Giving a Voice to Academic & Literary Writing

By Mendoza, Sylvia | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, May 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

Giving a Voice to Academic & Literary Writing


Mendoza, Sylvia, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


When Gary Francisco Keller took to the streets protesting back in the 1960s, he was working on his Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York. Caught up in activist movements involving freedom of speech, peace and revolutionary cultural awareness, having a voice was as important as individualism and embracing self-identity.

The Chicane movement influenced him, especially after witnessing Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino when it came to New York. "There was this sense of Brown pride, and I wanted to be a part of it all," Keller says. "I was swept up in it. I was a bottle swept up on the shores, and when it opened, I was at the eye of the universe. The movement attached itself to me."

The experiences offered him glimpses of Chicane, Puerto Rican, Cuban and ethnic studies. He attended conferences on Linguistics of Bilingualism, which were mostly in Spanish but other languages as well, among them Chinese, French, Italian and English. He had thought he would be a "staid professor" working in psychoanalysis, but instead his path took a different direction: he had power as a young assistant professor. Keller was asked to start a program in linguistics at a community college in New York.

"Mer I earned my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to establish a program in Hispanic linguistics at the City College of New York. A group of us faculty and students thought to create a journal on the linguistics of bilingualisms."

With funding from New York University, The Bilingual Review Press - La Revista Bilingual (BRP) - was first pubfished in January 1974. The journal was in press to present scholarly Chicane, Puerto Rican and Cuban-American literary analysis. The first issue was released with a number of emerging new authors who could not seem to get published elsewhere because of content or vision.

"It opened a door to this new world of publishing," Keller explains. "We created the beginning of Chicane and Puerto Rican fiction. We were radical and published young voices, and since women were marginalized still, we published the first women, first Latinas, like Ana Castillo, Judith Ortíz Cofer and Alma Viflanueva."

The Theory and Practice of Feminist Literary Criticism was published in the 1970s, among other critical works. The Bilingual Press published scholarship, articles and stories while staying close to the heart of Chicane expression in art and the written word. It became committed to publishing fiction and poetry. The journal grew. It started out with $6,000, enough to publish three times a year. Then, taking Hispanic linguistics to heart, it started publishing in a "different" language. Linguistics students were bilingual but started "code switching."

"It's not English; it's not Spanish," says Keller. "We thought, 'Spanglish?' No one has any interest in that. We were wrong."

In 1976, BRP published the first book, Bilingualism in the Centennial and Beyond, and became one of the largest publishers of fiction and poetry in the United States. It became a major source for publishing in a bilingual format, where approximately 70 percent was in English and 30 percent was in Spanish. "Bilingual education took off. We saw a need for it, first in bilingualism, then in ethnic studies, then in creative writing, then in film, then in art."

In 2000, a brand new writer, Elva Trevino Hart, who had never been published, came to Keller. "She was a senior executive at IBM, but a former migrant child who wanted to tell her story. We'd never really done memoir, but her story was compelling." From that was born Barefoot Heart, which was in the top 10 books in the U.S. for a while and had exceptional reviews, says Keller.

With the author's blessing and success, the money generated for the Bilingual Review Press, in addition to a small amount of seed money from Keller's institution, his salary, state and national grants, including funds from the National Endowment of the Arts, helped support the publishing of art books. …

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