Because I’m writing a novel set in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, where I live and which is predominantly Dominican, I’ve been reading and re-reading work by Dominican and Dominican-American writers, some of whom were recently featured in the anthology Daring to Write: Contemporary Narratives by Dominican Women, edited by Erika M. Martínez. These women are all in possession of unique individual voices that shed light on the complex psychological and economic condition of living with un pie aquí y uno allá: one foot here and one foot there.
1. Raquel Cepeda
Raquel Cepeda is a journalist, boxer, and author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Equal parts memoir about her coming of age in New York City and Santo Domingo, and detective story chronicling her year-long journey to discover the truth about her ancestry, the book examines what it means to be Latina today. I’m eagerly awaiting her next book, East of Broadway, the story of her native uptown Manhattan community of Inwood (just north of Washington Heights) as seen through the eyes of several of its residents, who shed light on gentrification’s impact. It will be published in 2017 by Beacon Press.
2. Angie Cruz
Angie Cruz is a master of description about immigrant economies. Her first novel, Soledad, and her second, Let It Rain Coffee, deftly utilize multiple points of view and plot strands to weave rich narrative tapestries about community and family. Cruz’s next novel, Dominicana, is a valentine to her mother, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic at the age of fifteen. It chronicles the first year of teenage immigrant, Ana’s, life in Washington Heights as an unsung hero who must overcome physical abuse and acclimate to a new country while preparing to give birth to her daughter. It will be appreciated by fans of Colm Tóibín’s bestseller, Brooklyn.
3. Yalitza Ferreras
Yalitza Ferreras is a recent MFA graduate from the University of Michigan, where she won the Delbanco Thesis Prize, and was a 2014-2015 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. You can read her excellent short story, “The Letician Age” (originally published in The Colorado Review), next fall in Best American Short Stories 2016, edited by Junot Díaz. Leticia, the story’s title character, is driven by a lifelong fascination with the wonders of geology, leading to both her success and peril. Ferrera is a writer with a lot of talent and promise, and I look forward to reading her first book when it drops.
4. Rita Indiana
Rita Indiana, an author, model, and musician who quit her phenomenally successful career as charismatic lead singer of the band Los Misterios to pursue her writing, has just had her debut novel, Papi (2005), translated into English (by Achy Obejas). It’s a hallucinatory and stylistically innovative story about a child who is at once adoring and afraid of her outrageous drug lord father. Her other novels include La Macula de Omicunlé (2015) and Nombres y Animals (2014).
5. Ana-Maurine Lara
Ana-Maurine Lara’s novel, Erzulie’s Skirt, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in 2007. Lara’s interest in ancestral connections to land, memory, love, and ritual propel the plot, which is told from the perspectives of three women. Through them, we travel from rural villages and sugar cane plantations to the poor neighborhoods of Santo Domingo, and across the sea on a journey by yola to Puerto Rico. Her second (as yet unpublished) novel received distinction from the Chicano/Latino Literary Prizes.
6. Yesenia Montilla
Yesenia Montilla is a self-described DominiCuban poet living in New York City. A CantoMundo fellow with a MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University, Montilla’s first collection of poems, The Pink Box, was published last fall. I was sold on her work by Alexis De Veaux who praised the book thusly: “Yemeni Montilla’s poems cross fertilize space and time; linking the wilderness, the city, and an otherworld like a subway ride from uptown to downtown, cross town and back. Along the way, we don’t just switch trains, we switch stations of desire: the Dominican Republic is the blues, Ayiti/Haiti is jazz, hip hop is abuelita. New York City begins on Hispaniola.”
7. Nelly Rosario
Nelly Rosario is the author of the novel Song of the Water Saints, which explores, in voluptuously poetic prose, the struggles of three generations of Dominican women. She is at work completing a much-anticipated speculative novel tentatively called How the Medicine Goes Down, on time travel and community medicine. She’s also involved in an important interdisciplinary multimedia fotonovela project called Desveladas: Visual Conversations from the Americas with poet Sheila Maldonado and journalist Macarena Hernández.