Interview Other

Silvio Sirias and Latino Literature


Silvio Sirias is the author of Meet Me Under the Ceiba, which won the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize in 2009. I have read a saddeningly small amount of Latino Literature, so am really pleased that Silvio has agreed to participate in a guest post on my blog today.


Welcome Silvio! 

First off, Jackie, I wish to congratulate you on having recently surpassed 10,000 comments on your blog.  That’s quite an achievement, as I can attest from experience—I closed the comment-feature early in my blogging career because I couldn’t bear to see 0 Comments any longer.

Thank you! While we’re sharing nice words I should congratulate you on winning the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize!  What was it like to win the award?

Upon receiving the news that the manuscript of MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA had won the 2007 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize—a award whose legacy now spans over four decades and that the University of California-Irvine sponsors—after ascertaining that the email message wasn’t a hoax, I ran across the campus of the school where my wife and I both work, in the Republic of Panama, to share the news with her.

The celebration has continued ever since.

But the festivities haven’t consisted of merriment, cork-popping, and champagne guzzling.  Rather, the true nature of my satisfaction has been a prolonged, serene reflection on the joy of having fulfilled what once seemed like a far-fetched wish: to produce a narrative that could grab and hold the imagination of intelligent readers.  The achievement of this dream was confirmed when I learned that the judge of that year’s contest, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith—a writer I’ve long-admired andthe first U.S. author to receive Cuba’s prestigious literary award, the Premio Casa de las Américas—had headed the committee that chose MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA as the winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize.  What’s more, my thrill increased when I read Hinojosa Smith’s succinct verdict: “A fascinating read—very well-written, with a delightful, lively pace.”

That phrase alone—pronounced by one of the pioneers of Latino and Latina literature in the United States—made my decade.

Winning the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize also opened the doors to Arte Público Press—the legendary publisher of U.S. Latino and Latina literature.  Nicolas Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público, read the manuscript within a week of receiving it and, after a brief exchange of emails, offered me a contract.   My experience regarding the publication of my first novel, BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN, had taught me that the book industry moves at a pace that would make snails impatient.  But now events were happening at lightning speed—all thanks to the prize.

As you can see, Jackie, the rewards have been emotional as well as tangible.

Still, what I enjoy most about having won the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, what still generates a warm feeling in my chest, is when I take the time to study the roster of past participants who have either won or placed in the contest.  Many of these names are already guaranteed a place in the pantheon of writers of Latin American heritage who write in English and publish their work in the United States.  For my name to be now among theirs makes me feel as if I have acquired an infinitesimal grasp on literary immortality.  As a reader, student, and teacher of U.S. Latino and Latina literature, I have admired the following authors for years: Ron Arias, Gary Soto, Helena Maria Viramontes, Luis Rodriguez, Lucha Corpi, Francisco X Alarcon, Cherrie Moraga, Demetria Martinez, Benjamin Alire-Saenz, Mary Helen Ponce, and Alberto Rios, among many others.  Their names may not ring a bell among most readers, but for those of us who have followed the trials, sacrifices, and toils it took for U.S. Latinos and Latinas to get their work published regularly, they are gigantic, heroic figures.

I have fantasized of a reunion of Chicano/Latino Literary Prize contestants.  And when, in my mind, we assemble for the group photograph, you better believe that I will be grinning—like the Cheshire Cat.  And when I received my blow-up of the photograph, it will be framed and placed in the most prominent spot of my living-room wall.

That image, where I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these literary stalwarts, albeit existing only in my imagination, is what means the most to me when it comes to having won the prize.

What are your favourite books?

My list of favorite books is so long that it would soon bore your readers. Nevertheless, allow me to touch on the ones that make me green with envy; that is, the ones I wish I’d written:

Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Twenty Poems of Love by Pablo Neruda; The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene; The Feast of the Goat and The Language of Passion by Mario Vargas Llosa; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell; and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Can you recommend some other great Latino books?

The books on this list are also ones I wished I had penned.  Because of my love for these novels, I recommend them without hesitation:

In the Time of the Butterflies and ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez; The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos; Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García; The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre; Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; So Far from God by Ana Castillo; The Ordinary Seaman by Francisco Goldman; and Latin Jazz by Virgil Suarez—and, of course, there are many other inspiring novels by Latinos that I’m leaving out—so I beg the understanding of my fellow authors.

Do you follow the Latino prize? Have you read any of the other winners? Can you recommend any of the other winners?

I have followed the contest’s history, and I’ve read many of the works of past participants, which I also highly recommend:

The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias; Baseball in April and Other Stories by Gary Soto; Soft Chaos by Alma Villanueva; The Moth and Other Stories by Helena Maria Viramontes; Always Running by Luis Rodriguez; Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi; From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón; and Loving in the War Years by Cherrie Moraga.  

Thank you Silvio! That is a fantastic list of books!  I am going to try to make an effort to read more Latino books in the next year and will be referring back to your list frequently.

Silvio has generously agreed to give away a copy of his award winning book. For a chance to win, just ask Silvio a question below.

The giveaway is open internationally until 5am GMT on 20th January, when a winner will be selected at random. Good luck!

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arte Publico Pr (September 30, 2009)
• Language: English
• ISBN-13: 978-1558855922

Link to author’s website:


This post is part of a blog tour, arranged by Latino Book Tours.

Silvio Sirias Blog Tour Dates:
Monday 11th: Book Lover Carol
Tuesday Jan 12th: Brown Girl Speaks
Wed Jan 13th: Regular Ruminations
Thursday Jan 14th: The Tranquilo Traveler
Friday Jan 15th: Pisti Totol
Monday, January 18 at Mama XXI
Wednesday, January 20th at Sandra’s Book Club
Thursday, January 21st at Latino Books Examiner
Friday, January 22nd at Una In A Million

29 replies on “Silvio Sirias and Latino Literature”

a really interesting post jackie a genre of lit i ve not read much ,only oscar wao junnot diaz which i quite like shall be looking in to some of the books recommend here ,stu

Hi, Stu,

Thanks for stopping by. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was one of those books that hurt to leave off my list. But as your statement indicates, that is one of the U.S. Latino Literature novels that has traveled very well.


Thanks to Jackie for leading yet another fanstactic shift in the discussion in this tour, now on to where Meet Me under The Ceiba stands as one of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize winners, and for making Dr. Sirias dig deep into his emotions as to what it meant for him.

Taking up on a novel that has already been awarded with prestigious prizes should mean something, shouldn’t it? As a reader, sometimes one forgets (and there isn’t really a way to know if you haven’t experienced it) what a difficult path it must be to published and get readers’ attention when you’re not writing the kind of pop-corn literature flooding our bookstores nowadays.

And thanks to Dr. Sirias for sharing a piece of his mind and imagination. That picture (only in your head for now) looks pretty damn good on the outside 🙂

Congratulations, Silvio!

Question, would you be offended if someone read your prize-winning novel solely based on it being a Latino novel written by an author of colour?

I hope to read both In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros soon so I am glad to see those on your list of recommended books.

Silvio, It is great that your book was included on that list! I do try to read books from each country in the world, so having a book set in Nicaragua is an advantage to you when it comes to some people selecting books to read.

I do have to admit that I am only reading your book because it won a book award – great for you, but it does make me sound a bit like a book award snob!

Well, but the truth is, Jackie, that there is an award snob in all of us: an award-winning film, athlete, work of art, always makes us look twice.

I just hope readers aren’t disappointed when they make the investment of money and time in my work. But that’s why I toiled so hard to try to get the novel right. 😉

Hi, Claire,

That’s a terrific question. I know that many of my fellow Latino writers want to be read for being great writers–not only Latino and Latina writers. However, I am more than happy to allow that curiosity about reading a novel written by someone of color (I apologize for the U.S. spelling) draws them to MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA, or my first novel, BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN, because then I hope to allow them to experience life in Nicaragua and forget the externals as they get lost in the story.

So, Claire, I guess the answer is no, I am not offended.


What a wonderful post!

Silvio, I’ve decided to read every book on your list this year and re-read the ones I have already read!

A special thanks, Jackie, for partnering up with to highlight Latino authors and presenting works to an audience who may not yet be familiar with these authors.

Enjoy your reading!

Hi again, Stu,

The Civil Rights Movement of the United States, led by the nation’s black population, culminated, in a very real sense, with Obama’s election. And the Civil Rights Movement inspired people of Latin American heritage in the States to also join the struggle for inclusion. I’ve written essays where I’ve mentioned that as I child I felt invisible in American society because people of backgrounds similar to mine were seldom, if ever, represented in art, music, film, educational materials, or literature.

But in the past fifty-years the demographics of the United States have changed dramatically. Within another forty-years it’s estimated that 40% of the American population with have some Latino heritage.

What I find encouraging in that I’ve learned that the vast majority of the people in the U.S. believe in inclusiveness. There will be tension, of course, but ultimately there will also be a space for everyone.

Now, regarding the development of Latino , African-American, Asian-American, Native-American, and other hyphenated literatures: perhaps the day they will all join and become one–American Literature.

At least, Stu, I hold out that hope,


Greetings from Indonesia.

Hello everybody. Thank you, Jackie, for having this wonderful conversation on your blog today. I’m enjoying every moment of this virtual blog tour. And hello again, Silvio. Congratulations on the award! 🙂

Few questions. Who gets to decide of where they want to sell the book to, in terms of countries? And does the political backgrounds and/or the culture become the reason for that? (I hope you understand. Trying to say it the best I can, with my limited English writing abilities. 🙂


Hi, Adeline,

Thanks for the congratulations. Now, about your question. I am pretty sure I understand it, and I’m afraid to say I don’t have an answer for you. I find the book publishing business, particularly as practiced in developed nations, totally baffling. I can’t even figure out if the royalties I get at the end of the year have been calculated correctly. You can only imagine that if I can’t figure that out–supposedly the simplest part of the author-publisher relationship–the rest to me is a mystery.

Still, from my understanding, if there was real interest in MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA in, say, Indonesia, Arte Público Press would sell the rights to reprint to a local publisher. But that usually happens with only mega-sellers.

The advent of e-book devices should make it easier for people to purchase any book, anywhere.

Good question,


Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my favorite authors. His cover art is always so stimulating and his flowery use of language brings me to tears. I see that your cover art is also very stimulating, were you active in the designing process?

Thanks Jackie!

Hi, Jackie,

The cover for MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA was chosen by Dr. Kanellos, the director of Arte Público Press. It is based on a painting by Esperanza Gama, a Mexican-American artist. I love the cover because I think it represents the story within the novel very well. But I have to admit that I didn’t have a say in the choice at all.


P.S. Must be getting close to bedtime in your part of the world.

Sorry, I just saw the message was from Pam. My mistake. And since you seem to like Garcia Marquez as much as I do, MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA is very indebted to his CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. I hope you have a chance to verify this for yourself.

And, again, Pam, my apologies.


Silvio, You’ve given some great answers so far, but you’re right – it is getting close to bedtime. I’ll be around for the next hour or so, but am already in my pjs! I’m off to go and read in bed for a while…

Silvio, first of all Congratulations for putting the latino literature very highly.
My question would be: what are the main objectives of this book to the young people? What messages should they take away from this piece of geat literary work?

I appreciate your comments


Hi, Carlos,

Thank you for the congratulations. What’s more, it’s easy for to be enthusiastic about U.S. Latino and Latina literature–it is the offspring of Latin American, Hispanic, and English-language literature. With a lineage like that, it is bound to be beautiful as well as interesting.

Regarding what message young readers should take away from MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA? It was never my intention to have a message, I just wanted to tell a fact-based, gripping story in the most interesting manner possible. Yet . . . because of the theme, I believe a strong message does surface: Be tolerant of those who are different.

Thanks for the question, Carlos,


Thanks so much for this post. My reading list is sadly lacking Latino books. It’s embarrassing to admit that the last book from South America I read was Dos Conquistatores that I read in a Spanish class in college. That was in the 1960’s so you know I loved it if I remembered it all these years later. I don’t know if it’s still in print. Anyway, I’m going to take this wonderful list and start expanding my reading list. Thanks again.

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