photo: At the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas, 2014. Photo credit Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0
Known widely as the “dean of Chicano writers,” Rolando Hinojosa-Smith died April 19, 2022, in an assisted living facility in Cedar Park, Texas, at age 93. He had suffered complications related to dementia prior to his death, a family member reported.
Hinojosa-Smith authored numerous innovative writings, including a fifteen-book group of novels known as the “Klail City Death Trip Series.” Writing both in Spanish and English (he did his own translations) over a thirty-year period, Hinojosa-Smith set the series in a fictional county along the Texas-Mexico border. Its stories and characters mirror the real problems and concerns of people living in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and have attracted comparisons to Mississippi novelist William Faulkner’s works set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Hinojosa-Smith has told his stories “through conventional narratives and in letters, poems, short character sketches, legal documents, logs, and diaries,” the New York Times stated.
He was a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin from 1981 until he retired in 2016. Prior to that, he taught at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas A&I University in Kingsville, and the University of Minnesota. He served three years in the U.S. Army before attending UT-Austin and graduating in 1953. He earned a master’s degree at New Mexico Highlands University in 1962 and received a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1969.
His writing awards include the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Book Critics Circle in 2014. For one book in his Klail City series, he became the first Chicano author to receive Latin America’s prestigious Premio Casa de las Américas Award. And, in 1972, for another book in the series, he received the Premio Quinto Sol Annual Prize.
Born January 21, 1929, in Mercedes, Texas, Hinojosa-Smith was the son of a Hispanic sheriff, Manuel Hinojosa. His mother, Carrie (Smith) Hinojosa, was a homemaker and teacher. The Washington Post noted that his birth name was “Romeo Daniel Hinojosa and (he) later adopted the full name Romeo Rolando Hinojosa-Smith...because he apparently liked the way Rolando sounded,” according to one of his daughters. She said he added his mother’s family name, Smith, to honor her legacy. Some of his writings have “Rolando Hinojosa” as their byline. Others are by “Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.”
In Texas Monthly, Austin writer Richard Z. Santos commented that “Hinojosa-Smith left behind a body of work that stands apart from anything else produced in American letters, both in terms of output and his ability to shine a light on a corner of the country—the Hispanic, Anglo, and mixed inhabitants of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley—ignored by most readers, most Americans, and probably most Texans as well.”
Survivors include a son, Bob Huddleston, from his first marriage; two daughters, Clarissa Hinojosa and Karen Hinojosa, from his second marriage; and two grandsons.
Memorial plans recently were being finalized. For more information, contact Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Homes on Parkcrest Drive in Austin.