Latino Studies Dominican-American Literature
by
Silvio Torres-Saillant
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0016

Introduction

Scholarship on the literary production of Dominicans in the United States has grown steadily since the late 1980s, when scholars of Dominican descent began to make a case for the inclusion of their writings in Latino literature. While individuals of Dominican ancestry had written in the United States at least since the start of the 20th century, a cadre of literary artists with a sense of the cultural meaning of their location “in the United States” as opposed to “in the Dominican Republic” did not emerge until the massive immigration of people from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. The death of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, whose government had limited the population’s mobility to foreign destinations, the passage by the US Congress of the 1965 Immigration Act, which increased immigrant quotas from the Caribbean and other parts of the Third World, and the US military invasion of 1965 to “prevent another Cuba” all figure as the principal causes of the “great exodus.” With the cities of New York; Providence, Rhode Island; and Lawrence, Massachusetts, serving initially as their principal destinations, Dominicans soon formed neighborhoods mostly in the Northeast. By the late 1970s the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights had become the mecca of Dominican life in the country and a hub of writers. There emerged the first Spanish-language literary magazines, literary groups, and anthologies. With the arrival on the literary scene of authors of Dominican ancestry working in English and publishing in mainstream venues, the literature of this group began to attract critical attention. Julia Alvarez published her collection of poems Homecoming in 1984. Then her novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent (1991) made her a household name. The triumphant debut collection of short fiction Drown (1996) by Junot Díaz, who subsequently added a Pulitzer Prize to his credit with the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), further increased the public appeal of writers of Dominican descent. The first-rate poetry of Rhina P. Espaillat, whose literary practice preceded the formation of Dominican neighborhoods in New York, and the compelling prose fiction of Loida Maritza Pérez, Angie Cruz, Ana-Maurine Lara, Annecy Báez, and Nelly Rosario have made it increasingly common for scholars to work on this literary production. The vigorous productivity of Hispanophone authors—from Marianela Medrano to Yrene Santos, Juan Tineo, and Miriam Ventura––has attracted less scholarly consideration. The hybrid writings of Josefina Báez, who moves from English to Spanish and vice versa, have elicited substantial interest by literary critics.

General Reference Sources

The reference sources in this section illustrate the current standing of Dominican American literature in publications that seek to map the literary production of Latino, Latino Caribbean, and ethnic American literature. Zimmerman 1992 helps document the invisibility of Dominicans in the field in the late 20th century. Luis 1996, Luis 1997, and Rodríguez 1997 reflect an early tendency to present US Dominican writing as an extension of the homeland’s national literature or to fuse into a single narrative the Anglophone and Hispanophone branches of the US Dominican corpus. Ruíz and Sánchez Korrol 2006 points to women’s leadership among US Dominican writers. Lee 2003 continues the practice of assigning to Dominicans only a minimal representation in the overall corpus of American literature. The minimal inclusion occurs also, perhaps more troublingly, in compilations and studies of Latino literature in West 2004 and Stavans 2011. The greater number of Dominican entries in Kanellos 2008 perhaps suggests a trend toward a growing recognition of Dominican writers in the United States.

  • Kanellos, Nicolás, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature. 3 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008.

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    Apart from the substantial entry “Dominican American Literature,” this invaluable encyclopedia carries useful articles on Julia Alvarez, Annecy Báez, Josefina Báez, Alan Cambeira, Angie Cruz, Junot Díaz, Rhina P. Espaillat, Carmita Landestoy, Ana-Maurine Lara, and Nelly Rosario.

  • Lee, A. Robert. Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a, and Asian American Fictions. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

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    Dominican American writers do not figure prominently in this ambitious overview of the fictions produced by peoples of color in the United States, their representation limited largely to Julia Alvarez and Junot Díaz. The author’s frequent use of the word “Dominica” to refer to the ancestral homeland of Alvarez and Díaz may cause confusion among readers, who might assume these authors hail from the island of Dominica in the Anglophone West Indies. Reprinted as recently as 2011.

  • Luis, William. “Latin American (Hispanic Caribbean) Literature Written in the United States.” In The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature. Vol. 2, The Twentieth Century. Edited by Roberto González Echevarría and Enrique Pupo-Walker, 526–556. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    An overview of US writers of insular Hispanic Caribbean descent. Consistent with then-conventional chronology, Luis finds 19th-century beginnings for the cultural productions of Cubans and Puerto Ricans in such places as New York City, but when it comes to Dominicans he accepts the received idea that their US cultural activities began only in the mid-1970s.

  • Luis, William. Dance between Two Cultures: Latino Caribbean Literature Written in the United States. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1997.

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    Chapter 6 (pp. 235–265) deals with Dominican American poetry, namely, the poets included in Poemas del exilio y de otras inquietudes / Poems of Exile and Other Concerns (Cocco de Filippis and Robinett 1988, cited under Anthologies). Chapter 7 (pp. 266–277) reads How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) by Julia Alvarez, with an emphasis on the search for identity. Chapter 6 considers poems by Franklin Gutiérrez, Hector Rivera, Tomás Rivera Martínez, Guillermo Francisco Gutiérrez, and Sherezada “Chiqui” Vicioso, writing in Spanish, and a poem in English by Alvarez.

  • Rodríguez, Linda M. “Dominican Republic.” In Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. Edited by Verity Smith, 263–267. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

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    A solid introductory essay on poetry and prose from the Dominican Republic during the 19th and 20th centuries. It dedicates the closing section to a well-informed consideration of the literary production of Dominicans in the United States.

  • Ruíz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, eds. Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. 3 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

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    Given their coverage of the achievements of Latinas in numerous fields, the editors include only the most salient figures among US Hispanic women writers. Even so, they include entries on six women writers associated with the Dominican experience in the United States: Jesusa Alfau Galván de Solalinde, Julia Alvarez, Rhina P. Espaillat, Camila Henríquez Ureña, Virginia de Peña de Bordas, and Sherezada “Chiqui” Vicioso.

  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.

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    This twenty-five-hundred-page compilation, covering a substantial sampling of the literary production by people of Hispanic descent in what is now the United States, from the colonial period to the early 21st century, dedicates fifty-five pages to Dominicans: Fabio Fiallo and Sherezada “Chiqui” Vicioso, who lived in New York for a period and then went back home; Franklin Gutiérrez, a New York–based immigrant writer working in Spanish; and Julia Alvarez and Junot Díaz, who form part of the Anglophone American literary scene.

  • West, Alan, ed. Latino and Latina Writers. 2 vols. New York: Scribner, 2004.

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    Two authors of Dominican ancestry appear in this compilation of comprehensive overviews of the lives and works of fifty-seven Latino writers from the major national subgroups. One essay by the Latin Americanist Fernando Valerio-Holguín covers the writings of Julia Alvarez, with a focus on her living “astride two languages, two cultures, two worlds” (Vol. 2, p. 783). The other, covering the works of Junot Díaz up to 2003, offers a sound overview of his accomplishments and his aesthetics, stressing the role of the bildungsroman tradition in the stories in his debut collection Drown (1996).

  • Zimmerman, Marc. U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography. 2d ed. Chicago: MARCH/Abrazo, 1992.

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    One of the earliest instances of inclusion of a writer of Dominican ancestry in accounts of Latino literary history, this pioneering bibliographical essay lists Julia Alvarez, then known as the author of the 1991 novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, under the rubric “Latino-Tending US Latin American Writing.”

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