Friday, December 4, 2009

The Sol Within Welcomes author LUCHA CORPI!

Welcome, Lucha Corpi, author of Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery!
Author's Bio:
For Lucha Corpi, art has always meant activism. As a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, she has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature.

Corpi was born in 1945 in Jáltipan, Veracruz, Mexico, a small tropical village on the Gulf of Mexico into a community that fostered creativity, performances and an appreciation for music, poetry and storytelling.

In 1964, she married and moved with her husband to Berkeley, California, a city in the throes of the students' Free Speech Movement, which ignited the most turbulent decade in the history of the University of California-Berkley campus. It also coincided with the inception of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the southwestern United States.

Following an emotionally devastating divorce in 1970, Corpi found herself alone and in pain, with no family except her young son Arturo and very few friends. She turned to writing simply to get hold of her feelings, to face her contradictions and keep chaos at bay.

Her initial writing forays led to the exploration of poetry in Spanish as an outlet for her creativity. In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in Palabras de mediodia/Noon Words (Fuego de Aztlán Publications, 1980; bilingual edition Arte Público Press, 2001). Her first collection of poems appeared in Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets (Oyes, 1976), and a third poetry collection followed: Variaciones sobre una tempestad / Variations on a Storm (Third Woman Press, 1990).

During that same decade, Corpi resumed her university studies which had been interrupted by her marriage and supporting her husband while he studied. The UC-Berkeley campus provided an excellent forum for her political activism. Among other pursuits, Corpi was one of five founding members of the Aztlán Cultural, an arts service organization that years later would merge with Centro Chicano de Escritores (Chicano Writers Center). She also joined the Comité Popular Educativo de la Raza, an organization of parents, students and teachers in Oakland that sought to establish bilingual child care centers and other programs in the city's unified school district.

After her first collection of poetry appeared, Corpi experienced a long and personally worrisome poetic silence. To ease the tension, she turned to prose, penning several award-winning short stories. In 1984, she wrote her first story in English and her first English-language novel, Delia's Song, was published by Arte Público Press in 1989.

In 1990, Corpi was twice honored: she was awarded a Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, and she was named poet laureate at Indian University Northwest.

The publication of Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (Arte Público Press, 1992) was the culmination of a life-long dream. The novel won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction. Cactus Blood (Arte Público Press, 1995) is Corpi's second mystery novel featuring Chicana detective Gloria Damasco. Hispanic culture, the United Farm Workers movement and other social issues texture a suspenseful search for a ritualistic assassin. The publication of Black Widow’s Wardrobe (Arte Público Press, 1999) rounded out the trilogy known as The Gloria Damasco Series. Fans disappointed that The Gloria Damasco Series has come to an end can turn to Corpi’s first mystery novel in a new series, Crimson Moon: A Brown Angel Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2004). Weaving the student movements at Berkeley, a serial rapist within the government’s ranks, a militant Chicano brown power group in Denver, and even the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, Corpi has once again penned an intriguing thriller that revisits one of the most disturbing chapters for the American psyche: the civil rights struggles and student revolts during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In addition to poetry and mystery novels, Lucha Corpi also writes for children. In 1997, she published her first bilingual picture book, Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas (Children’s Book Press), and The Triple Banana Split Boy / Diente dulce (Arte Público Press) in 2009.

A tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for 30 years, she retired in 2005.


When I created The Sol Within, it was with the intention to inspire other aspiring writers to fully commit to following their dreams.  Along the way on my journey, I also hoped that I may find some inspiration to keep me in pursuit of becoming the writer I know is within this soul!  Over these past four months I have been incredibly blessed to meet those that have inspired my soul and my writing!  I have learned a lot about myself and about others, thus far.  However, I know that this particular project will be a highlight in my career that I will forever remember fondly!  Thanks to Jo Ann Hernandez, of BronzeWord Latino, I had the incredible opportunity to interview the talented Lucha Corpi...the "Grand Dame of Chicano Mystery!"

My only regret is that the interview was not done in-person and that each reader of The Sol Within does not get the chance to sit and meet Lucha Corpi in-person.  But, I am certain that you will become as intrigued and admire her as much as I do, because Lucha's beautiful spirit will leap off of the screen and you will discover, for yourself, Lucha Corpi's incredbible soul within!  Now, it is with great honor that I invite you to sit back and enjoy my interview with Ms. Lucha Corpi...

Anna:  Why did you choose to write a mystery novel and when did you realize that the mysteries should become a series – one novel would not be enough to tell all about Gloria Damasco?

Lucha:  When I was a young girl, growing up in a very small tropical town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, I fell in love with the detective story by reading “la pagina roja,” the crime page of the regional newspaper. It happened that I started grammar school at age four and was able to read well by age seven. At about that time, my father had a cornea transplant and was unable to read the newspaper so he asked me to read to him from it. I loved doing that for my father, whom I loved very much and who has been one of the most influential people in my life. He would let me choose from any page or section of the newspaper. But, of course, he would not allow me to read from the crime page. He would remove it, fold it and put it in his shirt pocket to dispose of it later. But he didn’t destroy it. So I always found it, hid in my favorite place, and read it.

La pagina roja contained all sorts of graphic details about knifings, accidents, brawls in the red light district and gaming parlors, shootings, etc. And talked about subjects I didn’t quite understand. But after awhile I began to lose interest in these kinds of graphic depictions of violent events, and became fascinated with stories where it was obvious there was “an intelligence” behind the crimes. Someone had taken the time to plot against, to steal from, rob, or murder someone else. Also there was always a police officer or an amateur detective—a busybody—who would take up the investigation of the crime and solve the mystery, or not. This is the basic mystery detective story, whether the investigation is conducted by an official or amateur detective. This is the kind of crime novel I write and love.

Later, I read many of the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories in translation, and began to dream of penning a mystery story myself. But it wasn’t until 1990 that Gloria Damasco walked into my dream and I began the writing of Eulogy for a Brown Angel, my first mystery novel.

Up to that time, I had already considered writing a trilogy: Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, and Black Widow’s Wardrobe. Now I have five mystery novels, though Crimson Moon is not one of the Gloria Damasco novels. Death at Solstice is. It is a very special book for me as it has come out this year as I celebrate the beginning of my writing career (as a poet then) forty years ago, and my association with Gloria Damasco for almost twenty of those years.

Anna:  In Library Journal a review of your book, Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery, states, “Corpi has constructed a twisting storyline that confounds her intelligent detective and the reader at every turn. This will please readers looking for a fast-paced tale with a Hispanic cultural background.” As a Latina writer, is it a conscious effort you make to write about stories centered around Latina/o main characters? If so, why do you feel this is important for you to do?

Lucha:  Yes. By the time, I plotted Eulogy I had read many mysteries as well as articles by mystery authors on the writing of crime fiction. I became familiar with the conventions of the mystery story. But I wasn’t interested in writing a conventional mystery. I wanted to write mysteries that highlighted the history and culture of Mexican Americans, of characters, including detectives, who were deeply rooted in the culture, and aware of our history in the U.S. as I was.

The conventional mystery story, since its inception with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” has been a plot-driven story. The art of the mystery story resides on the author’s ability to carefully and seamlessly incorporate other aspects of life, such as historical, cultural and socio-political issues that confront those communities written about, without detracting from a fast-paced tight plot. I was very happy when I read the Library Journal’s review of Death at Solstice, because it means that I have done my job well.

Anna:  I read that you moved to Berkeley, California from Mexico in the ‘60s, endured a painful divorce in 1970- leaving you alone with your young son Arturo. Through it all, you have received many awards and honors, became a successful author and poet, a tenured teacher in Oakland, California, and successfully raised Arturo who is an associate professor. What advice can you give to Latinas- of any age- who may be currently struggling in their lives, but might be holding on to a glimmer of hope that they can still achieve their dreams?

Lucha:  I feel quite fortunate to have been born to parents who believed in educating the girls in the family as equally as the boys. My father was fond of telling my sister and me that “when you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate the whole family,” and that the “education of (his) grandchildren began with my sister’s and my education. My sister and I were expected to excel in school. And we did.

I also learned from a very young age that having been born with a talent for doing something, be that writing or any other kind of endeavor or enterprise, is only a small percentage of what is required to make your dreams come true. Lots of hard work is involved in making a dream come true. But it is not impossible. I came to this country with little knowledge of English, but with a great desire to learn it, to communicate and be able to fend for myself in a new culture, expressing daily in a language that left the taste of salt and tears on my tongue. A language not mine yet.

Five years after my arrival in Berkeley, the fabric of my life was slashed by a very painful divorce, and in need of mending. I became a single mom, the head of the household. But I was determined to do whatever was necessary to do well by my son and myself. I always speak about the next few years after my divorce as “my lean years in Berkeley.” It was hard to hold a 30-hour job as a bilingual secretary on campus and carry 12 college units per quarter, while being a caring and thoughtful mother and writing poetry. But it was the writing of poetry that kept me together during such adverse circumstances. I wrote poetry, almost in a manic way, every night because I felt that if I stopped writing I would also stop breathing. It was then I discovered that writing poetry was only for me. And I accepted for the first time in my life that there was nothing wrong with doing something that wasn’t meant for the benefit of others, but for me alone.

We women tend to think that taking care of ourselves is wrong, that we fail those we love or care for us. But it isn’t so. As much as I thank my parents for teaching me that my son’s education began with mine, I am more aware now that I am also an individual and that doing something for myself as well is not selfish on my part but necessary and fair.

Every human being is born with the potential for creativity in any chosen field. This applies to women as well and perhaps more so. My only advice to Latinas of any age is to devote time to fulfilling their own dreams, to be determined and disciplined about it, even if they only have an hour a day to dedicate to that pursuit. Self-motivation is a key factor in the pursuit of anything worth having, for us adults, as it is for children, and essential to succeed at what we do, were born to do, or find pleasure in doing. The personal reward is immense, something that no one else can take away from us, ever!

Anna:  I grew up in Northern California and know the Oakland area well. How did your experiences with your Latino students in Oakland affect the writing that you had within your soul? Is there any particular incident or child that really affected a particular writing project of yours?

Lucha:  Everything I experience, everything I read affects my writing. My students and my fellow teachers have inspired characters in my stories. For a while I wrote stories and poems for Houghton Mifflin, among other publishers, to be included in their Spanish elementary readers. The children and the parents in “El rio de los recuerdos/The River of Memories,” (published in Houghton Mifflin’s Banderas) were fashioned after my students and their families—Cambodian American and Mexican American families.

Oakland is a multicultural city, where over eighty major languages are spoken every day. But what makes Oakland unique is that most neighborhoods are integrated. That means that anyone’s neighbors are people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, all sharing common ground. It is a situation that requires daily acceptance of others who are different from us. But acceptance is only possible if we acknowledge the ways in which we, as human beings regardless of background, have in common and try to understand the differences among us. Conflicts arise, nonetheless. And they walk into Oakland’s public schools, especially middle and high schools every day.

Still, I am happy to live in Oakland, precisely because of its multiculturalism and multilingualism. And I keep very close to my heart the dear wish that we succeed in Oakland as a multicultural community, because then, there is hope for the rest of the country, perhaps then for the world as well.

Anna:  As a retired bilingual educator, what do you feel is needed to inspire more Latino children and adults to read more books? (to keep them in school)

Lucha:  As a teacher, I realized that the most difficult task for me was to inspire my students, to teach them the critical skills necessary to succeed at whatever they chose to do, so they could be their own person not just follow what others dictate for them or victims of circumstance. It is in these aspects, the hardest to achieve, that teaching becomes an art not just a job.

So that my students would love reading, therefore writing—its twin—I have always read to them, no matter the age, and as I once read to my son and now read to my grandchildren. By the time I suggested that they read to me and to others, they did not find such a job difficult or a cause for embarrassment. In experiencing the comfort and pleasure of being read to, of listening, they also found pleasure in reading to others. From that to reading on their own there was but a short step, but still a leap to writing their own stories, which then would be read to others.

Nothing in teaching is easy or short. Educating a human being, younger or older, is always hard constant work over an extended period of time. I have always been passionate about teaching as much as about writing. Thus, it was difficult to retire in 2005 after 31 years because I wanted to devote all my time to writing. While I was a full time teacher and a single mom and head of household, the only time I had to write was from 5 to 7 a.m. but I wrote every day, a schedule difficult to keep up with as I grew older.

Although I don’t regret my decision to retire, and feel that I have earned the right to write full time now, I still miss the classroom very much. So I am now planning not only story-reading sessions for elementary school children through the local neighborhood libraries, but also offering writing workshops for small groups of girls, whose teachers identify them as budding writers.

Anna:  What has writing given you that nothing else-people, experiences, jobs, relationships- has ever been able to give you? Why do you believe that is?

Lucha:  Personal satisfaction and the desire to live each day fully. I’ve also found out that when I’m the most bored, I become the most creative. Then I know that I also write to entertain myself. If I find that something I’m writing bores me, I am certain it’ll be boring to anyone who reads it. I guess I believe like Cervantes that literature must entertain before it does anything else. So I go back and re-write.

When I write I want for nothing. Everything makes sense, and everything is possible. I need writing like I need my coffee and the milk and sugar in it every day, nourishment, like the air I breathe, the books I read to keep my mind always young, faith to help my spirit endure.

I once wrote in a poem that “Nothing is fixed or perpetual/not rain/or seed/or you/or I/or our grief/in this world that is bleeding/because we’re forever cutting paths/opening our way along unfamiliar roads/conquering the fury of oblivion verse by verse.”

I also write because I want the best part of me to endure long after I’m gone from this earth.

Anna:  Ms. Lucha Corpi, it has been an honor to feature you and your novel, Death at Solstice: A Gloria Damasco Mystery. I admire what you have accomplished in your life, as well as with your writing. Thank you for making The Sol Within a stop on your book tour! I wish you all the best with your writing.

Lucha:  Gracias, Anna, for having me and Gloria Damasco, and for your very thoughtful questions. It has been my pleasure. Thanks again. Happy Holidays to you and your readers!


Death at Solstice is the final novel in the Gloria Damasco mysteries.  If you leave a question or comment today on The Sol Within, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of Death at Solstice!  Plus, Lucha Corpi will be available to answer any questions that the readers have for her.  Lucha Corpi is also generously giving away a collection of all four of the Gloria Damasco books to the person that visits and comments on the most blogs throughout the Latino Virtual Book Tour.  If you don't win a copy of the book today or win the set of books at the end of the tour, don't fret, just click on the title at the beginning of this post and order your copy from Amazon!  

To check out more of Lucha Corpi's books and other information visit her Red Room author's page!

Thank you for taking the time to visit The Sol Within and for supporting Latino authors!

Wishing you dreams to fulfill and the inspiration needed to do so!
~the sol within~

This week's Latino Virtual Book Tour has been exceptionally well done and informative!  The tour continues next week and to check out the blogs Lucha Corpi visited this week see the schedule below...



  1. This was a great interview. I am a huge Edgar ALlen Poe fan. This has definitely sparked an interest for me and I look forward to reading your mystery novels!

    Do you have plans to write about a Latino male detective? Maybe he can work with Gloria or they can become rivals?


  2. Hi All, yeah Lucha is the best. The first and only Latina mystery writer for a very long time. I've known her a long time yet reading all her comments on this blog book tour, I've learned even more about her and been very impressed. Great job, Anna. It's been a pleasure and a gift working with you. You certainly give a whole bunch more than you get.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Book Tour

    be sure to visit our new website.

  3. Thank you, Jo Ann! This has been a wonderful tour and I feel that I have learned so much about Lucha, writing, and life in general throughout the tour this week.

    Jo Ann, it is because of you that I have been blessed with so many opportunities lately and have met some great people along the way! I appreciate all you've done to further the progress of Latino authors!

    All the best,

  4. Hi Agroculture. Thanks for your question. I do have a male detective, Justin Escobar. He's introduced toward the end of the first novel, Eulogy for a Brown Angel. He's the pro. Gloria is the amateur in that novel. Then she apprentices with him to get her P.I. license. so they work together in the second mystery, Cactus Blood. He also works together with a second Chicana P.I. in Crimson Moon, which is not a Gloria Damasco mystery. He has been beeeggiiing me for his own series. Maybe I'll accommodate him soon. Abrazo, Lucha

  5. Lucha's story is very moving. Congrats on showcasing such an interesting writer. I'm inspired by how much we have in common. It makes the world a smaller, friendlier place.

  6. And I'm also grateful to Jo Ann, who has gone way beyond the required for all her Latino authors, and for me in particular. Always there encouraging, making the process easy, and pacing it so we don't get burned out fast. You're the best, Jo Ann.
    And as I wrote yesterday as my good night to you and Mayra, Anna. I feel I'm already among friends. No one could hope to get better friends than you, Mayra and Jo Ann. Gracias for hosting me today and for being the caring and lovely person you are.

  7. Good morning, Joylene. Thank you for your comments. You're absolutely right. Reaching out to each other, sharing one another's story it's so important. Then the world is not such a cold, distant place. Gracias for being here with me this morning.

  8. I will be available again for questions and comments throughout the day, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.(PST) California time. Abrazos.

  9. Thank you for being here today, Lucha. It is an honor to host you on my blog.

    I replied to your comment on Julia's blog post last night, but I had missed you already. So, if I may repeat, my daughter and I would love to work with Sarah Cortez. Please do pass my info on to her. My daughter is already drafting out ideas for the perfect mystery. My daughter has been working on children's books which she illustrates and has had two poems published! The grasshopper has surpassed her teacher! ;)
    But, I love it!

  10. Lucha, can you please share with the readers the story about why you are called the "Grand Dame of Chicano Mystery"? I enjoyed learning about it this week on the book tour and think it is a wonderful title/label!

    All the best,

  11. Hi Anna, I will pass your info to Sarah. And congrats to you and your daughter. Like mother like daughter, no question about it! I can't wait to read your and your daughter's work!
    At a panel presentation in L.A., sponsored by Latino Book and Family Festival, one of the most renowned Latina librarians said that about me. She also wrote a review of the panel discussion and the participating children's book authors for La Bloga, sometime in late Sept. or early Oct. Olivia referred to me as the "Grand Dame...." I can't deny my ego loved it!!

  12. I suppose that being the only Chicana writing mysteries for a good seventeen years, until Alicia Gaspar de Alba's Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders, earned the "Grand" title for me. If you look at the Sisters in Crime or the Mystery Writers of America books in print pubs., it's obvious that women in the U.S. count for at least half of the published authors in the mystery genre. I always ask myself why Chicanas/Latinas don't write/like to write mystery fiction. Do you think it has to do with our upbringing? I don't have the answer.

  13. Checking in. I had the hardest time signing in. Google googled me out every time.

  14. Hello Lucha: you have mentioned a few authors that in one way or another (I assume) influence you and your work (e.g., Cervantes).

    Can you note which authors have had the most influence on you/your work?

    Thanks again. Also, thank you Anna!

    All best, Joseph Morales

  15. Hello, Joseph. Thank you for stopping by today. What a great question...I look forward to Lucha's answer.

    Also, you have had some wonderful questions for Lucha this week and because of them I have learned so much! Joseph, you should join us and be a blog tour'd be great at it!

    All the best,

  16. Hi Joseph. Good to hear from you again. In some ways, every book I read influences me. Some writers are good at creating mood, others know instinctively how to portray people with only a few sentences, and yet others regale us with vivid descriptions of places we yearn to visit in person, from that moment on, even if they're on Mars or some other invented country or planet, or Hell for that matter. And then there are the poets, too. My list of favorites is very long. I call it my bi-alphabet soup because I have favorites in both my languages. I believe I answered that question at length for one of my blog hosts next week. Tune in and find out. Ah, a little mystery... Gracias, Joseph.

  17. Yes, Anna. Joseph, you would make a wonderful insightful blog host. How about it?

  18. Thank you to all who stopped by to visit my blog today and chat with Lucha Corpi. J., Jo Ann, Joylene, Joseph you all made this day even more special for me...and for all who read this post. Check in tomorrow to see whose name was drawn to win the autographed copy of Death at Solstice. Good luck!

    I hope everyone enjoyed today and learned something new.

    Thank you all so much!

  19. Lucha, I am more honored than I can express, that you allowed me to host you and your work today. You rearranged your schedule to be here today and I am grateful! As I wrote in my blog post, I will forever remember this day with you and all of your fans!

    Thank you for your earlier comment today. I feel the same camaraderie with you, Mayra, and Jo Ann.
    I feel very blessed!

    With much gratitude,
    ~Anna Rodriguez

  20. Gracias a todos, tambien. It's been a pleasure and I hope to chat with some of you again next week. You have been a most warm and welcoming host, Anna. Memorable for me too. I'll tell Sarah about you and your daughter. I'll keep you posted too when she calls for the submissions. Since the anthology is still in the planning stages, it might be a while before you hear from either of us. Abrazos a todos/todas. Buenas noches, y les desero un perfecto fin de semana.

  21. Hi :)
    Thank you for sharing here today. I enjoyed learning more about her & her writing.
    Happy Holidays,