Although Rolando Hinojosa has won numerous awards during his distinguished career, including the 1976 Premio Casa de las Americas, he is especially excited, and humbled, to be named the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, which he will receive March 13 at the National Book Critics Circle Award ceremony in New York. “It means the world to me,” said Hinojosa. “I’ve been blessed and received other awards, and not to belittle them, far from it, but the Lifetime Achievement Award represents the culmination of one’s work, as judged by one’s peers.”
Hinojosa’s longtime American publisher is Arte Público Press. “We’ve published all of his works but Claros varones de Belken, which we shall reissue in the fall as Fine Gentlemen of Belken County, and Korean Love Songs, which we shall include in his complete works, projected for the future,” said Nicolas Kanellos, president of Arte Público. Hinojosa is best known for his 15-volume (to date) Klail City Death Trip series; Estampas del Valley (The Valley), the first installment, was released in Spanish in 1973 and in English in the 1980s. Arte Público plans to issue a first-ever bilingual edition of Estampas del Valley on April 30. In addition to Hinojosa’s novels, Arte Público has published a satirical series by the author in its Revista Chicana-Riqueña magazine, as well as a collection of his essays and short stories.
Hinojosa met Kanellos at one of his readings, in Bloomington, Ind. “I then published a short piece for Revista Chicana-Riqueña,” Hinojosa said. “I’ve been publishing with Arte Público Press for years. We have a solid relationship based on trust and respect for each other. [Kanellos] is also a close reader and, thus, a fine editor.”
The trust and admiration between Hinojosa and Kanellos goes both ways. “I’ve published Rolando, and traveled with him, for more than 30 years, and I continue to discover the delightful corners of his mind,” Kanellos said. “We visit small, out-of-the way museums, in the United States and abroad; we search for the best barbecue joints and frequently pause for a beer; and, yes, throughout, he’s spinning tales and recounting anecdotes from the bottomless pit of his memory.”
Hinojosa’s success at crafting his tales has led to numerous awards and the respect of his publisher, and he remains committed to his art. “When one submits a manuscript, there is no guarantee that it’ll be published because of one’s reputation,” he said. “I look at each submission—including those for Arte Público—as a work to which I’ve committed a portion of my life, and my reputation goes on the line every time.” Hinojosa’s commitment to writing has led to solid sales. Estampas del Valle has sold over 250,000 copies in three different editions, according to the publisher. To date, his 2005 hit, Mi querido Rafa (Dear Rafe), has sold over 125,000 copies, also in three different editions. Hinojosa is fluent in Spanish and English, and he wrote his first few books in Spanish and then rewrote them in English. In the 1980s, he began writing each book in whichever language appealed to him when he was developing the idea, translating it later.
Even at age 84, Hinojosa shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to teach literature at the University of Texas, Austin, and is currently working on “the third procedural of Klail City’s homicide squad.” While the NBCC award was a surprise to Hinojosa, Kanellos thinks it’s well deserved. “Whether writing in Spanish or English, or just chatting, Rolando’s low-key dry humor and satire always undergird his narration. His observations on the human condition, aspirations, foibles, and missteps always lead to subtle considerations of weighty philosophical and ideological questions,” Kanellos said.