Latina Reads: 13 Mexican And Chicana Escritoras Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

Mexican literature is one of the most prolific and influential throughout Latin America. From narratives on revolution to the more contemporary concept of intersectional feminism, works by Mexican and Mexican-American women — spanning centuries — are truly seminal.

At the heart of much of the writing is the desire to combat social norms and create a new inclusive and equal reality, and that’s what the amazingly talented women on this list do with their words.

Here, Mexican and Mexican-American authors you need to make room for on your bookshelves.

1. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

One of the most famous and bold Latina writers of all time, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was born Juana Ramírez de Asbaje on November 12, 1651 in San Miguel Nepantla, Tepetlixpa, Mexico. She was a self-taught scholar and poet who faced prejudice and oppression for being a female writer during a time when women weren’t viewed as intellectual beings. Some of her most famous poems include “Primero Sueño,” a 975-line piece about a soul’s quest for knowledge, and “Hombres Necios,” which accuses men of exhibiting the illogical behavior that they claim is innate in women. One of her most powerful poems, though, is “Respuesta a Sor Filotea,” where she defends a woman’s right to an education. The late writer is recognized as the first published feminist of the New World and remains an icon. Recently, her story was told in the Netflix miniseries Juana Inés.

2. Sandra Cisneros

Today’s badass female writer is Sandra Cisneros. Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican-American writer. She is best known for her first novel The House on Mango Street (1984) and her subsequent short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991). Her work experiments with literary forms and investigates emerging subject positions, which Cisneros herself attributes to growing up in a context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality that endowed her with unique stories to tell. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, was awarded one of 25 new Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowships in 2017, and is regarded as a key figure in Chicana literature. I love not only her work, but her decision to be childless by choice. I support all women’s reproductive choices and I’m proud she went public with hers. #womenwhowrite #womenshistorymonth #sandracisneros #childlessbychoice

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Self-proclaimed chingona Sandra Cisneros, 63, is best known for her first novel “The House on Mango Street,” which published in 1984. But she continues to connect with Latinx readers through social media, amassing a following of more than 41K on Instagram. Her work — including “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories” — deals with issues like poverty, the formation of Chicana identity, belonging to multiple cultures and misogyny. In 1998, Cisneros established the Macondo Writers Workshop, which provides socially conscious events for writers, and in 2000 she founded the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, which awards talented writers connected to Texas.

3. Gloria Anzaldúa

"The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react." – Gloria E. Anzaldúa Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She was a poet, activist, theorist, and teacher. Anzaldúa described herself as a Chicana/Tejana/lesbian/dyke/feminist/writer/poet/cultural theorist, and these identities were explored in her work. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexico–Texas border. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders. Throughout the 1980s, Anzaldúa traveled to workshops and speaking engagements, participated in political activism, consciousness-raising, and groups such as the Feminist Writers Guild. She also looked for ways to build a multicultural, inclusive feminist movement. Anzaldúa edited two anthologies that collected the voices of feminists of many races and cultures. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color was published in 1983 and won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. It's been said that some readers struggle with the multiple languages in her writings – English, Spanish, and variations of those languages. However Anzaldúa has said, when the reader does the work of piecing together fragments of language and narrative, it mirrors the way feminists must struggle to have their ideas heard in a patriarchal society. Anzaldúa has won many awards for her work, including the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, the Lambda Lesbian Small Press Book Award, the Lesbian Rights Award (1991), the Sappho Award of Distinction (1992), and the American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award (Bode-Pearson Prize – 2001). Additionally, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza was recognized as one of the 38 best books of 1987 by Library Journal and 100 Best Books of the Century by both Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader. In 2012, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the LGBT History Month. #HERstory #WomensHistoryMonth #GloriaAnzaldúa #AmericanHistory #OurHistory

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Gloria Anzaldúa is a sixth-generation Mexican-American who popularized the mestiza experience with her book, “Borderlands / La FronteraIn it, the queer Chicana scholar examines the literal and figurative borders that exist for Latinas and lesbians in U.S. society. Born in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern foot of Texas, she drew inspiration from her childhood along the Mexico-U.S. border. Anzaldúa, considered a prominent figure in Chicana feminist literature, also edited texts like, “This Bridge Called My Back,” “Making Face, Making Soul” and “This Bridge We Call Home.”

4. Elena Poniatowska

#ElenaPoniatowska hoy cumple 86 años. Nació en Paris, luego de que la familia de su madre, Dolores Amor, fue exiliada de México por apoyar el Porfiriato. En 1955 su primera novela vio la luz; Lilus Kikus. y también conoce al dibujante Alberto Beltrán, quien influyó en que diera voz de los más marginados. En 1971, el entonces presidente Luis Echeverría le concedió el premio literario Xavier Villaurrutia por su novela “La noche de Tlatelolco”, sin embargo, la escritora lo rechazó. La escritora heredó el título de Princesa de Polonia gracias a su padre Jean Evremont Poniatowski Sperry, quien era heredero a la corona polaca. Poco importó para ella, y confesó que no visita a su familia europea, que la llaman “La Princesa Roja”. Sus textos fueron calificados por El Rey Juan Carlos de España como “literatura rebelde”, y de “gran compromiso social y humano”. 📸: Carlos Aranda 98.5 FM | #TRIÓN #SéDiferente

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While born in France, Elena Poniatowska is considered one of the most iconic Mexican authors of all time. Activist, journalist and author, she was born in 1932 after her mother fled the Mexican revolution. Poniatowska returned to her family’s homeland in 1942, later beginning her journalism career at Excelsior. As an author, her books cover social events, including the Tlatelolco Student Massacre, with “La Noche de Tlatelolco” published in 1971, and the catastrophic Mexico City earthquake of 1985, with “Nada, Nadie. Las Voces del Temblor” published in 1988. One of her most famous texts is Here’s to You, Jesusa,” which is based on more than a year’s worth of interviews with a poor laundry woman living in rural Mexico who struggles after the revolution in Mexico and the abandonment of her husband. Poniatowska is the recipient of the 2013 Miguel de Cervantes Prize in Spain for her contributions to Spanish literature and, at 86, she continues to write and is known as “Mexico’s Grande Dame Of Letters.”

5. Cherríe Moraga

Cherríe Moraga is is a prominent Chicana feminist writer who was one of the first to introduce the theory of Chicana lesbianism. She’s perhaps most famous for co-editing the feminist anthology “This Bridge Called My Back” with Gloria Anzaldúa in 1981, but the California-born poet, essayist and playwright has written, edited and contributed to others. Among them: Her first sole-authored book, the autobiographical “Loving in the War Years,” which mixes prose and poetry. She is currently an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  

6. Ariana Brown

Ariana Brown has developed a reputation as a “part-time curandera” with her powerful and raw poetry. The Mexican-American-African-American poet has received numerous awards and thousands of views on YouTube for her spoken word poetry on topics like class, gender, racism and mental health. In 2017, she released the chapbook “messy girl,” drawing from her own experience with depression, heartbreak and healing. Through her poetry, including “Volver, Volver,” Dear White Girls in My Spanish Class” and “Supremacy,” she discusses her mixed-race heritage, colonialism and racism.

7. Laura Esquivel

She is the mastermind behind one of the biggest international best-sellers that blended magical realism with a passionate love story. Laura Esquivel’s “Like Water for Chocolate” was released in 1989 in Mexico and later translated to multiple languages and made into an award-winning film in 1994, with Esquivel in charge of the screenplay. She has written eight books, including the acclaimed “La Malinche,” which recounts the arrival of Spaniards in Mexico from the perspective of the controversial historical figure who played a key role in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. She’s now serving in the Chamber of Deputies for the Morena Party in Mexico.

8. Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo is a Chicana novelist, poet and playwright. The Chicago-born writer tackles issues on race, class and gender through an experimental style. A leader in Chicana feminism, which she refers to as “Xicanisma,” Castillo has written several books, including “So Far from God,” a supernatural novel about family hardship and love, “Black Dove,” which offers a look at what it’s like to be a single, brown, feminist parent, “Give It To Me,” a sexy novel about an adventurous, recently divorced woman, “Goddess of the Americas,” a collection of essays about the Virgin of Guadalupe, and “Sapogonia,” which was named New York Times’ Notable Book of the Year. She is also the editor of La Tolteca, an arts and literary magazine.

9. Erika L. Sanchez

Good morning, Mexico City. ❤️

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Erika L. Sánchez is a Chicago-based poet and novelist. In 2017, she published her bestselling debut novel “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” which was a National Book Awards finalist. She also has a fierce poetry collection, “Lessons on Expulsion,” which is a candid and powerful exploration of themes on sex, shame, race, violence and xenophobia as she tells her story of being the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants.

10. Laureana Wright de Kleinhans

A feminist pioneer, Laureana Wright de Kleinhans defied the ideals of what a woman of her time should be like by establishing her magazine Violets of Anahuac in 1887. The publication’s content completely shifted ideas about womanhood by reimagining the feminine ideal as a cultured and educated wife and mother. She was one of the first feminist theorists in Mexico and wrote patriotic poetry while theorizing on women’s suffrage and equality for men and women.

11. Anna Marie McLemore

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Author Anna Marie McLemore‘s is a self-described queer Christian. Her books present LGBTQ fairytales, with women of color as protagonists. Much of her writing draws heavily on magical realism and family dynamics, which can be seen particularly in the upcoming “Blanca &  Roja,” which centers on two rivalrous sisters bound to a group of swans through a century-old spell. Her other novels include her critically acclaimed debut “The Weight Of Feathers,” about family rivalries, “Wild Beauty,” a magical exploration of love, loss and family, and “When The Moon Was Ours,” which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. “I’d love to see more intersectional stories! I’m always excited to hear about books with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have characters who are also of color, who are of faith, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities,” she told YARN.

12. Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli is a contemporary superstar in the literary world and one of the most celebrated Mexican writers today. Producing work in both English and Spanish, the New York-based author is behind the critically acclaimed novels Sidewalks,” “The Story of My Teeth” and “Faces in the Crowd.” Several of her books are inspired by her personal life, with themes of loss and absence (she spent her childhood traveling with her father, a Mexican ambassador), or taken from real-life experiences. In the 34-year-old’s latest release, “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions,” she was inspired by her work as a volunteer interpreter for children seeking asylum. In 2014, Luiselli received the National Book Foundation “5 under 35” award.

13. Cristina Rivera Garza

#cristinariveragarza

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A border child born in Tamaulipas, Cristina Rivera Garza developed a career writing on both sides of the frontera. Much of her work focuses on mental illness in early twentieth-century Mexico. Still, she is best known for her novel “Nadie Me Verá Llorar,” which won numerous literary awards in Mexico. Rivera Garza is the only author to win the international Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize twice. She has taught history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Tec de Monterrey, Campus Toluca and the University of California, San Diego. In 2014, Rivera Garza started a blog, which she continues to contribute to.

Read: Latina Reads: 14 Dominican And Dominican-American Escritoras Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

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