Dancing with Ghosts

Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 218
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1png2z
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  • Book Info
    Dancing with Ghosts
    Book Description:

    This first critical biography of Arturo Islas (1938­1991) brings to life the complex and overlapping worlds inhabited by the gay Chicano poet, novelist, scholar, and professor. Gracefully written and deeply researched,Dancing with Ghostsconsiders both the larger questions of Islas's life-his sexuality, racial identification, and political personality-and the events of his everyday existence, from his childhood in the borderlands of El Paso to his adulthood in San Francisco and at Stanford University. Frederick Aldama portrays the many facets of Islas's engaging and often contradictory personality. He also explores Islas's coming into the craft of poetry and fiction-his extraordinary struggle to publish his novels,The Rain God, La Mollie and the King of Tears,andMigrant Souls-as well as his pivotal role in paving the way for a new generation of Chicano/a scholars and writers. Through a skillful interweaving of life history, criticism, and literary theory, Aldama paints an unusually rich and wide-ranging portrait of both the man and the eventful times in which he lived. He describes Islas's struggle with polio as a child, his near-death experience and ileostomy as a thirty-year-old beginning to explore his queer sexuality in San Francisco in the 1970s, and his fatal struggle with AIDS in the late 1980s. Drawing from hundreds of unpublished letters, lecture notes, drafts of essays, novels, and poetry archived at Stanford University, Aldama also deals frankly with the controversies that swirled around Islas's impassioned love life, his drug addictions, and his scholarly and professional career as one of the first Chicano/a professors in the United States. He discusses the importance of Islas's pioneering role in bridging Anglo, Latin American, Chicano/a, and European storytelling styles and voices.Dancing with Ghostssucceeds brilliantly both as an account of a fascinating life that embraced many different worlds and as a chronicle of the grand historical shifts that transformed the late-twentieth-century American cultural landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93854-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: BRINGING THE DEAD TO LIFE (pp. xi-xx)

    From an early age, Arturo Islas had an eerie understanding of his own mortality. He experienced several life-threatening illnesses and, as a child raised Catholic in a Chicano family in El Paso, was constantly reminded of the precariousness of bodily existence. To survive not only a religious culture of death but also his personal sense of mortality, Islas learned to use language creatively, to ironize and thereby transcend death. As he designed psychological spaces within which to manipulate temporal categories, he reshaped linear time into a more dynamic helical framework. These fictional realms vitalized and enriched his fifty-two years in...

  5. ONE “Sonny” (pp. 1-24)

    Arturo Islas was born to Arturo Islas Sr. and Jovita La Farga on May 25, 1938, in El Paso, Texas. He was the first of three sons. He grew up in El Paso and spent his undergraduate and graduate student years, as well as his career as professor and writer, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He died on February 15, 1991, at his home in Palo Alto.

    The several very different worlds of Islas’s experience helped shape his complex personality. His early experiences as a child and adolescent in El Paso and his years as a student at Stanford...

  6. TWO Bio-Graphé (pp. 25-74)

    The hard-won publication of his novelThe Rain Godin 1984 secured Arturo Islas a significant place in the field of Chicano/a letters. Today,The Rain Godappears in the syllabi of colleges and even high schools across the nation. Of course, there is much more to Islas thanThe Rain God.There are his other novels: the boldly poetic, darkly complex sequel,Migrant Souls(mystifyingly out of print), and hisLa Mollie and the King of Tears(published posthumously). As far back as his undergraduate creative writing days at Stanford in the late 1950s, Islas was making visible a...

  7. Illustrations (pp. None)
  8. THREE Sexuality (pp. 75-102)

    Arturo Islas’s sense of himself as a sexual being underwent dramatic transformations as he moved through a variety of social, cultural, and historical spaces: He came of age as a Mexican American in El Paso during a conservative early 1950s. He began to discover his same-sex desire within a co-ed segregated and draconian-ruled Stanford campus. He struggled to open closet doors during a queer-phobic yet heterosexualrevolutionary 1960s. He forced those same closet doors open during the 1970s only to close them again during the queer-oppressive 1980s. Islas spent a lifetime struggling with an array of conflictive and confusing feelings that...

  9. FOUR Death and Rebirth (pp. 103-127)

    Arturo Islas spent his life challenging the many boundaries that threatened to enclose him within restrictive roles—intellectual, filial, sexual, and racial. He also spent a lifetime struggling to come to terms with a bodily existence compromised by illness. That Islas was preoccupied with mortality is no surprise. His childhood—which was imbued with life/death dualistic Catholic doctrine as well as a small dose of Seventh Day Adventist apocalyptic drama—reminded him that physical existence was temporary and would ultimately come to an end. Family stories often gravitated around death. His awareness of mortality deepened when he himself almost died...

  10. FIVE Being Chicano (pp. 128-158)

    Islas’s identity was very much informed by his cultural and racial sense of being Mexican and American. He was born to second-generation Catholic Mexican Americans and raised within the cultural and socioeconomic U.S./Mexico borderlands. He grew up where Mexican and Anglo bodies rubbed up against one another, where tacos and hamburgers appeared at the same dinner table, and where Spanish and English commingled; and Islas had a deep sense of himself as Mexican and American. Though he was phenotypically light enough to “pass” as Anglo, his family’s strong cultural heritage, their own spectrum of different Mexican phenotypes, and his inhabiting...

  11. CODA “A Dancing with Ghosts” (pp. 159-162)

    Dancing with Ghostsfocuses on the prismatic conjunctions and disjunctions that informed Arturo Islas’s life, his aesthetic ambitions, and his poetic achievements. As a Chicano (simultaneously American and Mexican), he was determined to interweave the Chicano literary tradition with what he considered the best works within the world literary corpus, mainly in terms of narrative techniques and the care in the crafting of both prose and poetry. At the same time, Islas was a deeply conflicted man who at times internalized the racism and homophobia he abhorred. He showed a confident face to the world that masked deep insecurities about...

  12. Chronology of Major Events (pp. 163-166)
  13. Notes (pp. 167-174)
  14. Bibliography (pp. 175-178)
  15. Index (pp. 179-188)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 189-189)

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