Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Gritos

Essays

by Dagoberto Gilb

“[Gritos] is a collection about prejudice and pride, told with the flair of a storyteller known for his fiction. . . . [Gilb’s] prose is easy-flowing and thoughtful. He can be unbelievably funny. . . . What he has to say and how he says it is so interesting, you can’t help but pay attention.” –Marta Barber, The Miami Herald

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 21, 2004
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4127-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4634-3
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

From “an important voice in American fiction” (Annie Proulx), a collection of essays that cuts to the heart of the Mexican-American experience.

Dagoberto Gilb is one of today’s most captivating and provocative fiction writers. Now Gilb offers a collection of essays that brilliantly portrays an artist working to earn respect–and find his place–as a Mexican-American in the literary world and the world at large, to say nothing of his singular and beloved borderland of Texas.

“Gritos” are the cries in Mexican songs– exuberant and excited, loud and long–and Gilb’s essays are charged with the same urgency, sincerity, and musicality. Whether describing the humbling experience of turning to a psychic and being mysteriously ignored, or the nervous rush of attending a White House dinner as an award-winning author, Gilb’s stories attune us to the complexities of emotion and the exhilarating subtleties of everyday life.

In “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes,” his controversial piece for Harper’s, he travels to the land of his mother, to the spot where Cort’s first saw Malinche. In his heartrending piece ‘mi Mommy,” published in The New Yorker, he tackles the myths surrounding Mexican women such as his mother, and in ‘me Macho, You Jane,” those surrounding men like himself. In “Vaya con Dios, Rosendo Juarez,” he is asked to write a cop show for TV, and must struggle with its racist implications.

Whether his subject is cockfighting, Cormac McCarthy, fatherhood, or the constant frustrations of writing from the margins, Gilb can tell it only as he sees it, with his trademark combination of candor, lyricism, and wit. Always, he engages the reader with scenes as vividly rendered as they are funny, intimate, sometimes devastating. Even for those who have not had the pleasure of reading Gilb’s fiction, Gritos is an engaging glimpse into the heart and mind of a passionate and idiosyncratic thinker.

Praise

“[Gritos] is a collection about prejudice and pride, told with the flair of a storyteller known for his fiction. . . . [Gilb’s] prose is easy-flowing and thoughtful. He can be unbelievably funny. . . . What he has to say and how he says it is so interesting, you can’t help but pay attention.” –Marta Barber, The Miami Herald

Gritos is an intimate look at Gilb’s growth as a writer grappling with a desire to stay true to his working-class roots, and at the same time expose the powerful talent he has for penetrating, honest and emotional writing about cultural misconceptions, family relationships, manual labor and American literature.” –Paul S. Flores, The San Francisco Chronicle

“[Gilb’s] essays tackle the fantastic, the ridiculous, and the racially charged with a conversational style that, smiling, holds all accountable for these absurdities and wrongs.” –Mary Wiltenburg, The Christian Science Monitor

“A challenging, thought-provoking series of pieces rooted in an outsider’s perspective.” –Sharyn Wizda Vane, The Austin American Statesman

“A splendid and touching and intelligent work that demonstrates the difficulties of becoming an artist when coming from modest means. . . . Gritos is a book serious readers need to read. Gilb’s voice is one too seldom heard.” –Eric Miles Williamson, The Houston Chronicle

“[Gilb] has an uncanny, near magical ability to paint almost three-dimensional word pictures. . . . [Gilb] is adept at stripping away facades to reveal the essence of the human condition. . . . Sometimes provocative, always insightful, Gilb writes here with a force that can be likened to being hit over the head with a velvet-wrapped sledgehammer. And what he offers in Gritos is too important to ignore.” –Geoff Campbell, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

“As a writer [Gilb] is the real thing. . . . In all of [the essays] we hear his strong voice.” –Edward H. Garcia, The Dallas Morning News

“Gilb pounds out his brand of slangy, punchy prose, combining working-class English and untranslated Spanish with unerring rhythm. . . . Gilb achieves a driving declarative rhythm in Gritos. This is one expressive writer. Like Jimmy Santiago Baca and Rudolfo Anaya, Gilb conveys an inside track on contemporary Latino life in the Southwest, but with Gritos, his strongest work yet, he muscles his way to the forefront. This is a book to buy and to keep.” –Wolf Schneider, The Santa Fe New Mexican

“Gilb shines in these essays with his fearlessness and wit, as well. Most impressive are his clarity and his measured indignation at the inability of white America to grasp Chicano beliefs or culture. . . . Gilb is a legitimate and undeniable talent.” –David Garza, The Austin Chronicle

“A rough-hewn gem of brutal honesty. . . . The honesty and often-spectacular prose of these essays make them essential to anyone who wishes to challenge the too-often exclusive and esoteric status of American literature. These essays are truly gritos into the hot sun: primal, heart-wrenching as well ecstatic and often explosive.” –Sergio Troncoso, The El Paso Times

“Each of these essays is one laborer, one carpenter, one ironworker, each contributing to the quality of the collection. . . . A must on all ‘required Reading” lists. Gilb has earned his rightful place in American letters, not as a Chicano writer, not as a South-west writer, not as a blue-collar writer, but as a writer, period.” –Ren” Salda”a Jr., American Book Review

“Full of sentiments that are not only not heard enough, but often aren’t heard at all. Subjects as novel as cockfighting, Cormac McCarthy, and lawn-care blues are tackled.” –Chad Hammett, Southwestern American Literature

“They’re in your face, these essays. . . . They’ve got so much attitude and arrogance, so much candor, bias and raw emotion, and so much authentic material that you’re snagged. . . . They’re bold and convincing, full of life, and they revel in the wonder of writing.” –Christine Wald-Hopkins, Tucson Weekly

“Even those not inclined toward essays will find Dagoberto Gilb’s Gritos irresistible. . . . Gilb writes as though he were pouring out his heart at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee and a smoke. The prose . . . is tenaciously honest, and the pugnacious intelligence behind the swagger makes this collection resonate.” –Mike Shea, Texas Monthly

“A collection of riveting essays. . . . Full of shouts of articulate passion.” –ALIBI

“[Gilb’s] zest for life, passion for illuminating Mexican American culture, and seductive storytelling skills infuse his astute observations, reminiscences, and critiques with compelling energy and momentum.” –Donna Seaman, Booklist

‘distinguished by honesty . . . bittersweet optimism, and plain good writing, these pages offer . . . much to admire. . . . [Gilb] has a steady hand and a workmanlike attitude.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Gilb captures the dusty southwestern landscapes of the working-class Latino. The author’s rise from–and ties to–that uncompromising world gives these essays added depth.” –Steve Kurutz, Details

“Always interesting . . . some pieces resound with an intensity of style that keeps the pages turning. . . . Highly recommended.” –Harold Augenbrawn, Library Journal

Awards

Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book

Excerpt

My Landlady’s Yard

It’s been a very dry season here. Not enough rain. And the sun’s beginning to feel closer. Which, of course, explains why this is called the desert. Why the kinds of plants that do well enough in the region–creosote, mesquite, ocotillo, yucca–aren’t what you’d consider lush, tropical blooms. All that’s obvious, right? To you, I’m sure, it’s obvious, and to me it is, too, but not to my landlady. My landlady doesn’t think of this rock house I rent in central El Paso as being in the desert. To her, it’s the big city. She’s from the country, from a ranch probably just like the one she now calls home, a few miles up the paved highway in Chaparral, New Mexico, where the roads are graded dirt. She must still see the house as she did when she lived here as a young wife and mother, as part of the city’s peaceful suburbs, which it certainly was thirty years ago.

She probably planted the shrubs and evergreens that snuggle the walls of the house now, probably seeded the back- and front-yard grass herself. And she wants those Yankee plants and that imported grass to continue to thrive as they would in all other American, nondesert neighborhoods, even if these West Texas suburbs moved on to the east and west many years ago, even if the population has quadrupled and water is more scarce, and expensive, than back then.

So I go ahead and drag around a green hose despite my per­ception that gold, colorless and liquid, is pouring out onto this desert, an offering as unquenchable and ruthless as to any Aztec deity (don’t water a couple of days and watch how fast it dries away). Superstitions, if you don’t mind my calling them that, die hard, and property values are dependent on shared impressions. I’m not ready to rent and load another U-Haul truck.

With my thumb over the brass fitting and squeezed against the water, I use the digits on my other hand to pluck up loose garbage. You’ve heard, maybe, of West Texas wind. That explains why so much of it lands here on my front yard, but also a high school is my backyard: the school’s rear exit is only a dirt alley and fence away from my garage, and teenagers pass by in the morning, during lunch, and when school lets out. I find the latest Salsa Rio brand of Doritos, Big Gulp Grande cups, paper (or plastic or both) bowls with the slimy remains of what goes for cheese on nachos from the smiley-faced Good Time Store two blocks away, used napkins, orange burger pouches, the new glossy-clean plastic soda containers, waxy candy wrappers from Mounds and Mars and Milky Way. Also beer cans and bottles, grocery-store bags both plastic and paper, and fragments from everything else (believe me) possible.

I’m betting you think I’m not too happy about accumulating such evidence. You’re right. But I’m not mentioning it to complain. I want the image of all the trash, as well as the one of me spraying precious water onto this dusty alkaline soil, to get your attention. Because both stand for the odd way we live and think out here, a few hundred miles (at least) from everyplace else in the United States.

My green grass in the desert, for instance. My landlady wants thick, luxuriant grass because that’s the way of this side of the border, and this side is undeniably better, whatever misconception of place and history and natural resources the desire for that image depends on. It’s not just her, and it’s not just lawns. Take another example: a year ago about this time, ­police cars squealed onto the asphalt handball and basketball courts on the other side of the school fence to regain control of a hundred or so students lumped around a fight, most of them watching, some swinging baseball bats. What happened? According to the local newspaper, the fight broke out between a group of black students, all of them dependents of Fort Bliss military personnel (as their jargon has it), and a group of Hispanic students. “Hispanic” is the current media term for those of descent from South of the Border. Even around here. Which is the point: that even in this town–the other side of the concrete river considered the official land of Spanish-language history and culture–the latest minority-language terminology is used to describe its historic, multigenerational majority population. With the exception of one high school on the more affluent west side of town, Anglos are the overwhelming minority; at the high school behind my backyard the ratio must be ten to one. Though Mexico has been the mother of this region, and remains so, it’s the language and understanding of The North that labels the account of the school incident: “Hispanic” students, black dependents of GIs.

If green grass is the aspiration, the realization of an American fantasy, then the trash is from the past, the husks of a frontier mentality that it took to be here, and stay, in the first place. Trash blowing by, snared by limbs and curbs and fences, is a display of what was the attitude of the West. The endlessness of its range. The ultimate principle of every man, woman, animal, and thing for itself. The meanness required to survive. The wild joy that could abandon rules. The immediacy of life. Or the stupidity of the non-Indian hunter eating one meal, then leaving behind the carcass. Except that vultures and coyotes and finally ants used to clean that mess up. The remains of the modernized hunt don’t balance well in nature or its hybrid shrubs, do not biodegrade. And there are a lot more hunters than before.

Trash contradicts the well-tended lawn. And in my neighborhood, not all is Saint Augustine or Bermuda. Hardy weeds sprout and grow tall everywhere, gray-green century plants shoot stalks beside many homes. El Paso is still crossing cultures and times, the wind blows often, particularly this time of year, the sun will be getting bigger, but the pretty nights cool things off here on the desert. Let me admit this: I’d like it if grass grew well in my backyard. What I’ve got is patchy at best, and neglected, the brown dirt is a stronger color than the green. So the other day, I soaked that hard soil, dug it up, threw seed grown and packaged in Missouri, covered it with peat humus from Menard, Texas, and I’m waiting.

©2003 by Dagoberto Gilb. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.