Monday, February 01, 2010

Luis Leal

One of the more frustrating conference moments of my career came at a gathering to examine American Literature of the 1950s as I heard the repeated claim that Chicano literature began to "happen" in the 1960's. (This by way of partial explanation of the total lack of papers on the subject at the conference.) Now, I'll cop to being an old guy, but it shouldn't have been all that hard for people who consider themselves scholars of American letters to notice that Tino Villanueva's landmark anthology Chicanos dated to the fifties. (I'd read the 70's era reprint.)

I was recalling that moment this morning as I read news of the passing of Luis Leal, one of the real luminaries of literary study in America and of the community life of Santa Barbara. Professor Leal began publishing his own literary scholarship in the 1950s (specializing in Mexican and Chicano fiction) and as of last count had some 45 books to his credit. Now he was, admittedly, 102 years old, but even so, I often found his level of production as daunting a prospect as it was inspiring.

This photo is one I took of him not too long ago at the Santa Barbara Book Fair, which presents an annual literary prize in his honor. Leal was really enjoying visiting with the many school children who were at the fair that day, and he particularly delighted in showing his still current driver's license to a friend I introduced to him that afternoon.

Luis Leal was a true role model, even to writers like me who had little use for the concept of the role model. He was a great friend to literature, a real scholar/writer, and he was a great friend to his community.

Here's the link to Amazon's page for the recently released Luis Leal Reader.

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