15 Essential Books By Latino Authors in America

Cigar factories in Puerto Rico! The streets of East L.A.! Love and loss in Washington Heights! In time for Hispanic Heritage Month, a non-exhaustive list of Latino authors writing in English in the United States.

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1. A Puerto Rican in New York by Jesús Colón

International Publishers / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? This is a collection of essays and newspaper articles written over a lifetime between Puerto Rico and New York. The pieces deal with everything from daily life in cigar factories to government repression of the Puerto Rican worker's movement.

Why you should read it? Because Colon's prose is incredible, and because he presents a prime example of how politics and art can mix and boost each other. Also, because communist Latinos in 1930s New York are about as cool as it gets.

Nicolas Medina Mora

2. The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

Bloomsbury Publishing / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? The People of Paper is deliberately disorienting and has scores of narrators, but from the complexity unfolds a deeply personal and heartbreaking story that exists in an imaginative Los Angeles as fantastical as it is truthful.

Why should you read it? In his debut novel, Salvador Plascencia follows in the footsteps of the Latino tradition of magical realism with a book that is both experimental and ambitious.

Brian Galindo

3. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Bloomsbury Publishing / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? This coming-of-age novel follows Ezperanza Cordero, a young girl who grows up in an impoverished Latino neighborhood in Chicago amongst Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. The book is told through vignettes that do not follow a chronological order.

Why should you read it? Cisneros writes this book from the perspective of Ezperanza Cordero, the young girl (her age is hinted but never revealed). As a kid who grew up going to public school, I had never read a book like this. First, the protagonist was Latina. Up to that point, none of the books taught in middle school had characters that Latinos could relate to. Second, the book is, in my opinion, an avant-garde masterpiece of literature. The book is told through vignettes, poems, and everyday observations. Cisneros drops the reader into Ezperanza's adolescent physique and it's beautiful, dangerous, and overall relatable.

Norberto Briceño

4. Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes

University of Pittsburg / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? The first book of one of the legends of Chicano poetry, Emplumada contains incisive meditations on the relationship between inner experience and the surrounding world.

Why should you read it? Because of lines like these: "Flowers / born when the weather was good — this / she thinks of, watching the branch of peaches / daring their ways above the fence, and further, / two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other, / arcing their bodies in grim determination / to find what is good."

Nicolas Medina Mora

5. How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez

Algonquin Books / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? This is a coming-of-age story about four sisters from the Dominican Republic.

Why should you read it? Because of its innovative narrative technique. The story begins with the end and then, like memory, works its way back to the beginning.

Nicolas Medina Mora

6. The Animals by Justin Torres

Mariner Books / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? We the Animals is about three half-Puerto Rican brothers living in an all-white town in upstate New York, and their parents, who have an explosive, passionate, and, at times, abusive relationship. The narrator, the youngest brother, is the black sheep of the family, and it's closely connected to the childhood and the sexual awakening of the author, Justin Torres.

Why should you read it? The book is only 144 pages but it punches you in the gut, with an intense, fast-moving story and strange, lyrical imagery.

Molly Hensley-Clancy

7. Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón

Harper Perennial / Via turnstylenews.com

What's the book about? Lost City Radio describes a post-civil war dystopia in a nameless Latin American country for which the center of gravity is loss: the missing, the disappeared, and those whose days are driven by their absence.

Why should you read it? Alarcón writes fiction in English influenced by the great Latin American tradition of the crónica: journalism that is also literature and vice versa. It helps that he is an accomplished reporter (his dispatch for Harper’s from a vast Peruvian prison is simply masterful).

David Noriega

8. Drown by Junot Díaz

Riverhead Trade / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? Junot Díaz's debut collection of short stories is a familiar promenade through South Jersey and DR, unrequited love and unencumbered machismo. Which is to say, the things that propelled Díaz, deservingly, into the literary stratosphere. Readers familiar with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao will recognize Yúnior, but the thing that everyone can recognize is Díaz's incredible voice. When you laugh with his writing — and there are many, many laughs in Drown — you're doing it paired with an incredible tenderness for his characters and their experiences.

Why should you read it? I remember the first time I read Junot Díaz. I'm not really sure I remember reading anything quite that clearly. To see italicized words in Spanish — puta, pendejo, sucia — in the New Yorker made me feel like there was a place for young people of color in the monocle-gazing land of Eustace Tilley. Drown had this effect on me, too, where I realized there was a way to talk about the shame and disenfranchisement of people of color while also making people laugh. And I laughed, because I loved the thought of all these bespectacled fancy people nursing their afternoon gin and tonics looking up what a sucia is. Junot Díaz changed the way I thought about writing.

Julia Furlan

9. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Warner Books / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? Bless Me, Ultima tells the story of a young Mexican boy growing up in a Chicano community in the American Southwest. It's a basic coming-of-age story told in the context of Mexican-American culture.

Why should you read it? It was the first book I ever read that captures Chicano culture and elements of folklore, curanderismo, and myth. Lots of books cover Mexican culture, but I feel this is the first to cover it in an American setting from the perspective of an insider.

Javier Moreno

10. Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral

Yale University Press / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? "Refusing to privilege one way of viewing the world over another," as Corral once said of his decision of not italicizing Spanish words in his poems.

Why should you read it? Because it contains lines like these: "Once, borracho, at breakfast, / he said: The heart can only be broken /once, like a window. ¡No mames! His favorite/ belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal."

Nicolas Medina Mora

11. When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

Da Capo Press / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? The first part of a trilogy, this memoir tells the story of the author's childhood in Puerto Rico and her family's emigration to New York.

Why should you read it? Because it captures the dramatic change in scenery that many Latinos experience. When you go from guava groves and Spanish to the sidewalks of Brooklyn and English, you change. And that change is both beautiful and painful, and Santiago renders it masterfully.

Nicolas Medina Mora

12. Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Back Bay Books / Via media.mlive.com

What's the book about? Almost all the men in a Mexican village have left in search of a better life north of the border. And so a young girl sets out in search of men to take their place.

Why should you read it? Because the experience of leaving and returning, or trying to return, is the oldest and most powerful of stories, and hearing it again in the context of the great Latin American migration to the United States is a sobering reminder of the humanity of migrants.

Nicolas Medina Mora

13. Always Running: La Vida Loca by Luis J. Rodriguez

Open Road Media / Via d28hgpri8am2if.cloudfront.net

What's the book about? This is the autobiography of Luis J. Rodriguez, a Chicano kid who grew up in the gang life in the streets of East L.A.

Why should you read it? Because this is one of the first books that delved into the hardships of gang life in East L.A. in the '70s and '80s. The book does a good job of portraying the struggle of living up to a macho image, which was extremely prevalent in those years, especially in rough Latino neighborhoods. You see Luis eventually get out of the gang life and pursue his ambitions as a writer, but not without seeing the dark side of his adolescent years. The book is dark and gritty, but extremely relatable for most Latino men.

Norberto Briceño

14. Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

BOA Editions / Via bookcritics.org

What's the book about? Girmay's second book concerns itself with remembering the dead, taking the form of the elegy as a starting point to meditate upon the living.

Why you should read it? Because it contains lines like these: "Last night, all night / the dream, the dead /mother, my small sister, / tiny, her mouth /over my shoulder / (screaming) like a knapsack / when she heard the news, / & my brother playing / the stereo."

Nicolas Medina Mora

15. Butterfly Boy by Rigoberto González

University of Wisconsin Press / Via ecx.images-amazon.com

What's the book about? Gonzalez's memoir reflects on his past growing up in a family of migrant farmworkers while also fast-forwarding to offer glimpses of his attempt of escape an abusive relationship. That Gonzalez, a celebrated poet and critic, is able dissect his past and present so effortlessly is a testament to his brilliance.

Why you should read it? In addition to being beautifully written, Butterfly Boy is a much-needed addition the cannon of "coming-of-age" memoirs, a genre that all too often ignores the experiences of queer men of color, especially immigrants. Having published 15 books, Rigoberto Gonzalez has himself done a great deal to contribute to American literature but this memoir remains one of his more personal offerings.

Saeed Jones

Big hat tips to the magnificent Tony Diaz and to the great Rigoberto Gonzalez for hipping us to some really great poets!

Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at nicolas.mora@buzzfeed.com.

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