A Conversation With Naida Saavedra on Literature and the New Latino Boom

Naida Saavedra New Latino Boom BELatina Latinx
Photo: newlatinoboom.com

For Naida Saavedra, writing is a vehicle to connect with the most real and palpable aspects of both bodies and cities. This Venezuelan author, who has lived in the United States for twenty years, approaches literature from practice and research like someone who opens two fronts in a passionate battle.

BELatina had the opportunity to talk with Naida about her work of observing, analyzing, and documenting what she calls “the New Latino Boom,” a literary movement in Spanish, typical of the United States in the 21st century. The Venezuelan author and critic, who holds a Ph.D. and is a specialist in Latino/American literature from Florida State University, has promoted this movement from the United States, but with an inherently Latin American vision.

The New Latino Boom

“The New Latino Boom is the explosion of literature written and published in Spanish in the United States in the 21st century,” says Professor Saavedra. This movement involves writers and publishers and is defined and edified thanks to the promotion of Spanish-language literature at every level through each entity.

“There has been a connection between publishers and writers and bookstores, cultural centers, book fairs, festivals, and universities. In this way, we can enjoy diverse anthologies, encounters, readings and talks, literary workshops, and, more recently, conferences and academic essays,” Naida tells us. “The press is showing interest in the New Latino Boom, and on social media, you can find key information on publications and events.”

All of this, together, makes the New Latino Boom possible.

A movement with deep roots in history

This is not the first Latin American literature “boom.” In fact, the New Latino Boom stands on the shoulders of such phenomena as the Latino Boom of the 1990s, led by Roberto G. Fernández, Gustavo Pérez Firmat, and Virgil Suárez, and characterized by “phenomena such as code-switching, the tropicalization of English, linguistic calques and the transcreation of a reality of its own,” as Saavedra explains.

The Nuyorican poetic movement of the 1960s and Chicano and frontier literature are also historical antecedents for this new literary movement. However, “literature in Spanish has always existed in the United States,” as Naida assures us. 

As for the recent use of language in literature, the author reminds us how one of the bases of the development of the New Latino Boom is concentrated in the group of immigrant writers based in Chicago who began to edit and publish literary magazines in Spanish in the early 1990s.

Called “La Generación del 92,” this group consisted of Franky Piña, Raúl Dorantes, Febronio Zataraín, Enrique Murillo, Rafael Calderón, Ninfa Martínez and Jorge Hernández. This group of artists and other people who later joined, founded, and published magazines such as Fe de erratas, Tropel, and Zorros y erizos. At the beginning of the 21st century, independent publishers emerged, dedicated to publishing exclusively in Spanish in the United States.

A non-thematic, resistance movement

When we ask Professor Saavedra about the characteristics of the literature that falls into the category of New Latino Boom, the first thing she tells us is that it is a non-thematic literary movement.

“That is to say, we do not find literary works that discuss an issue exclusively. The immigrant experience is certainly present; however, we perceive it through fiction, chronicle, poetry, and theater from different points of view.”

The New Latino Boom features voices from tropical noir, dark narrative, experimental novels, personal essays, committed (or not) poetry, monologues, polyphonic texts, urban theater, and other forms that also “establish a dialogue with literary production in Latin America.”

In one way or another, the works of the New Latino Boom are written, published, and distributed with the goal of “telling this country in Spanish.”

Another of the movement’s most important characteristics has been the role of women as active agents, “not only from their place as writers but from their role as editors and cultural agents.”

“It is at this moment that we observe women who are general editors of publishing houses, directors of literary and cultural magazines, founders of master’s and doctoral programs in Spanish, as well as cultural promoters at the helm of book fairs,” Saavedra explains, citing the likes of Franky Piña, Mariela Gal, Mariza Bafile, Catalina Martinez, Greity Gonzalez, Rose Mary Salum, among others.

Writing in Spanish as an act of resistance

As the Hispanic population in the United States gradually transforms into the fastest-growing and most thriving demographic, its roots cling to the soil and imbue it with its cultural traits — among them the Spanish language.

The vindication of the language has opened up avenues in the literary industry, where there is now the possibility of publishing in Spanish when, before, authors had to seek the support of outside publishing houses if they wanted to write in Spanish.

That is why, for both Naida and her colleagues, “writing in Spanish in the United States is an act of resistance.”

“The emblem of the New Latino Boom is the Spanish language; writing and publishing in that language in this country becomes an affront to the systematic attack that minorities have suffered,” the author assures. “That is why I ratify the importance of documenting the magnitude and scope of the use of the Spanish language as an emblem of a unique literary movement in the United States.”

“Through language, we show that we are here participating in the development of American society and that we are part of this country,” she concluded.