Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Michelle Newby Lancaster is a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews, writer, blogger at TexasBookLover.com, and a moderator for the Texas Book Festival. Her reviews appear in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, Concho River Review, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, PANK Magazine, and The Collagist.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Carmona is a Chicanx Beat writer whom the Texas Observer recognized as being one of the top five writers the state in 2014. A nominee for the Alfredo Cisneros de Miral Foundation Award for Writers in 2011 and a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2013, Carmona hails from the Rio Grande Valley of Deep South Texas. Currently he is the organizer of the Annual Beat Poetry and Arts Festival and the artistic director of the Coalition of New Chican@ Artists.
Poet and professor Christopher Carmona’s newest work is a novel, El Rinche: The Ghost Ranger of the Rio Grande. The book creates a Chicano superhero to share the undertold story of the history of the violence toward Mexican Americans in the early twentieth century by law enforcement, corporations, and ranches. Lone Star Lit caught up with Carmona via email to learn about his latest work.
Ben Montgomery’s new book of narrative nonfiction, The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search for Meaning in the Great Depression, lands on shelves September 18. Montgomery spoke with Lone Star Literary Life about how an interest in agriculture became a career in journalism, the sources of inspiration, amazing women, the Chautauqua tradition, and the swagger of Texas.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Mr. Carmona, You refer to yourself as a Chicanx Beat writer. What does that descriptor mean to you, and what does it signify?
CHRISTOPHER CARMONA: I am Chicanx in that I am a Mexican American that is deeply invested in claiming a political and social identity that signifies pride in my culture as well as a responsibility to advocating for positive change for my community and fighting for a more equitable world, while at the same time acknowledging the gendered restrictions of an “o” and “a” by using the “x”. As a Beat writer, I am influenced by the Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, and Raul Salinas.
You are an editor, a teacher, poet, short-story writer, and now a novelist. Which is your first love, and why? Or is that a question impossible to answer?
I believe my first love is writing fiction, but I have always written poetry and throughout my life have gained the skills of editing and also gained a love for teaching. Telling stories have always been a deep part of me, but I have always loved aesthetics of writing, so I believe I am a poet that writes in prose.
Please introduce us to your newest book and first novel, El Rinche: The Ghost Ranger of the Rio Grande.
El Rinche: The Ghost Ranger of the Rio Grande is a reimagining and flip of the script of an American popular culture icon. This novel tells the story a light-skinned Mexican American named Ascencion “Chonnie” Ruiz de Plata. He disguises himself as the ghost of a Texas Ranger on the South Texas border of Mexico now known as the Rio Grande Valley between 1905–1921. Together with his partner, the Native American Tal’dos, a Japanese ninja master, and the most successful U.S. marshal of all time, Bass Reeves (the real lone ranger), Chonnie takes on the superhero persona of “El Rinche” to fight the villainous Texas Rangers and save the local peoples of the area.
Why did you decide to write a novel this time? What was the inspiration for your Chicano superhero?
This novel had been in the making for years, but about five years ago I decided that I needed to write this novel. About five years ago I was discussing with a fellow professor the Texas Rangers and the violence they wreaked on the Mexican American population in the Rio Grande Valley, and a Mexican American Studies graduate student was listening in on our conversation.
She was shocked because she had never heard these stories of the “rinches” [Texas Rangers]. She said all that she knew about the Texas Rangers was Walker, Texas Ranger, and The Lone Ranger. That was the genesis of this project, because this history is unknown even to those who study Mexican Americans. I felt an obligation to expose the world to the history I knew growing up. As a writer, I felt that it was not enough to simply write about these horrible times known as the Matanza (1910–1920), where thousands of Mexican Americans and Mexicans were terrorized, lynched, and pushed off their lands by the Texas Rangers, who were hired by large ranchers such as the Kings, the Kenedys, and the Klebergs, but also American corporations with an interest in terraforming the land from ranching to agricultural. This is what is known as the last colonization of the U.S. mainland. As a writer, during the time of great superhero popularity to introduce a Chicano superhero where we have so few out there.
You are also Dr. Carmona, an assistant professor in the creative writing program and Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. What is your advice to young writers just beginning?
Write and submit to as many journals and magazines as possible. Also, go out to the readings and get to know the other writers. We are community.
You have been active in the struggle to bring Mexican American Studies to high schools in Texas. Now that goal has been accomplished. What are the next necessary steps?
The next step is to get that have that class offered in as many high schools as we can. We already have 38 districts offering this course as a special topic or dual enrollment, but now we have the first Mexican American Studies course approved by a state board of education in any state in the U.S. That is an accomplishment.
What can you tell us about your next project?
El Rinche is actually a four-volume series, so I am working on Book 2 in the series, which will hopefully be completed in two years.
What books are on your nightstand?
Currently, I am reading Itza by Rios de la Luz and Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester.
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“A big bienvenida to the characters on The Road to Llorona Park—El Rey de Chicle, Hal, Shī Zapoteca—and many more who capture the essence of the Chicanx Renaissance from beginning to end. In this diverse collection, Carmona reminds us that a bordertown is an evolving place in time, where the past constantly collides with the present, reaching far beyond unspoken truths. Truly an extraordinary collection of stories from the Rio Grande Valley—folkloric, poignant, Kafkaesque!” —Sarah Rafael García, author of Las Niñas and founder of Barrio Writers
“Christopher Carmona's voice is a sacred fragment from a world where a near-religious dust has settled. It shimmers with a sort of legitimizing patina — necessary age that denotes the most beautiful kind of struggle. His stories ache with heart and longing. His characters bleed precious fluids, drip art for certain. You must enjoy these stories: Carmona is a gift for us all.” —Brian Allen Carr, author of The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World and Vampire Conditions
“Carmona is a gifted storyteller. The stories in this collection are thematically courageous and the characters are tender, funny, harsh and loving all at once. He has written a vibrant and honest portrayal of a place with complicated characters who face an unjust system and world. These necessary stories will burn in your memory for a long, long while.” —Angie Cruz, author of Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee
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