Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lucha Corpi

Lucha Corpi, a Groundbreaking Writer of Latina Mystery Fiction

A color photograph of Lucha Corpi circa Fall 2009 by Ricardo Lori at Un-loaded.Lucha Corpi is a poet, novelist, and children's book author. She has written three mystery novels featuring Gloria Damasco, the first Chicana detective in American literature. These are Eulogy for a Brown Angel (Arte Público Press, 1992), Black Widow's Wardrobe (Arte Público Press, 1999) and Death at Solstice (Arte Público Press, 2009). Crimson Moon (Arte Público Press, 2004) introduces Brown Angel Investigations and detective Dora Saldaña. She was a tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for over 30 years.

Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets (1976)
(as a contributor)
A collection of poetry translated by Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto. The other two poets who contributed to this collection were Elsie Alvarado de Ricord of Panama and Concha Michel of Mexico.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Palabras de mediodía / Noon Words' by Lucha Corpi.Palabras de mediodía / Noon Words (1980, 2001)
(translated by Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto)
A lyric and socially charged bilingual collection of the poetry that launched a visionary voice in Mexican-American literature, Palabras de mediodía / Noon Words is Lucha Corpi's pioneering collection of poems that established her as a major figure in Mexican-American literature. Written in Spanish and expertly translated by Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto, the poems fairly bloom off the page in a display of lyric virtuosity. Corpi is the first of the Mexican-American poets to explore through deeply personal and intimate feelings potentially explosive political topics: transculturation, the role of women, her commitment to social change, and the grand themes of love and death. Highly sophisticated, enchanting, and well steeped in the literary tradition of Juana de Ibarbourou, Federico García Lorca, and Pablo Neruda, Corpi's poetry successfully portrays the magic of her childhood in topical Veracruz, her move to the city and the challenges of modern life in San Luis Potosí and the San Francisco Bay Area. Particularly moving is Corpi's struggle to bridge the chasm between the obligations of family life and single parenthood and the career opportunities of the outside world.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Delia's Song' by Lucha Corpi.Delia's Song (1984)
Delia's Song is an autobiographical novel that focuses on the involvement of a young co-ed, Delia, in political organizing and the early 1970s Chicano/a movement at an elite Northern California college campus. The novel places particular emphasis on Delia's difficulties and experiences trying to assimilate into the Anglo academic culture while also dealing with her sexual awakening and feminism. Delia's experiences are conveyed to the reader primarily through Corpi's use of a stream of consciousness narrative style.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Variaciones Sobre Una Tempestad / Variations on a Storm' by Lucha Corpi.Variaciones Sobre Una Tempestad / Variations on a Storm (1990)
An award-winning collection of poetry translated by Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto. In this, Corpi's third published collection of poetry, she returned to some of her earlier themes, "foregrounding the conflicts a traditional patriarchal society creates for the individual who tries to be culturally loyal while exerting the right to forge an identity beyond traditional roles" (JRank).

A color photo of the front cover of 'Eulogy for a Brown Angel' by Lucha Corpi.Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (1992)
Eulogy for a Brown Angel began a new chapter in the mystery genre with the creation of the first Chicana detective in American literature. Discover, Lucha Corpi's dynamic detective Gloria Damasco in the classic novel that started it all. A Chicano Civil Rights March has been disrupted by the Los Angeles police, resulting in the gruesome death of a prominent reporter. The tear gas has barely settled when a small, defiled body is left on a street in Los Angeles. A feisty political activist finds the murdered child and begins an investigation that will lead her on a trail of international conspiracy and bloody vengeance. Before long, two other people are dead, and Gloria is determined to piece the mystery together, no matter how long the search may last. Adding to the mystery is Gloria Damasco's dark gift, a puzzling extra-sensory awareness that forces her to confront situations in which solutions demand more than reason and logic. Eulogy for a Brown Angel is a fast-paced and suspenseful novel, packed with an assortment of interesting characters. A member of the international writers' circle Sisters in Crime, Lucha Corpi brings the intrigue to a hard-hitting conclusion in the picturesque Wine Country of Northern California.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Cactus Blood' by Lucha Corpi.Cactus Blood (1994)
Corpi's second Gloria Damasco Mystery. Visions of striking rattlesnakes and a crucified woman haunt Gloria Damasco's dreams. Who is the naked woman she sees tied to a cactus cross? And who would do such a horrible thing? Disturbing images and dreams continue to foreshadow the Chicana detective's cases as she begins her aprenticeship with Justin Escobar to qualify for her private-investigator's license. Soon Gloria and Justin have another mystery on their hands: their long-time friend Sonny Mares is dead. The police say it was suicide. But clues at the scene of Sonny's death don't add up. Why was he watching a film about the 1973 United Farm Workers Strike and Grape Boycott just before his death? And why were there grapes in his refrigerator? Sonny had honored every grape boycott called for by César Chávez. The detectives quickly realize that Sonny is their third friend to disappear or die under mysterious circumstances. An incident involving the rape and pesticide poisoning of an undocumented Mexican girl 16 years ago may link the death and disappearance of their friends. Could it be that those who helped the girl then are now being stalked by a serial killer? Set against the beautiful backdrop of Northern California, this is the second novel in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series. Hispanic cultural history and Chicano political issues texture this suspenseful search for a ritualistic assassin.

A color photo of the front cover of 'sWhere Fireflies Dance / Ahi, Donde Bailan Las Lucienagas's by Lucha Corpi.Where Fireflies Dance / Ahi, Donde Bailan Las Lucienagas (1997)
(illustrated by Mira Reisberg)
In the night sky the moon hangs low and the fireflies flicker. A young girl in a small town explores the haunted house of the revolutionary Juan Sebastian, discovers music on the cantina's jukebox, and is chided by her mother for mischievousness. In her first book for children, award-winning poet and writer Lucha Corpi recalls her childhood in Jaltipan, Mexico. Most of all, the author remembers her grandmother's stories and their message about growing up: like Juan Sebastian, each person has a destiny to follow. This book is a Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List selection.

"I consider myself quite fortunate, for I grew up in Jáltipan, Veracruz, a small town in tropical Mexico, among people who cherished music, poetry and storytelling. My father taught me to sing, my mother to thread poems like seashells on a string, and my brother Victor to face my fears. From my grandmother I learned that nothing could be more important than finding what I was born to do, a search that brought me to Berkeley, California in 1964. Where Fireflies Dance is that place where imagination and memory blend and take on new color and voice. It is my way of paying homage to my family and bestowing their legacy of culture and love on my son, Arturo, and my granddaughter, Kiara Alyssa." --Lucha Corpi

A color photo of the front cover of 'Máscaras', edited by Lucha Corpi.Máscaras (1997)
(as editor)
"In some Latin American cultures, máscaras (masks) represent the concealment of one's true feelings. In this collection of essays, however, 15 contemporary women writers openly describe the challenges they endured while developing their identities as both Latinas or Chicanas and as Americans. The editor, Lucha Corpi, is the author of several books with Chicano themes, including the detective novel, Cactus Blood. All of these authors expose the many cultural, political, and linguistic barriers to their success. For Sandra Cisneros, it involved a patriarchal Mexican father. For Julia Alvarez, it involved a scarcity of children's books in the Dominican Republic. Yet the essays call attention to a growing body of American literature by women of color that transcends gender and place. Accompanied by portraits and short biographies and bibliographies, these pieces will be interesting and inspiring reading for men and women of all ages and backgrounds."

A color photo of the front cover of 'Black Widow's Wardrobe' by Lucha Corpi.Black Widow's Wardrobe: A Gloria Damasco Mystery (2000)
Corpi's third Gloria Damasco Mystery. Was it a spectre from the past, some Aztec revenant that had inspired the "Black Widow" to kill her husband? Or did these chilling murders have more to do with the rights of property and inheritance, and mere greed? In Lucha Corpi's third and final installment to the Gloria Damasco Detective Series, Black Widow's Wardrobe, the intrigue is high, the questions are many and the answers lie in the sleuthing skills of one woman. Who better than Gloria Damasco, that indomitable detective with a flair for clairvoyance, to unravel this intricate and pulsing plot, which winds its way from an exotic Day of the Dead celebration in San Francisco to the even more exotic sites and customs of Tepozotlán, an Indian village high in the mountains above Cuernavaca? Gloria soon finds herself in an uncanny struggle to rescue the soul of Licia, the Black Widow, who believes herself possessed by the spirit of La Malinche, the eternally condemned slayer of her mixed-blood offspring during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Part thriller, part exploration of myth and history, Black Widow's Wardrobe is a page-turner.

Crimson Moon: A Mystery Novel (2004)
A woman's harrowing fall down the side of a weedy cliff has left her struggling for every breath. A discarded manuscript is found buried under rotting food in a garbage dump. Falsified identities and faces half-hidden in the shadows of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement threaten to be unmasked. Private Investigators Justin Escobar and Dora Saldaña struggle through this web of bizarre clues in two cases they are working to solve. When these tangled threads lead them to a violent showdown involving FBI misdeeds thirty years in the past, these two intrepid agents of Brown Angel Investigations find themselves in a deadly snare. Weaving the student movements at Berkeley, a serial rapist within the government's ranks, a militant Chicano brown power group in Denver, and even the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, Corpi has once again penned an intriguing thriller that revisits one of the most disturbing chapters for the American psyche: the civil rights struggles and student revolts during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A color photo of the front cover of 'The Triple Banana Split Boy / El niño goloso' by Lucha Corpi.The Triple Banana Split Boy / El niño goloso (May, 2009)
(illustrated by Lisa Fields)
A bilingual picture book for children that portrays one boy's struggles to overcome his insatiable sweet tooth. "How come you can have sweets and I can't?" Enrique asks the hummingbirds as they flutter over the flowers in the garden. His craving for sugar is getting out of control, and his father has forbidden him to eat anything sweet. Enrique's birthday is coming up and he won't be allowed to help his grandma with her baking. It's not fair! Enrique's cravings multiply by the minute. Even numbers in his math book start to look like yummy desserts. His life is over! The next day, though, he comes up with an ingenious plan to outwit his father. Unfortunately, his mother soon catches on. But she has a plan of her own. On Mondays and Fridays only, after school, Enrique may have any dessert he likes, but none during the rest of the week. What a sweet deal! On his first outing with his mother, Enrique orders a huge triple banana split, with strawberry, chocolate and vanilla scoops of ice cream, nuts, sprinkles and chocolate syrup. Later that night, Enrique's stomach aches, and El Coco, a fearsome creature with a huge mouth and sticky hair, haunts his dreams. Enrique's mother wonders if he will ever learn to eat in moderation. Will he be able to bake with Grandma? And what about having a special treat on his birthday? Lucha Corpi's poetic prose is combined with Lisa Field's enticing illustrations in this engaging story that will resonate with kids and their parents as they struggle to balance healthy eating habits with the natural desire for sweets.

A color photo of the front cover of 'Death at Solstice' by Lucha Corpi.Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery (September, 2009)
Corp's fourth Gloria Damasco Mystery. A new installment in the acclaimed mystery series that features the first Chicana detective in American literature. 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 Joaquín 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.

Chicana Crime Fiction: Where to? by Lucha Corpi
Lucha Corpi at Red Room, Where the Writers Are
Lucha Corpi at Latinoteca, The World of Latino Culture and Arts
Lucha Corpi at KUHF, Houston Public Radio
Lucha Corpi at JRank
Lucha Corpi interview at KUHF, Houston Public Radio
Lucha Corpa interview at Unloaded
Arte Público Press
Nuestra Palabra, Latino Authors Having Their Say
BronzeWorld Latino Authors

Contemporary Chicana Poetry: A Critical Approach to an Emerging Literature
by Marta Ester Sánchez
(the following links are to full text online searchable editions of this book)
at eScholarship
at Google Books

Newer Article: Flesh Colored Horror, the early work of Japanese Manga horror writer Junji Ito


Older Article: Club Forteana, a Review by Alasdair Stuart of Elvis Must Die by Neil R. King

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