Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas by Frederick Luis Aldama

By Frederick Luis Aldama

This first severe biography of Arturo Islas (1938­1991) brings to existence the advanced and overlapping worlds inhabited by means of the homosexual Chicano poet, novelist, student, and professor. Gracefully written and deeply researched, Dancing with Ghosts considers either the bigger questions of Islas's life—his sexuality, racial identity, and political personality—and the occasions of his daily lifestyles, from his adolescence within the borderlands of El Paso to his maturity in San Francisco and at Stanford college. Frederick Aldama portrays the various features of Islas's attractive and infrequently contradictory character. He additionally explores Islas's getting into the craft of poetry and fiction—his notable fight to post his novels, The Rain God, l. a. Mollie and the King of Tears, and Migrant Souls—as good as his pivotal position in paving the best way for a brand new iteration of Chicano/a students and writers.

Through a skillful interweaving of lifestyles historical past, feedback, and literary thought, Aldama paints an strangely wealthy and wide-ranging portrait of either the guy and the eventful instances during which he lived. He describes Islas's fight with polio as a toddler, his near-death event and ileostomy as a thirty-year-old commencing to discover his queer sexuality in San Francisco within the Seventies, and his deadly fight with AIDS within the overdue Eighties. Drawing from countless numbers of unpublished letters, lecture notes, drafts of essays, novels, and poetry archived at Stanford collage, Aldama additionally bargains frankly with the controversies that swirled round Islas's impassioned love lifestyles, his drug addictions, and his scholarly occupation as one of many first Chicano/a professors within the usa. He discusses the significance of Islas's pioneering function in bridging Anglo, Latin American, Chicano/a, and eu storytelling kinds and voices. Dancing with Ghosts succeeds brilliantly either as an account of a desirable lifestyles that embraced many alternative worlds and as a chronicle of the grand historic shifts that remodeled the late-twentieth-century American cultural landscape.

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Extra resources for Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas

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He notes one such swing: “i am in grand spirits. . How am I getting through these days? A vague discontent; premonitions of disaster” (February 13, 1983; box 54, folder 6). Throughout his life he endured restless nights, often waking up in tears. Though he tried to escape by drinking and taking drugs, he realized they only made his mood swings more extreme. Continual therapy and a stay in an AA clinic eventually helped him acknowledge the past that continued to live in his present. Islas kept up a performance of perfection.

As a young boy, Islas was very sensitive about his ears; he would often be teased about how they stuck out, and at one point even considered using his father’s razor to cut them off. Yet while Sonny bonded deeply with his mother, he also felt increasingly uneasy about her frequent gestures, sighs, and comments about her self-sacrifice, discomfort, and sense of victimization as the wife of Arturo Sr. As the boy came of age he learned to keep her emotional baggage at arm’s length. Home involved a complex tangle of emotion for Sonny, so he often found alternate places for solace.

The fact that Sonny could not be the jock-son his father wanted to carry on the Islas line estranged father from son. ” His father’s hugs and other patently macho expressions were meant to show the son that he was physically stronger and more fit. Islas powerfully sublimated his feelings of estrangement from his father, dreaming on one occasion as an adult how, he writes in his journal, “My father comes in the back door of the old house. Behind him, the landscape is frozen in snow and ice. He looks young, lean and brown, is carrying a bicycle” (October 23, 1976).

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