Palabras: A Latino Literary Festival

What is the state of Chicano arts and letters today? That question is part of what inspired Palabras: A Latino Literary Festival, which takes place for the first time this weekend at Mexic-Arte Museum.

Dava Hernandez and Rodney Garza of the Peace Posse
Dava Hernandez and Rodney Garza of the Peace Posse

In the Sixties and Seventies, Chicano activists organized Flor y Canto festivals. Literally meaning "flower and song," the festivals brought together poets, performers, and musicians to share the bilingual, bicultural elements of cultural expression that members of the Mexican-American/Chicano community found themselves using not only as a means of creative production, but as a means of survival.

At the turn of this century, several Chicano and Latino writers are now part of the larger literary landscape: Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, Dagoberto Gilb, David Rice, and Ana Castillo, to name a few. But what is the state of Chicano arts and letters today? That question is part of what inspired Palabras: A Latino Literary Festival, which takes place for the first time this weekend. Coordinated by members of the Austin Hispanic Writers' Group, the Pro Arts Collective, the Writers' League of Texas, and the Center for Mexican-American Studies at UT and hosted by Mexic-Arte Museum, Palabras allows Tejano writers and performers to present readings and performances that reflect the diversity of cultural production occurring across the state. In addition, two panel discussions with scholars and writers will address the direction of Chicano arts and letters.

Notable performers and readers include:

  • Performance-poet Tammy Gomez, voted "Best In-Your-Face Poet" by The Austin Chronicle in 1994.

  • Austin-based poet and translator Liliana Valenzuela. The first-prize winner of the Chicano Literary Contest for Fiction awarded by the University of California at Irvine, and the Christina Sergeyevna Award for Poetry, Valenzuela was the first-prize winner at Austin's International Poetry Festival in 1999. She has translated Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.

  • Houston police officer Sarah Cortez, the 1999 PEN Texas Literary Award winner for poetry, and the author of How to Undress a Cop: Poems.

  • South Texas singer-songwriter Rita Vidaurri, the subject of two documentaries currently in production, will perform her trademark Boleros.

  • The author of five books of poetry, seven screenplays, and several short stories, Dr. Carmen Tafolla is best known for her one-woman performance of her beloved alter ego, "la vieja loca," and other characters who speak to the joys and hardships of daily living with biting humor and breathtaking grace.

    All Palabras events take place at Mexic-Arte Museum (Fifth & Congress), and are free and open to the public. For more information, call 480-9373. A detailed schedule follows.

    Friday, March 30

    5:30pm: Bienvenida
    Houston police officer and poet Sarah Cortez
    Houston police officer and poet Sarah Cortez

    6pm: Symposium: "New Directions in Chicano/a Poetry"; Dr. Ben V. Olguin, University of Texas at Austin, leads a panel discussion on the status and future of Chicano/a Poetry

    7:30pm: Poetry reading featuring members of the Austin Hispanic Writers' Group and invited guests Gloria Amescua, Francisco Portillo, ire'ne lara silva, Anjela Villareal Ratliff, Steve Vera, Lydia Armendariz, Enrique Cabrera, and Jesse G. Herrera

    8:30pm: Reading/performance by Tammy Gomez

    9:30pm: Open Mic/Booksigning

    Saturday, March 31

    4-4:30pm: Bienvenida/Homenaje to Cesar Chavez

    4:45pm: Reading by Liliana Valenzuela

    5pm: Performance by Rita Vidaurri

    5:30pm: Performance by NuShank Theatre Collective of Austin

    6pm: Performance/Reading by the Peace Posse, featuring Rodney Garza and Dava D. Hernandez

    6:30pm: Break/Booksigning

    7pm: Reading by Sarah Cortez

    8pm: "Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say"; spotlight includes poets Radames Ortiz, editor of The Bayou Review, Alvaro Saar Rios, and others

    9pm: Performance/Reading by Dr. Carmen Tafolla, author of Curandera; To Split a Human: Mitos, Machos, y la Mujer Chicana; Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works; and Sonnets and Salsa.

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    Tammy Gomez, Liliana Valenzuela, Sarah Cortez

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