ASU Spanish instructor shares top 10 books for Hispanic Heritage Month
Latin American literature has evolved throughout time, with writers being influenced by everything from traditions to caste systems, colonization and wars, resulting in literary works that span a variety of creative styles.
For the past 20 years, Sandra Correa-Suarez, an instructor of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University, has studied the Siglo de Oro, or the golden age, of Spanish literature. Her expertise is in trans-Atlantic approaches to early modern Peninsular Spain and Latin America — the cultural, political and socioeconomic factors connecting America and Europe.
Considered the literary high point of Spain’s history, the classic “Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, was one of the most significant novels to be produced during the golden age.
Golden age drama, Cuban cinema, the feminine picaresquefemale protagonist, and other related areas of early modern Spain and Latin America are the focus of the courses she teaches through ASU Online.
“In Hispanic literature courses, my students are exposed to some of the most important authors from Spain and Latin America and their masterpieces,” Correa-Suarez said. “They cultivate an understanding about a variety of topics like Hispanic cultural customs and traditions, family, poverty, oppression, alienation and many more that are still current in the 21st century.”
Words matter, language matters and the way one sees the world has a historical and linguistic standpoint, she added.
For Correa-Suarez, it’s not only important that she help students to understand the influence of Hispanic literary works, but that she also serves as a mentor for students pursuing the same path she chose long ago. To that end, she works to positively impact her students and create a space where they feel part of the literary community at ASU, regardless of their location across the U.S.
Correa-Suarez shared her recommended reads for Hispanic Heritage Month and discussed the influence Hispanic and American literature have had on each other.
Q: How does Hispanic literature compare to American literature?
A: American and Hispanic literature share universal concepts, such as love, life, death, humanity, war and pride.
In contemporary literature, we find that American literature focuses more on themes such as the American dream, the melting pot, capitalism and personal growth, while Hispanic literature is inclined toward different themes, such as the problems of society, women's rights, loneliness and the difference between social classes. Also, given our modern tensions of cultural wars, one voice should stand very clear: that of the most famous Mexican writer, Octavio Paz.
Although, I believe (Hispanic literature and American literatre do not) differ as much as one thinks. There are Hispanic writers who are influenced by American writers as much as the other way around.
“Don Quixote,” written by Miguel de Cervantes, is not so different from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Both are very well-known books, filled with biases, social injustice and suffering, but there is also comedic relief. A difficult time in history only benefited by the escapism of a reader entering the story and understanding the true reality of what they could not witness. That’s the ultimate cure that only true literature can bring.
Q: Has Hispanic literature influenced contemporary American literature?
A: Many American authors of Hispanic descent have incorporated into their cross-cultural narrative themes such as their struggles of assimilation and acculturation, racial discrimination and alienation that Hispanic people living in the diaspora have to face every day.
Writers such as Cristina García, Julia Alvarez and Esmeralda Santiago, of Hispanic heritage, are holding prestigious positions within the canon of contemporary American literature and have paved the way for many other American writers to follow in their footsteps. It’s through these writers that contemporary American literature is increasingly influenced by Hispanic literature.
Q: What Hispanic authors should people know about, and what do you think has been their biggest contribution?
A: Personally, I appreciate the work of these authors:
- Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: She was the first published feminist in the New World, in the 17th century. She was born and raised in Mexico. Her life story is an inspiring story of tension between education, religious beliefs, intellectual freedom and male domination in a culture that has been and still is silencing female voices.
- Miguel de Cervantes: Considered the most famous writer in Spanish literature, Miguel De Cervantes was a poet, playwright, novelist and the creator of Don de la Mancha, an unforgettable character of Spanish literature. In his work, he explores the universal nature of human beings.
- Mario Vargas Llosa: I had the pleasure of meeting Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, who is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist and essayist. A leading writer of his generation and one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, Vargas Llosa writes across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. He has lectured and taught at universities in the United States, South America and Europe.
Q: What are the top books you recommend people read in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month?
A: Since I studied classic Spanish literature, I love the traditional writers, and my favorite books are "Don Quixote," "The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities" and "Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz." Not to say I don’t appreciate the newer ones, too. Here would be my top 10 (books to read in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month):
"Cien años de soledad" ("One Hundred Years of Solitude"), by Gabriel García Márquez
"The Green House," by Mario Vargas Llosa
"The House on the Lagoon," by Rosario Ferré
"El Sembrador de Numeros," by Roberto Hernández Sánchez
"How the García Girls Lost Their Accents," by Julia Alvarez
"When I was Puerto Rican," by Esmeralda Santiago
"Family Lore," by Elizabeth Acevedo
"Dreaming in Cuban," by Cristina García
"La piel del tambor," by Arturo Pérez Reverte
"Los Revolucionarios," by N. Rosec