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California is a cultural melting pot that brings together languages, cuisines, and traditions from across the globe, many of which are showcased in the world of literature. Whether you’re looking for new novels by local authors or classic California-based books, you can gain a new perspective by choosing works written by people of color.
Given that California is the state with the largest Hispanic and Latino population overall, it’s not surprising that the state is home to numerous Latinx and Hispanic authors, many of whom bring their culture and background into their writing, making for compelling and insightful reads. From immigrant stories and poignant memoirs to gripping thrillers and supernatural tales, works by Latinx and Hispanic writers should be on your list when heading to used bookstores in California or buying books online. Though this list is far from exhaustive, here are a few of the Latinx and Hispanic authors you must know.
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Alex Espinoza is one of California’s most renowned Hispanic writers. He was raised in the San Gabriel Valley and went on to receive his M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine. In 2007, he published his first novel, Still Water Saints, which was named a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. Since then, the award-winning author has penned several other works, including The Five Acts of Diego León and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime.
Still Water Saints
Espinoza’s debut novel describes a momentous year in Agua Mansa, a largely Latino town on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where people come to seek charms, herbs, and candles in hopes of healing physical and emotional wounds.
The Five Acts of Diego León
Set in Hollywood’s Golden Age, this book tells the story of Diego León—a gifted and ambitious young man raised in Mexico during the throes of the Mexican Revolution—who leaves everything and everyone he knows behind to follow his dreams.
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One of the best Latino authors from California is Stephen D. Gutiérrez, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. He attended California State University, Chico, and then left for Ithaca, New York—where he was offered a fellowship at Cornell—before returning to the Golden State to teach at Fresno City College. Now a professor at Cal State East Bay, the acclaimed writer has penned numerous novels, short stories, and essays. He has also won the American Book Award and the Charles H. and N. Mildred Nilon Excellence in Minority Fiction Award for his works.
Live From Fresno Y Los
This collection of short stories showcases the excitement, distress, exhilaration, and disappointments of growing up as a Chicano in Los Angeles and Fresno during the 1970s.
Set in the barrios of East Los Angeles, these short tales follow two boys who are caught breaking into a house, a strange man traipsing around town, an introvert brooding on a drug deal, and an emerging writer.
Michael Jaime-Becerra grew up in El Monte—and loved his hometown so much that he later purchased a house there—and went on to graduate with an M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine, and to become a professor at the University of California, Riverside. While he loves writing about the Golden State, his stories don’t depict the flashy side of L.A.; rather, he focuses on the people living in the city, documenting their struggles and triumphs.
This Time Tomorrow
Winner of an International Latino Book Award, this novel is told from three distinct but equally moving perspectives. Gilbert Gaeta is a hardworking father living with his 13-year-old daughter, Ana; he dreams of a world where he could make a little extra money to live comfortably and buy his girlfriend an engagement ring. His girlfriend, Joyce, is a 36-year-old woman who cannot seem to move out of her father’s traditional Mexican household and feels as though the future she envisioned is slipping away. Meanwhile, Ana faces her own troubles at school.
Every Night Is Ladies Night
This critically acclaimed collection of linked short stories showcases the lives of individuals—teenagers, grandparents, race car drivers, and beauty queens—striving to find their place in an indifferent world.
Rubén Martínez is a Los Angeles native and the son and grandson of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador. He started his illustrious writing career as a writer and editor at L.A. Weekly, making him the first Latino on the staff. He later went on to contribute essays to National Public Radio and to work as a TV host for the L.A.-based politics and culture series Life & Times, for which he won an Emmy Award. Now a professor at Loyola Marymount University, Martínez is the author of multiple award-winning books. His works predominantly revolve around immigrant life, globalization, and the culture and history of L.A.
Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail
Get a glimpse into the lives of the Chavez family, who leave their small town in Mexico behind to pursue a new and better life in the United States. Their harrowing journey across the U.S.-Mexico border is followed by poignant stories of their time living in California, Wisconsin, and Missouri.
The New Americans
This book follows the story of several families immigrating to America: a South Asian couple from the computer industry of India coming to work for a small start-up in Silicon Valley, two families of Nigerian refugees, a young woman leaving Palestine to marry a man in Chicago, a Mexican family who travels to work in the Midwest’s meatpacking plants, and two pro baseball prospects from the Dominican Republic.
Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West
In this memoir, Martínez depicts a world of extremes in the desert towns across the U.S. He describes a drug epidemic flourishing in the shadow of New Mexico’s richest zip codes, gentrification displacing longtime residents in Joshua Tree, and a race war taking place near the banks of the Rio Grande.
Reyna Grande is one of California’s fiercest female writers and among the most famous Mexican-American authors. Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Grande came to the U.S. as a child with her family, who immigrated to Los Angeles in hopes of lifting themselves out of poverty. She overcame many obstacles to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree; she received her B.A. in creative writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her M.F.A. from Antioch University. Since then, Grande has written several books about immigration, family separation, language trauma, and the price of the American Dream. Her works have won more than 10 awards, including an American Book Award, the El Premio Aztlán Literary Award, and the International Latino Book Award.
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir
Grande shares the details of her life before and after she illegally immigrated from Mexico to the United States, describing her journey across the border, her life with an abusive father and an indifferent mother, and her American college experience.
A Dream Called Home: A Memoir
A continuation of her previous memoir, this book follows Grande as she strives to find her place in America as a first-generation Latina university student and an aspiring writer determined to build a new life for her family.
Marisela Norte is a writer and poet based in East Los Angeles. She is a groundbreaking artist in the world of performance poetry and is famous for her live readings and recordings of her works that explore the unseen side of L.A. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, including Rolling Stone, Elle, and Los Angeles Weekly.
Peeping Tom Tom Girl
This award-winning collection of poems takes the reader on a journey into the heart and soul of what it means to be a Chicana living in modern-day SoCal.
Wendy C. Ortiz was born and raised in Los Angeles. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College, she obtained an M.F.A. in creative writing and a master’s in clinical psychology from Antioch University. Now a psychotherapist by day and an author by night, Ortiz has written multiple books, poems, and essays that explore the intricacies of the human mind.
Excavation: A Memoir
Ortiz recounts being raised by two alcoholic parents in the San Fernando Valley and reflects on the troublesome relationship she had with her eighth-grade teacher.
This isn’t your typical memoir. In this unique book, Ortiz describes her dreams over a four-year period, boldly giving readers a glimpse into her mind, emotions, and memories.
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