Every few years when you least expect it a new crop of talented Latina authors who’ve dedicated tumultuous years honing their craft and writing in solitude, finally give birth to debut works that begin to slowly get noticed by U.S. readers and thus catch on fire.
Who are some of these essential Latina writers breaking into the national literary landscape at the moment? The following ten writers have demanded that the world take notice of their fierceness on the page. In the descriptions below you’ll see how the zeitgeist in Latina literature is not only centered on identity anymore but in the world of young adult fiction, science fiction, dystopian futures and fantasy settings. There are also unabashed queer stories, erotica scenes, and even one author writing for Marvel comics about a Latina superhero named none other than America.
1 Tehlor Kay Mejias
Tackling the immigration debate head on, We Set the Dark on Fire (HarperCollins, 2019) is one of those rare debut YA novels that’s both for young and older readers alike and that ignites both word-of-mouth buzz and excellent reviews. In a fantasy Latin American-like country, a rich and powerful patriarchal upper class is being threatened by a rebel group that wants to bring equality to the nation. A woman must decide between staying in a loveless marriage in a privileged society or to fight and lose everything for forbidden love. This fierce feminist novel with a queer romance subplot throws memorable Latinx characters into provocative circumstances with twists that leave readers salivating for the conclusion. Its critics have called this romantic political fantasy “daring” and perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. Mejias, who was born in Oregon, is said to be working on the second book in this duology.
2 Carmen Maria Machado
For those in the literary know, you’ve probably already relished Machado’s short stories in The New Yorker and Granta over the last few years. And when she was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017 for her internationally critically acclaimed debut fiction collection Her Body and Other Parties, and didn’t win, you might have even cursed the gods. Her debut collection, which focuses on women’s bodies and what they are subject to, includes stories that range across fantasy, fairytale, erotica, and horror. It not only received international attention but it’s currently in development as a series at FX. Now the world is anxiously awaiting her first long form book, In the Dream House (Graywolf, Oct.1 2019), a memoir chronicling a relationship gone bad for Machado. It traces the full arc of her harrowing relationship with a charismatic, but volatile woman and the psychological abuse she endured for years.
3 Lilliam Rivera
Rivera is a rising star in the world of YA fiction who won the Pushcart Prize in 2016. The hip and charismatic Nuyorican journalist turned award winning author made a name for herself in the book community with her bold and emotional story about class, race, and finding one’s self in The Education of Margot Sanchez. The book was inspired by elements of Rivera’s own quirky eighties upbringing in the Bronx and explored heavy topics such as dysfunctional families, addiction, and peer pressure. This past March she released Dealing in Dreams (Simon & Schuster, 2019), coined a “YA novel about girl gangs in a crumbling future.” Now based in Los Angeles, the professed lover of science fiction books told Electric Literature that in her latest book she wanted to explore violence, privilege and the complicated nature of power, and what it means when the future of a community rests in the hands of history’s most fearless radicals: young people.” There’s no doubt Rivera’s creative muse is on fire: she recently announced that her third YA novel Pheus & Eury, a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus & Eurydice, set in the Bronx, will be published in fall 2020.
4 Erika L. Sánchez
The much talked about multi-disciplined bard first made her debut in 2017 with Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf, PEN America Open Book Award finalist), a critically acclaimed poetry collection that explores the metaphor of the border and its duality. The book’s power comes from the fact that it’s Sánchez’s autobiographical take about being the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. Her unabashed poems take on sex, shame, racism, and violence, while bringing to life the pains of sex workers and factory laborers, the greed of narco-traffickers, and the hope of artists and lovers. Sánchez won a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. And when Sanchez launched her debut young adult novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Penguin Random House, 2017), it became a National Book Award Finalist and an instant New York Times bestseller. It was labeled as a cross between The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and part Jane the Virgin.
5 Elizabeth Acevedo
In buzz talk she’s known as that fierce National Poetry Slam Champion who won the National Book Award with her commercially successful debut YA novel, Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018). Born in New York to Dominican immigrants, Acevedo created an ingenious poetic narrative to tell the story of Xiomara Batista, a teen trying to find her voice amid overwhelming expectations set by her religious mother and by a conservative Latino society. But she first gained a following in 2016 with Beastgirl, a poetry collection which Acevedo has described as “contemplations on Caribbean womanhood,” with ruminations on Dominican folklore and sexuality. Her soon to be released YA novel With the Fire on High (May, 2019) is about a teen mother, who’s also a chef, during her senior year in a Philadelphia high school. She’s trying to figure out what it means when all her classmates are being told to “follow their dreams,” and how this applies to her since she already has someone depending on her. She simply can’t make the wrong choice.
6 Daisy Hernández
Many have followed Hernandez’s ascending trail from a sweet, yet cojones-busting columnist at Ms. magazine to a fierce memoirist and co-editor of the landmark anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (Seal Press, July, 2019). This seminal women’s studies collection with portraits of American life as seen through the eyes of young women of color will release an updated edition later this year. So, when in 2014 Hernández finally published A Cup of Water under My Bed (Penguin Random House), her long awaited memoir about growing up queer in a Colombian-Cuban family (translated into the Spanish), her fans were finally able to read about her life and feel inspired themselves. The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote: Hernández seamlessly combines the familiar genres of the ‘coming out’ story and the ‘coming of age’ story into a unique memoir of self-discovery.”
7 Zoraida Córdova
Córdova was not happy about the “fairy white world” of YA literature and the fantasy genre. So she decided to speak out against the lack of people of color writers in these genres and then fill it with her own work. And she hasn’t stopped producing tale after tale of fantasy aimed at young people since her first book in 2012. Born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, the author of The Vicious Deep (Sourcebooks Fire), her debut YA novel about a young kid who discovers that he’s a merman is a lot like what Cordova sees as being Latino. “He’s basically part of two worlds figuratively and metaphorically. For a lot of Latinos, it’s the same way.” Cordova is also the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series (Sourcebooks) what the New York Times said: “In Córdova’s world, the Brooklyn we love is also a borough where particularly evil brujas run bakeries and where old brownstones serve as headquarters for the magical pros …Fantasy and zombie fans looking for flavor — organ-meat, in particular — will not leave disappointed.” Upcoming from Cordova is Incendiary, book one in the Hollow Crown duology to be published by Disney/Hyperion in 2020.
8 Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Her 2018 debut novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Penguin Random House, paperback May 2019), about a sheltered girl and her teenage maid who strike up a friendship against the backdrop of the continuous violence of 1990s Colombia received so much buzz that she earned nods as an Amazon Best Book of August 2018, a B&N Discover Great New Writers Summer 2018 pick, an Indie Next selection, and a New York Times editor’s choice. The critically acclaimed novel ultimately became a national bestseller and Entertainment Weekly called it “simultaneously propulsive and poetic, reminiscent of Isabel Allende.” The Bogotá-born Rojas Contreras, who drew on her own life to chronicle her seven-year-old protagonist’s, does not deal in magical realism, but in raw and distorted examinations of the intimacy of violence in Colombian lives. Contreras is currently working on a memoir about her grandfather, a curandero whose powers are aptly summarized by the book’s title, The Man Who Could Move Clouds.
9 Gabby Rivera
Rivera is breaking mainstream barriers globally as Marvel’s first Latina lesbian writer for its first Latina superhero America Chavez. Her superhero is a one-liner dropping, thick browed- lipped-and-thigh-ed superhero, also breaking barriers as Marvel’s first comic series centered on a female superhero who also happens to be queer. The pairing of the two was a marriage made in comic book heaven. Rivera first gained indie darling fame for her critically acclaimed 2016 young adult novel, Juliet Takes a Breath (Riverdale Avenue Books), about a young Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx trying to answer questions about her identity and sexual background. Teen Vogue wrote of the “America” Marvel series: “Like any teen, America has to deal with relationship woes, struggles with friends, and the discovery of who she wants to be while at college, even though she’s a superhero in charge of her own elite team. It’s this interweaving of her many layers that helps make America authentic and unforgettable. With top-notch art and storytelling.”
10 Jenny Torres Sanchez
Born in Brooklyn, this Pushcart nominated author specializing in tales for teens about heavy family issues, has garnered a following due to her deftly written scenes about the psychological underpinnings of eating disorders, mental illness, assaults and death. In Because of the Sun, her YA novel delicately explores the depths of a young person losing a parent. The book’s main character Dani reads The Stranger by Albert Camus and instantly feels a connection with Camus’ main character’s alienation after his mother’s death mirrors her own. Her latest book The Fall of Innocence (Penguin Random House, 2018) was pegged by her publisher as a “Lovely Bones meets Celeste Ng” for teens in a tragic novel that examines the crippling–and far-reaching–effects of one person’s trauma on her family, her community, and herself. A starred review by Kirkus said “Sanchez deftly shows the long-lasting impact of the assault.”