Writing the unthinkable

 

Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature Through Essays and Interviews
Daniel A. Olivas
202 pages,softcover:
$21
San Diego State University Press, 2014.




After 24 years as a lawyer in the California Department of Justice, Daniel A. Olivas has heard a lot of stories. His seventh book, Things We Do Not Talk About, gathers essays from periodicals as diverse as The Raven Chronicles and The New York Times, as well as interviews with 28 Latino and Latina writers.

“I am struck by my concern with the moral authority I might or might not possess,” says Olivas in the introduction, “to explore certain themes.” When his son’s Jewish day school was attacked by a gunman, he decided that gave him the authority he needed to write “Documenting Hate.” His acquaintance with a cleric accused of molesting children at his local parish inspired “The Priest Who Preyed.”

Olivas’ essays ponder the “things we do not talk about,” the uncomfortable, and sometimes unthinkable, “what-ifs” that writers must address, no matter how painful they might be.

Olivas also spotlights Latino/a writers largely overlooked by the New York publishing industry, from Helena María Viramontes and Sandra Cisneros to younger writers like Aaron Michael Morales and Poet Laureate Richard Blanco. Most of these interviews first appeared on the collective website, La Bloga, to which Olivas regularly contributes. Olivas asks them about the craft of writing and the effects of their lives on their work, and their answers span as many cultures and approaches as there are variations in the landscape. Rubén Martínez, a native Angeleno of Mexican and El Salvadorian background, describes how the Southwest desert provided a place of both writing and healing: My original vision was about water in the desert. I was obsessed with it. I’d hike to remote springs and seeps, pore over highly detailed technical maps in search of the miracle of water. … But all along I was journaling about “cleaning up” in the desert — slowly leaving behind the addictions that had brought me out to the Big Empty in the first place.

These authors defy the myth of the lone writer; their art springs directly from their communities. As Rigoberto González notes, “If we don’t keep our lives and futures vibrant with poetry and story, it will be that much easier to erase us. Let’s keep ourselves living and writing.”