Confessions of a Book Burner
(Arte Público Press – paperback )
In the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, a school teacher who knew the Corpi family let little four-year-old Lucha come to class with her older brother and spend each day sitting quietly at the back of the room.
As Lucha watched and listened, she soon began learning how to read and write and also how, literally, to blend into backgrounds.
These skills later would serve her well at a pivotal moment in her adult life, when she suddenly found herself a divorced young mother living in a foreign country, the United States, with a young son to support while surrounded by racial bias.
Confessions of a Book Burner is a well-written collection of personal essays and stories that reflect on Lucha Corpi’s journey to becoming a novelist, poet and teacher, and then, breaking out of her in-the-background comfort zone, becoming a San Francisco Bay-area activist for bilingual education, women’s rights, and civil rights.
“Throughout my life, no matter where I’ve lived, silence and melancholy have been my friends and allies,” she writes in her memoir. “They’ve aided the internalization of feeling and the introspection necessary to find the variety of incongruent elements in my conscious and subconscious mind that eventually come together to form [a] poem” or other written work.
“Teaching, writing and motherhood, all-consuming aspects of my life, hardly allowed me time to wallow in self-pity or regret,” she adds.
Lucha Corpi is now an internationally recognized novelist, poet, and author of children’s books. Among her works are four novels in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series, which she began after reading “many mystery novels as well as author interviews on the writing of crime fiction….”
She continues: “Every road taken in my search for the reason Chicanas do not write mysteries kept leading me back to the reading corner. Sin lectura no hay ni escritura e literatura–there is no literature without reading and writing.” Her informal surveys of Chicanas and Latinas convinced her that these readers turned away from mysteries because they don’t like stories about crime and guns and women as victims and seldom have read them.
To that, she writes: “I can…assure any Chicana who is now contemplating penning a mystery novel that the writing of crime fiction, when one respects one’s art, is as legitimate as any other kind of writing; that exposing the machinations of a ‘justice system’ which more often than not stacks the deck against women, especially women of color, is not only all right; it is also a way to obtaining justice for those who won’t or can’t speak for themselves.”
— Si Dunn