National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
Sun, Stone, and Shadows

Sun, Stone, and Shadows

by Jorge F. Hernández

The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared… Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence.


Temple of El Castillo in Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (Copyright Mark Segal/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) served as Mexican Ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977, and through his writing, he became Mexico's foremost literary ambassador to the world. Owing to his father's diplomatic career, Fuentes spent his childhood in Chile, Argentina, Washington, DC, and other international postings. He published his first novel, Where the Air Is Clear in 1958. Along with Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, and José Donoso, Fuentes was a major figure in the literary movement called "El Boom," the 1960s worldwide surge in popularity of modern Latin American literature. His later novels include The Old Gringo (1985), Will and Fortune (2008), and Destiny and Desire: A Novel (2011). He died in Mexico City on May 15, 2012.

Dana Gioia, the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (2003-2009), is an acclaimed poet, critic, and literary anthologist. His third collection of poetry, Interrogations at Noon (2001), won the American Book Award. He has also written collections of essays, including Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture (1992; 2002) and Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (2004).

Octavio Paz (1914-1998) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, the only Mexican writer so honored to date. Born in Mexico City, in 1943 he moved to the United States, where he became acquainted with American modernist poetry. He entered the Mexican Foreign Service in 1945 and was posted to Paris, where he collaborated on projects with prominent surrealists, such as André Breton. In 1962 Paz was named Mexico's Ambassador to India, an experience later reflected in several of his works. Paz founded and edited several significant literary magazines an became one of the most brilliant critical and poetic voices of modern Mexico. He died in Mexico City on April 19, 1998.

Known to television audiences as Betty's father (Ignacio Suarez) on the popular comedy/drama "Ugly Betty," Tony Plana has appeared regularly in movies and popular shows such as 24, The West Wing, and Monk. Plana is a founding member of East L.A. Classic Theatre, a Latino based Theatre Company that offers Shakespeare and theatre arts for youth in underserved communities of color. As a child, Plana emigrated with his family from his native Cuba to the United States.

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