100 Colorado Creatives: Manuel Ramos

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#10: Manuel Ramos

Manuel Ramos looms large in Denver's Chicano arts and political communities: A veteran legal-aid lawyer for more than forty years, Ramos found voice as a writer when he wasn't fighting for justice, though even that vocation is imbued with an innate understanding of the struggles of the downtrodden. In five published mysteries, his lead character Luis Móntez, also a Chicano lawyer but with a dark side, finds adventure in familiar Denver locales, while in his 2010 novel King of the Chicanos, Ramos conjures up the rise of the Chicano movement of the '60s, from its roots in migrant-worker communities.

Last year, Ramos published a new stand-alone mystery, Desperado: A Mile High Noir, and today he continues to contribute to La Bloga, an online Latino news and arts magazine he helped found, while looking forward to his impending retirement. But don't worry: Ramos still has a lot to write and say, as evidenced by his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Mario Acevedo

If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?

Chester Himes, Paris, the 1950s. The expat, ex-con was on a creative tear in Europe, writing gritty and mean crime fiction. He was a survivor, a fighter and uncompromising in his art and lifestyle. His books were revolutionary, his opinions controversial. I might not have lasted a week in his company, but it would have been a blast to find out.

Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?

I am quite interested in how the elder Chicano and Chicana writers handle this part of their creative lives. I'm talking about Rudolfo Anaya, Rolando Hinojosa, Lucha Corpi and so on. These writers published their first work decades ago, yet they continue to write and publish excellent stories. This past year, Anaya published a novel about a man dealing with the death of his wife (The Old Man's Love Story) that was based, in part, on his own recent loss. Hinojosa was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Critics Circle for his "significant contributions to book culture," and he celebrated by announcing that he had finished his award-winning "Klail City Death Trip Series" with a novel that will be published in 2014. Lucha Corpi finished her highly-anticipated book of personal essays that also will be published this year. These are quite the role models for me.

What's one art trend you want to see die this year?

I don't like it that independent book stores continue to close, and the market for the "traditional" books appears to be collapsing inwardly onto fewer and fewer outlets. I don't have a solution -= but this trend could die off, and I wouldn't feel any remorse.

Continue reading for more about Manuel Ramos. What's your day job?

I am the Director of Advocacy for Colorado Legal Services, the statewide legal aid program. Most of my lawyer career (since 1973) has been with legal services; I'm retiring this year so if you ask me this question next year, I could say just about anything.

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?

After all the usual stuff for family and favorite nonprofits, I'd like to set up a gathering place that would be comfortable for writers, artists and musicians to get together, collaborate, brainstorm, organize projects, etc. Conversations would happen. The place would have reading events (poets welcome) on a regular basis, as well as the occasional concert and gallery exhibition. But the main idea would be to stimulate the imagination and nurture the results. Open to the public with a preference for students. There may be places like this already, but one more couldn't hurt.

What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?

I think it's regrettable that Denver doesn't have an annual, highly publicized book/literary festival. I understand that idea has a mixed history in our city and that the concept of a "book" event may be seen by many as passé these days, but I still believe that with the right focus and essential political and financial support, such an event can be relevant and important to Denver's cultural well-being.

Continue reading for more about Manuel Ramos. Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Four of my grandchildren live in Colorado, ages five to eleven. They are the most creative people with whom I have regular contact. They have filled notebooks ("journals") with their drawings, writings and extremely creative musings about their lives and visits to our house. They create colorful costumes out of old clothes, towels and broken toys. They stack cardboard and pretend to fly through the sky. The eldest can do wonders with Legos; the younger ones work minor miracles with crayons, pencils, tape and colored paper. They've produced elaborate scenarios involving castles, dragons, mermaids in distress and spaceships. They re-purpose everything so a dice game becomes a stacking blocks puzzle, mosquito netting turns into an ice palace and a shower is a rainstorm. I don't know anyone else who can match these kids for imagination, joy and spirit. They (Jaden, Mason, Nikko and Ava) are my favorite creatives, for sure.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

After my retirement, I intend to work hard on another novel in my "Mile High Noir" series, I want to make my short stories and early books available online in ebook format and I hope to finish the mystery play that has had a few false starts. Then I'm open to suggestions.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014?

I have high expectations about a number of younger Latina/o writers who are publishing excellent books and who will enjoy bright literary futures. Some have already been "noticed." The local (Colorado) members of this group include Aaron A. Abeyta, Tim Z. Hernandez, Sheryl Luna and Emma Pérez. I'm sure I've left someone off this list -- this is a growing group of writers.

Learn more about Manuel Ramos online.

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