Hispanic Heritage Month: 11 Hispanic American Authors with Must-Read Works
Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of the rich histories, unique cultures and historic contributions of people from Spanish-speaking areas around the globe. One great way to commemorate this important month is to cultivate your understanding of diverse perspectives — especially by reading books from celebrated Hispanic American authors.
To help you recognize and reflect during Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re taking you on a journey through the stories of some of today’s top novelists, poets and other creators from Hispanic backgrounds and giving you an overview of their most celebrated works. Whether you love illuminating novels or thoughtful poetry, you’re sure to find a great choice for your next read on this list of trailblazers and their indispensable works.
Sandra Cisneros – The House on Mango Street (1984)
Sandra Cisneros is the Mexican American author of the critically acclaimed novel The House on Mango Street. Through a series of vignettes, the book follows the coming-of-age story of a young Latina named Esperanza Cordero as she grows up in Chicago.
The House on Mango Street takes readers on an emotional journey as they follow Esperanza’s progress toward figuring out who she is in a world that can be all too oppressive. As University of Pittsburgh writing professor Peter Trachtenberg notes, the book also “captures the universal pangs of otherness…and shows how it can become a cause for celebration rather than shame” through its discussion of perspectives and cultures readers don’t always encounter in the mainstream.
Angie Cruz – “Dominicana” (2019)
Angie Cruz is a Dominican-American author who split her childhood years growing up between New York City and the Dominican Republic. She’s the author of numerous novels, including Soledad (2001) and Let It Rain Coffee (2005).
Cruz based her much-anticipated 2019 novel, Dominicana, around her mother’s immigration journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Along the way, Cruz set up an Instagram account dedicated to researching the journey of Dominican women immigrants at @dominicanasnyc.
Carmen María Machado – “In the Dream House” (2019)
Carmen Maria Machado is the author of the award-winning short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, as well as the best-selling memoir In the Dream House. Throughout the latter, she weaves a genre-bending tale around her struggle to understand a past abusive relationship with another woman.
Innovative, witty and mesmerizing, In the Dream House takes you along on the fearless journey of a woman who has to break through stereotypes surrounding lesbian relationships in order to find her own truth. It’s “breathtakingly inventive,” according to The New Yorker, and a must-read for anyone who appreciates intersections of genres and cultures.
Juan Felipe Herrera – “Notes on the Assemblage” (2015)
Juan Felipe Herrera grew up in the fields of California as the son of Mexican immigrants. He went on to become the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States, and his book Notes on the Assemblage demonstrates exactly why.
A collection of powerful poems written in both Spanish and English, Notes on the Assemblage conveys immigrant experiences with depth, weight and an impressive amount of beauty. In addition to this anthology, Herrera has authored 20 other books, including 13 more collections of poetry and even children’s books meant to inspire kids while exposing them to other cultures.
Julia Alvarez – “In the Time of the Butterflies” (2019)
Julia Alvarez was born in the Dominican Republic, where she was raised until immigrating to the United States at the age of 10. Throughout her prestigious career, she has written six novels, three non-fiction books, three poetry collections and 11 children’s books. In 2013, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in recognition of her incredible career.
In the Time of the Butterflies is Alvarez’s acclaimed historical fiction novel that tells the tale of four sisters. As opponents of Gen. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s dictatorship, the sisters are known as Las Mariposas — the Butterflies — and their tale is inspired by the true story of a family who worked to overthrow a Dominican dictatorship.
Isabel Allende – “The House of the Spirits” (1982)
Isabel Allende was born in Peru and raised in Chile. Today, she’s a best-selling, world-renowned author whose books have been translated into over 35 languages. In addition to The House of the Spirits, some of her other acclaimed works include books such as Of Love and Shadows, The Stories of Eva Luna, Island Beneath the Sea and The Japanese Lover.
The House of the Spirits was Allende’s first novel and is widely considered one of the most important books of the 20th century. Set in an unnamed Latin country, the story follows the account of a family who ultimately ends up on very different sides of a revolutionary political struggle.
Valeria Luiselli – “Lost Children Archive” (2019)
Author Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in multiple countries around the world. Though Luiselli is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books, Lost Children Archive was the first book she ever penned in English. The 2019 novel quickly racked up an impressive resume of awards, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Lost Children Archive follows the tale of a family that sets out on a road trip across America. Partially inspired by the Mexican-American border crisis, in which children were separated from their parents, the novel delves into how we each experience some of life’s most important moments, whether they’re traumatic, affirming or somewhere in between.
Erika L. Sánchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” (2017)
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet, novelist, essayist and daughter of Mexican immigrants. While growing up, she always dreamed of writing stories about girls of color, a goal she masterfully attained with her YA novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
The tale follows Julia, a young woman whose seemingly perfect sister Olga has recently passed away. As Julia attempts to live up to the standards her sister set, she delves deeper into the question of whether Olga was actually who she seemed. Despite its weight, the novel also has moments of laugh-out-loud humor as it explores the complexities and expectations that come along with growing up in a Mexican American family.
Carolina de Robertis – “Cantoras” (2019)
Carolina de Robertis is a Uruguayan author whose best-selling books include The Gods of Tango, Perla and The Invisible Mountain. Cantoras, which has been called De Robertis’ “masterpiece,” follows the tale of five women who seek refuge from a military government that criminalizes homosexuality.
Over the course of 35 years, the women fight alongside each other to maintain their true identities. A story of love, strength and, ultimately, hope, Cantoras is a novel that may be destined to go down in history as a genre-defining masterpiece.
Daniel Alarcón – “At Night We Walk in Circles” (2013)
Peruvian author Daniel Alarcón is also a journalist, a radio producer, and the host and co-founder of NPR’s Spanish language podcast Radio Ambulante. His breakout novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, follows the narrator’s investigation into the life of an actor named Nelson who sets out with a touring theater troupe.
As Nelson’s journey takes him across a land still scarred by civil war, long-buried secrets begin to emerge among the play’s tight-knit cast. The story explores the themes of identity, fate and how even the smallest actions can have life-changing consequences.
Ingrid Rojas Contreras – “Fruit of the Drunken Tree” (2018)
Award-winning author Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, which is also the setting for her novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Partially inspired by events from the author’s own life, the novel follows the tale of a young girl named Chula and a maid named Petrona, who is hired by Chula’s mother.
As the surrounding community rages with the threat of violence under the reign of Pablo Escobar, the story explores the coming-of-age tales of the main characters, each from their own perspectives.