Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, ‘dean of Chicano authors,’ dies at 93

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, an award-winning author from Texas whose wry, understated novels turned the Lower Rio Grande Valley into a near-mythical setting for the exploration of family, history, and cultural identity, helping to fuel a burgeoning literary movement Chicano in the 1970s and beyond, died April 19 at an assisted living facility in Cedar Park, an Austin suburb. He was 93.

A longtime professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Hinojosa-Smith divided his time between teaching and writing, publishing some 20 works of fiction and nonfiction in English and Spanish. His books were published by small presses and rarely reviewed in major American publications, but they were translated into several languages, garnered top literary honors, and acquired a devoted following.

Presenting him with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, the National Book Critics Circle called him “the doyen of Chicano authors” and “a mentor and inspiration to several generations of writers.”

Alongside novelists such as Rudolfo Anaya and Tomás Rivera, Dr. Hinojosa-Smith was considered a seminal figure in Chicano literature, writing books that addressed the history, culture, and daily life of Mexican Americans without pandering to a white-speaking audience. English. For many readers, including some who had never set foot in the Rio Grande Valley, the bilingual border region where he was raised and where most of his fiction was set, his books served as a kind of literary mirror, reflecting experiences that were often they were caricatured or ignored. .

“What I saw on his land was nothing like my own, except that it was the closest thing I had found to what it was. And I had never seen it anywhere else,” wrote Dagoberto Gilb, a Mexican-American author from Los Angeles, in a 2014 essay for Texas Monthly. His neighborhood, rural Belken County, didn’t look much like the city streets I grew up on, but, especially as a writer, it was the first time I saw people where they were then (and now) and where they would come from. , the same from where he was.

Dr. Hinojosa-Smith was best known for his Klail City Death Trip series, which spanned 15 novels and centered on the fictional Klail City, a barren piece of land that served as a stand-in for the Rio Grande Valley. Often compared to Yoknapatawpha County, the “little homeland postage stamp” that William Faulkner invented for his novels, the town of Klail was home to hundreds of characters who fell in and out of love or fought to earn their way. lifetime. The series was a mosaic of literary forms and genres, with written sections such as letters, poems, interviews, monologues, dialogues, legal statements, vignettes, and journal entries.

The first installment, “Estampas del valle y otros obras”, won the Quinto Sol Prize in 1973, awarded to the best work of fiction by a Chicano author. Dr. Hinojosa-Smith’s follow-up, “Klail City and Its Surroundings” (“Klail City and Its Surroundings”, published in English simply as “Klail City”), won the 1976 Casa de las Américas Award, one of the awards most prestigious literary works in Latin America. honors.

“It’s stylistically, and somewhat intellectually, at that complex intersection of the Americas, the crossroads of the Americas,” said his University of Texas colleague. John Moran Gonzalez, professor of American and English literature. “He would not deny that he is a Chicano writer. But in a way I think he would more deeply identify as a border writer, a border writer.”

In a telephone interview, González added that Dr. Hinojosa-Smith traversed literary traditions in English and Spanish, meeting and befriending Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez even while working in “an almost satirical tradition of a novel of manners,” distinct from the magical realism it was then. in vogue. Many of his books examined the strained relationship between white power brokers and Latinos in the Valley, including “Dear Rafe” (1985).

Reviewing the novel for the New York Times, author Robert Houston praised Dr. Hinojosa-Smith’s sense of humor and humanity: “If ‘originality, in Klail City, is a sin,’ as the narrator asserts, then classify Mr. Hinojosa among the most joyful of sinners. … although his sharp eye and accurate ear masterfully capture a place, his people and a time, his work goes far beyond regionalism. He is a writer for all readers.”

The youngest of five children, he was born Romeo Daniel Hinojosa in Mercedes, Texas, on January 1. January 21, 1929. He later adopted the full name Romeo Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, changing his middle name because he apparently liked the way Rolando sounded, according to his daughter, and adding his mother’s maiden name with a hyphen in honor his legacy. (Many of his books were published under the abbreviated name of Rolando Hinojosa).

Dr. Hinojosa-Smith’s family had lived in the Rio Grande Valley since at least 1750. He liked to tell the story of a prominent late-19th-century Texan who stated, according to a Dallas Morning News account, ” that all his part of the state needed was a little water and a few good people,” a statement that prompted Dr. Hinojosa-Smith’s grandfather to reply, “Well, that’s all hell needs too.”

His mother was an Anglo-Saxon housewife and school teacher, and his father was a Hispanic sheriff who fought in the Mexican Revolution. The family spoke Spanish and English at home, and Dr. Hinojosa-Smith later alternated between the two languages, sometimes using both in a single novel. (He translated several of his books in Spanish into English).

He joined the Army at age 17, later drawing on his military experience for books such as “Korean Love Songs” (1978), a novel in verse, and studied the GI Bill at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating in 1953, he worked for a decade, teaching high school and landing jobs as a chemical plant laborer and civil servant before graduating from literature school.

Dr. Hinojosa-Smith received an M.A. from New Mexico Highlands University in 1962 and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1969. He taught at schools such as the University of Minnesota before joining the faculty at the University of Texas, teaching there since 1981 until his retirement in 2016.

His marriage to Lilia Sáenz ended in divorce. His second wife, Patricia Sorensen, died in 1999. Survivors include a son from his first marriage, Bob Huddleston; two daughters of his second, Clarissa and Karen Hinojosa; and two grandchildren.

Although he rarely strayed far from the Rio Grande Valley in his fiction, Dr. Hinojosa-Smith said he felt freed to focus on one place, especially one he knew so well. Before he was diagnosed with dementia, he was working on volume 16 of his Klail City series, which was based on what he described as “the rise in violence on both sides of the Rio Grande.”

“My goal is to capture the history of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in fiction,” he told the reference work Autores Contemporáneos, noting that by narrating the region in literature, he effectively had to recreate it on the page. “A German scholar, Wolfgang Karrer, from the University of Osnabrück, has a census of my characters; there are about a thousand,” he said. “That makes me an Abraham of sorts.”

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