When we think of Chicana Literature there are a few big influential names that immediately come to mind. Amazing women like Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, Ana Castillo, and Sandra Cisneros are the usual suspects on a class syllabus or even required reading in high school. But there are so many equally incredible Chicana writers, playwrights, poets, and essayists that we just might not know about if we didn’t major in Chicano studies or if we don’t know too much about Chicana literature and history. Here is a list of 20 incredible Chicana writers whose names you should know.
Alex Temblador is an accomplished novelist and travel writer with a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma. She’s had creative writing pieces published in PALABRITAS, Cigale Literary Magazine, and Scissortale Review. She’s also had her work published in several outlets like HuffPost, Architectural Digest, Hotels.com, and Womanista — just to name a few. Her young adult novel Secrets of the Casa Rosada is about 16-year-old Martha who is abandoned in Laredo, Texas by her unstable mother. She’s left with a grandmother she didn’t know existed and has to discover a whole new family and way of life. Her grandmother doesn’t speak English and she doesn’t speak Spanish. The book deals with getting back to your roots, curanderismo, family secrets, and finding your own way.
Graciela Limón is a Los Angeles born Chicana with a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Spanish American literature. Her work incorporates history, anthropology, Mexican heritage, border experience, and the struggles of personal identity. She is a part of the Chicana fiction renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s. She’s taught U.S. Hispanic Literature and chaired the Department of Chicano Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She received the American Book Award in 1994 for her novel Search of Bernabé. She also wrote four other novels: The Memories of Ana Calderón, Song of the Hummingbird, The Day of The Moon, and Erased Faces, which have all received wide critical acclaim.
El Paso born, Estaela Trambley was one of the first female Mexican-American writers to achieve national attention for her plays and writing. Her 1977 book Rain of Scorpions and Other Writings, was the first collection of short stories published by a Chicana author. Many of her works focused on immigration, as well as, the plight women faced at the time, mainly calling out the travesties women experienced at the hands of a patriarchal society. Her female leads are strong characters who want to live independent lives. In her play Day of the Swallows, the lead character refuses marriage and enters into a lesbian relationship instead. Trambley won the Quinto Sol Award for it in 1972. She also wrote novels, poetry, and essays. She taught high school English and eventually taught creative writing at UC-Davis.
Valeria Luiselli is the daughter of a diplomat who was born in Mexico City and then moved all over the world. She moved to Madison, Wisconsin when she was two but grew up in Costa Rica, South Korea, India, and South Africa. Luiselli received the American Book Award in 2018 for her novel Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions and was awarded The MacArthur Genius Grant in 2019. She has said that her latest novel Lost Children Archive is a loudspeaker for the political rage she felt volunteering as a court translator for Latin American child refugees. Tell Me How It Ends is also about her experiences with translating for the children at the border. It was called “humane yet horrifying” by Jeremy Garber of Powell’s Books.
Désirée Zamorano is a playwright, a novelist and the director of the Community Literacy Center at Occidental College. She works with InsideOut Writers, which is a program that works with formerly incarcerated youth. She’s also a Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction. Her latest novel The Amado Women is an ode to upwardly mobile Latina matriarchs that somehow manage to raise strong daughters, despite the disappointing men in their lives. It’s the story of a mother who watches her daughters lose touch and move in separate directions until a tragic and random event brings them all together once more.
Cristina Rivera Garza
Cristina Rivera-Garza is a writer, a poet, and a professor. She has taught creative writing and history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Tec de Monterrey, Campus Toluca and the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of six novels, three non-fiction books, three collections of short stories, and five collections of poetry. Her works are all originally written in Spanish but have been translated into English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Korean. She is most known for the way she blends styles, genres, and elements as a way to create her own genre. One of her best-known works is Nadie Me Verá Llorar (No One Will See Me Cry), a story about a photographer who becomes obsessed with a woman at an insane asylum because he believes she was a prostitute he might have known years before. He digs and discovers the backstory that led her there which includes themes of love, activism, and defeating a repressive society.
Laurie Ann Guerrero
Laurie Ann Guerrero was born and raised on the Southside of San Antonio. She earned her BA from Smith College and her MFA from Drew University. Guerrero is the author of two full collections of poetry. Her first was Babies Under the Skin, which won the Panhandler Publishing Award. Her book of sonnets A Crown for Gumecindo is about loss and the first year of grief she experienced after the passing of her grandfather. Her most well-known manuscript is A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, which won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. It is powerful storytelling poetry where Guerrero explores recognizing one’s own power, as well as the ability and right to speak and fight for oneself, family, and community. She was appointed Poet Laureate of San Antonio in 2014, and the Poet Laureate of the State of Texas in 2016. In 2017, she became the first writer-in-residence at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Julissa Arce is a CNBC and Crooked media contributor, writer, speaker, social justice advocate, and best selling author. She came to the U.S. from Taxco, Mexico at 11 years old and was undocumented for 15 years before being sworn in officially in 2014. Her books and body of work give voice and a face to the undocumented community. Her novel My (Underground) American Dream chronicles her journey from Mexico to Texas and being a Wall Street executive at Goldman-Sachs. Her most recent work Someone Like Me is a young adult novel that tells the often-overlooked story of what it’s like for immigrant children to assimilate. She is the co-founder and chairman of the Ascend Educational Fund, which is a scholarship and mentorship program that helps college-bound students regardless of legal status.
Jáltipan, Mexico born author Lucha Corpi actually trained to be a dentist before immigrating to the United States. She went on to earn her Bachelors at UC Berkeley and her Masters from San Francisco State University. She’s a Jane of many genres and has written books of poetry, bilingual children’s books, and a memoir — as well as mystery. She wrote four mystery novels set during the Chicano rights movement that follows detective Gloria Damasco. Readers get to follow her growth and cases in Cactus Blood, Black Widow’s Wardrobe, Crimson Moon, and Death at Solstice. Her most recent book is a collection of personal essays, Confessions of a Book Burner published in 2016. Corpi is the recipient of the poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Oakland Cultural Arts fiction fellowship. She is also a recipient of the International Latino Book Award and the PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Award.
Reyna Grande is an award-winning author and sought after public speaker whose work focuses on immigration, language trauma, family separation, and the price of the American dream. She was only two years old when her Dad moved to the U.S. and four when her mother also made her way North. Being left behind by her parents in Mexico has a profound effect on Grande and her siblings. Her most famous work is The Distance Between Us, which is also available as a young adult novel. It’s a first-hand account of what it was like before and after immigrating to the states, as well as what it’s like being a child left behind. Her much-anticipated sequel, A Dream Called Home came out in 2018. Her other works include Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies.
Demetria Martinez is a widely translated novelist, activist, creativity coach, and journalist based in New Mexico. Her most famous work is Mother Tongue, a novel based on her 1988 trial for conspiracy against the United States government. Yes, you read that correctly! Martinez was accused of smuggling Salvadoran refugees into the country and faced up to a 25-year prison sentence. At the time she was covering citizens who defied unjust immigration laws and were helping refugees from Central America. She was acquitted by a jury on the grounds of the First Amendment. Mother Tongue won a Western States Book Award for Fiction. She’s also written poetry, autobiographical essays, and co-authored an e-book with former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, These People Want to Work: Immigration Reform.
Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Stephanie Elizondo Griest was born and raised in Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. In 2005 she became a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, she won a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Gold Prize, and the Richard Margolis Award for Social Justice Reporting in 2007. She even drove 45,000 miles across the United States, documenting its history for The Odyssey. Her five novels all deal with issues of activism, travel, and cultural identity. Her book Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines is part memoir, part reporting and chronicles her travels to Mexico, where she was looking for her roots but found a social movement instead. Griest has also written for the Washington Post, Latina Magazine, and the New York Times just to name a few. She’s been to 29 different countries and is currently a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and a Board Member of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Erika L. Sanchez
Erika L. Sanchez grew up in Cicero, Illinois, on the border of Chicago’s Southwest Side and is the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. She is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She got her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and an MFA from the University of New Mexico. She was recently appointed the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at DePaul University and a core faculty member of the Randolph College Low Residency MFA Program. Sanchez was a recipient of the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, as well as the 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow. Her latest work, Lessons on Expulsion is a collection of poetry that explores what it means to live on both sides of the border, as well as all of the other types of borders that we create and are created for us. It was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. She is most known for her novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, which was a New York Times Bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist.
Pat Mora has written more than 45 books, including several books of poetry, a memoir and many adult, children’s, and young adult books. She received her BA from Texas Western College and an MA from the University of Texas, El Paso. She’s worked as a museum director and as a consultant on U.S.-Mexico youth exchanges and has taught at the University of New Mexico. Her most recent work was an adult poetry collection, Encantado: Desert Monologues in which she brings to life images of southwest town and weaves together the lives of members of the community. She also wrote I Pledge Allegiance and Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! with her daughter Libby.
Helena Maria Viramontes
Helena Maria Viramontes is one of Chicano literature’s most authoritative writers. Her short stories have been published in a variety of literary journals and she has written some of the most important textbooks and anthologies used by academia. The 1968 Chicano Blowouts and the Chicano rights movement played a significant role in her writing. Her short stories have been described as democratic, meaning no single protagonist dominates the storyline. She’s also known for creating strong female and child protagonists. Her work takes a hard look at the difficult and desperate lives of Mexican-Americans, as well as the systems of oppression and violence they suffer. She took an almost 10-year hiatus from academia and during that time she wrote for many underground literary journals. Viramontes also co-edited Chicana Creativity and Criticism with María Herrera-Sobek. She published a collection of short stories, The Moths in 1985 and her first novel Under the Feet of Jesus was published in 1995. It received critical acclaim and follows the lives of Mexican migrant workers living and working in the California grape fields. She currently teaches at Cornell University.
Myriam Gurba is a queer writer and visual artist from Santa Maria, California who received her degree from UC Berkeley. She has written several books, articles, short stories and essays which have been internationally published. She’s also written for Time, KCET, and the Rumpus. Her most recent novel, Mean is a combination of many genres including true crime, memoir, and ghost story. It’s a funny coming of age story of her experiences as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. It uses humor to touch on hard-hitting topics like race, sexual violence, and growing up in a small town. She currently teaches high school and creates art in Long Beach, California.
Denise Elia Chavez is an author, playwright, and stage director. She received her Bachelor’s from New Mexico State University, Master’s degrees in Dramatic Arts from Trinity University and an MFA from the University of New Mexico. Her first collection of short stories, The Last of the Menu Girls was published in 1986. It’s a coming of age story and a portrait of the diverse community she’s a part of. It’s made up of seven interrelated stories about a young Mexican American woman from southern New Mexico. Chavez won American Book Award, the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize, the Mesilla Valley Author of the Year Award, and the 2003 Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature for The Last of the Menu Girls. Her novel Loving Pedro Infante, also earned her critical acclaim.
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poetry explores cultural exchanges, gender and socio-economic differences between Mexican, Anglo, Black, and Native American people living in the US. She is the director of the creative writing program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Cervantes’ poems tend to focus on the struggles of being Mexican and of Native descent, as well as the trials of language and bilingualism. From a young age she was discouraged from speaking Spanish as a way to shield her from racism. This fueled her first collection of poems Emplumada where she jumps back and forth between English and Spanish. Emplumada won the American Book Award in 1982. She’s also written several other critically acclaimed works like From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger, Drive: The First Quartet, and Sueño — just to name a few. Cervantes has won many awards and honors, including the Paterson Prize for Poetry, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, and a Latino Literature Award.
Martha P. Cotera
Martha P. Cotera was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated to El Paso, Texas with her mother in 1946. She is nationally recognized as an activist, feminist, historian, and archivist who has written over 100 essays, articles, and book chapters. Her two most notable works are Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S. and the definitive text The Chicana Feminist. Cotera was also featured in a documentary, Las Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana, an account of some of the Chicana participants of the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas. Currently she is national advisor for Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Project. Since 1964, she’s won many national, state, and local awards for scholarship, leadership, and civic activism. She is also a founding member of over 23 organizations that advocate for women and families.
Jovita González was a South Texas-born folklorist, educator, and writer. She received an English education and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree with a teaching certificate in history and Spanish from Lady of the Lake College. She was one of the first Mexican-American women to go to the University of Texas at Austin, where she received her Master’s Degree. González is most well known for Caballero: A Historical Novel, which she co-authored with Margaret Eimer (under the pseudonym Eve Raleigh). Caballero tells the story of a mid-nineteenth-century Mexican landowner and his family living in southern Texas during the U.S.-Mexico War. It follows the romance between young lovers from opposing sides of the conflict. María E. Cotera has researched and written extensively about González’s contributions to Mexican American literature, south Texas history, and folklore. Reyna 2000 is a collection of González’s folktales, brought together and published for the first time.