By Frederick Luis Aldama
Through a skillful interweaving of existence historical past, feedback, and literary conception, Aldama paints an strangely wealthy and wide-ranging portrait of either the fellow and the eventful occasions within which he lived. He describes Islas's fight with polio as a baby, his near-death adventure 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 Nineteen Eighties. Drawing from hundreds of thousands of unpublished letters, lecture notes, drafts of essays, novels, and poetry archived at Stanford collage, Aldama additionally offers frankly with the controversies that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 position in bridging Anglo, Latin American, Chicano/a, and ecu storytelling kinds and voices. Dancing with Ghosts succeeds brilliantly either as an account of a desirable lifestyles that embraced many various worlds and as a chronicle of the grand historic shifts that reworked the late-twentieth-century American cultural landscape.
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Additional info for Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas
El Paso High became the space in which Sonny would decide how he wanted to experience and transform a world determined less by parents and more by himself. He used his intelligence, good looks, and charm to transform himself into the high school’s “golden boy” (interview with El Paso high school graduate Mimi Gladstein). Islas “projected a scholarly intensity and ease of manner,” recalls another classmate (Villescas 2000, 13A), and these qualities helped pave the way for him to become the second Mexican American in the history of the school to serve as president of the student council—and its first Mexican American valedictorian.
And, when a small company arrived in El Paso to screen child actors “for the big time,” Islas “conned and begged” his 12 “s o n n y ” mother to give him the “ten dollar deposit” the company required to audition. However, once the father learned that Jovita had indulged the son’s fantasy, yet another scene of violence ensued. Sonny never experienced the fun of auditioning and instead his hopes turned to “tears, anger, and shame” (conversation with Stina, summer 1976; box 2, folder 1). Junior high and especially high school offered Sonny institutionally sanctioned activities that would allow him to spend more time away from home.
It embodied these disparate forces— desert sun and electric rain—and offered a refuge from a world that sought to restrict and schematize his sense of self in the world. No matter where he was situated, he returned to that desertscape of his childhood where no categories would restrict subjectivity because, as he writes in his prose poem “Cuauhtémoc’s Grave,” “it is nameless there, anonymous, alienated” (box 9, folder 5). Not surprisingly, before Islas died in February 1991, he asked that half of his ashes be scattered in the desert of West Texas so that he might return home and rest in peace.