was pleased that I would be legally attending school the following February. But it was decided that I was too young to go on to the third grade, even though I passed every test with only minor errors. So I was asked to repeat the second grade. I loved going to school so I had no objections.
On the first school day in February 1952, my father and I walked into the second-grade classroom. The teacher showed me to a student desk in the front row, close to her desk. But I wasn’t happy there and I got her permission to sit at my usual place in the remote corner of the room. Because I already knew the subjects well, I was often asked to tutor other students. The following year, trying to keep me challenged, my third grade teacher began to instruct me in the recitation of poetry. She taught me how to deliver an impeccable line by sensing the rhythm of the poem, in the same way that my piano teacher later helped me to understand musical phrasing.
Because by age seven, I could read well, my father asked me to read to him from any section of the regional newspaper, except the crime page—la pagina roja. He pulled it out and folded it to dispose of it later, but he didn’t tear it up. I always found it and read it. After awhile I tired of reading about brawls, knifings, bloody accidents, but began to get interested in the kind of crimes, in which someone plotted to kill, rob, kidnap, or defraud someone else, and in the cops or the amateur detectives who conducted the investigation of the crime. This is basically the detective story. That is the kind of mystery novel I write and love.
Death at Solstice, out this year, is the fourth of the Gloria Damasco series. It joins Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood and Black Widow’s Wardrobe. Each of the novels deals with the history and culture of Mexican Americans and Latinos in the U.S., elements that are integral to the plot without sacrificing any of the conventions of a good fast-paced crime story. If I’ve done my job well, these will be of interest to you and your readers. Gracias for inviting me to share my story and my work with you and your readers today.
About the Book
Chicana detective Gloria Damasco has a ''dark gift,'' an extrasensory prescience that underscores her investigations and compels her to solve numerous cases. This time, the recurring vision haunting her dreams contains two pairs of dark eyes watching her in the night, a phantom horse and rider, and the voice of a woman pleading for help. But most disquieting of all is Gloria's sensation of being trapped underwater, unable to free herself, unable to breathe. When Gloria is asked to help the owners of the Oro Blanco winery in California's Shenandoah Valley, she finds herself on the road to the legendary Gold Country. And she can't help but wonder if the ever-more persistent visions might foreshadow this new case that involves the theft of a family heirloom, a pair of antique diamond and emerald earrings rumored to have belonged to Mexico's Empress Carlota.
Soon Gloria learns that there s more to the case than stolen jewelry.
Mysterious accidents, threatening anonymous notes, the disappearance of a woman believed to be a saint, and a ghost horse thought to have belonged to notorious bandit Joaquin Murrieta are some of the pieces Gloria struggles to fit together.
A woman's gruesome murder and the discovery of a group of young women from Mexico being held against their will in an abandoned house send Gloria on a fateful journey to a Witches' Sabbath to find the final pieces of the puzzle before someone else is killed.
Corpi weaves the rich cultural history of California's Gold Country with a suspenseful mystery in this latest installment in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series.
Find more interesting stories about Lucha at her Red Room Author's Page You can also find her at these sites during her tour.

Death at Solstice Book Tour
Dec 3 Lara Rios Julia Amante Author's thoughts on her previous books
Dec 4 Ana The Sol Within Indept and soul-searching answers
Dec 7 Misa Chasing Heroes Author's seeking Heroes
Dec 8 Monie Reading WithMonie What are her writing achievements
Dec 9 Carol Book-lover Carol Part One: How Series came to be
Dec 10 Tasha Heidenkind's Hideaway Part Two: How Series came to be
Dec 11 Nilki Musings Author writes on her theories of writing

As you visit each blog on the tour, leave a comment with your email addy and be eligible to win an autograph copy of Death at Solstice.
Also the author is offering a Grand Prize of a set of all her books in the series to the person that visits and leaves a comment and their email addy at the most blogs during the tour.



Hi Lucha,

Thank you for being here. I really enjoyed your post and I'm looking forward to reading your work.

Lucha Corpi said...

Hi Terri,
It's my pleasure to be here with you and your readers today. I will be available to answer questions or comment throughout the day at 11:00 a.m. 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. California time (PST).
Gracias for having me, Terri. Abrazo, Lucha Corpi

Anna Rodriguez said...

Hi, Terri, beautiful post today with Lucha Corpi!

Lucha, you are a wonderful writer and storyteller! I was completely captivated by the stories of your childhood. I vividly saw some of my former migrant students through the telling of your story. Is any of what you shared here today written about in your children's book, Where Fireflies Dance? If not, have you considered writing about the colorful language you spoke- at the age of three- or your early love of education?

Again, beautiful post today, Ladies! Thank you for sharing.

Lucha Corpi said...

Hi Anna,
Thank you for your kind words about my childhood story. It is an excerpt from a longer personal essay. And yes, some of my brother's and my adventures in our tropical hometown are in Where Fireflies dance. As a matter of fact, whenever I've read it at libraries, the adults, usually grandparents, love it too. Most of them come from very small towns in their respective countries. Gracias, again, querida Anna.

heidenkind said...

I enjoyed reading about your brother, Lucha. And Tirso sounds like quite the character!

Lucha Corpi said...

Thanks, Tasha. Tirso was definitely quite a character. Because of the nature of his "teachings," however,I could not include him in Where Fireflies Dance, for ages 5-8. But I did immortalize him in a poem incl. in Palabras de Mediodia/Noon Words, my first poetry collection. I'm looking forward to our visit next week. Gracias y abrazos, Lucha

Joseph Morales said...

Lucha: Muchas gracias for such an instructive essay.

I am very intrigued by your early interest in “la página roja.” Unless I am mistaken, criminology (not to mention the detective novel) privileges “scientific” models to solve crimes. Have you intentionally distanced your work from this model? And if so, why does Gloria resort to a “dark gift” to solve her crimes? Is Gloria “scientific,” “non-scientific,” both, neither, etc.?

Also, thank you Terri. Great page! All best, Joseph Morales

Lucha Corpi said...

Hi Joseph, welcome again! By the way, you might have won a signed copy of Death at Solstice yesterday. I believe they couldn't find your e-mail. They need your address. Write Mayra. Basta de business! In answer to your question, I fell in love with the "true crime" story. If you're interested in reading my personal essay: La Pagina Roja, much longer and quite detailed, you'll be able to read about the case in particular that made me switch so many years later from "rhyme to crime." Published in the "Ethnic Detective," last year. Yes, the conventional or classic detective story does follow a set of conventions, and for the most part, I respect them. But I'm not afraid of writing crime fiction that doesn't quite "obey the rules." Even though Gloria has a dark gift, she doesn't solve the crime by "magic." She does the legwork, the deductive reasoning, the pursuit of clues that any "normal" detective would do. But she does have visions that foreshadow what's to happen to her or someone else. In every novel, she struggles with those visions and the interference her reason is always running on them. In Death at Solstice, she talks a bit more at length about her "dark gift."

Joseph Morales said...

Excellent! And thank you for the citation. I’m looking forward to reading about Gloria’s most recent adventures/discoveries.

Lucha Corpi said...

You're welcome, Joseph.

Lucha Corpi said...

Good night and thank you, Terri.

donnas said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

bacchus76 at myself dot com

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thank you for sharing here today. I enjoyed learning more about her & her writing.
Happy Holidays,

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