Any list of Colorado literati should include the writer whom author Luis Alberto Urrea calls “the Godfather of Chicano noir.” Manuel Ramos is a retired lawyer, so it's no surprise that crime novelist would appeal to him as a second career, and that career has gone impressively well over the years. Ramos has garnered several awards, including a Colorado Book Award for his novels The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz
and Desperado: A Mile High Noir
But Ramos's writing hasn’t been limited to crime novels; he’s also written short stories, poems, creative nonfiction and even a handbook on Colorado landlord-tenant law (which is important, but not nearly as fun as a good thriller). Ramos is also the co-founder of, and a regular contributor to, the award-winning online journal La Bloga
, which covers Latino literature, culture, news and opinion. Busy guy, Manuel Ramos — and that’s worthy of respect, Godfather references notwithstanding.
Diana Khoi Nguyen
It would be easy to make the case that poetry and multimedia artist Diana Khoi Nguyen belongs on this list just given her recent Colorado Book Award for her poetry collection Ghost Of
, which Booklist
called “a soaring tribute, a mesmerizing visual feat, and an all-around astonishing debut.” But that’s not where her bona fides begin, and certainly not where they end. Already published widely in esteemed journals like Poetry, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, PEN America
and The Iowa Review
— to name only a handful — she’s also received awards, fellowships and scholarships from institutions such as the Academy of American Poets and Breadloaf.
All of this led her to teach at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and in the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, where she’s currently a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing. Which means Diana Khoi Nguyen is just getting started.
Speaking of the Colorado Book Awards, Denver novelist Nick Arvin just won one, too, taking the Literary Fiction prize for his 2018 book Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812
. In its starred review, Kirkus
said that Mad Boy
was “a masterpiece,” and the Denver Post
called it “a finely-honed literary achievement...”
Praise is nothing new for Arvin, an Iowa Workshop alumnus who's published in some of the most prestigious literary journals nationwide. This isn’t his first Colorado Book Award, either. He got one some years back, for his novel Articles of War
(a whole different book, whole different war), which was selected for the now-defunct One Book, One Denver program. All that led to a position on the faculty of Lighthouse Writers Workshop as well as more awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and more. And no wonder: Arvin’s books are both dramatic and accessible, with the benefit of broad looks at history and the narrow focus of character. He’s a novelist in the classic tradition, and his fans — especially here in Colorado — hope that tradition continues.
R. Alan Brooks
There are a lot of clichés when it comes to comic-book nerds, including Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons
, or anyone from the cast of The Big Bang Theory
. Not only does R. Alan Brooks defy those stereotypes; he’s devoted a lot of his time and energy to showing his audiences exactly how wrong they are. His podcast Motherf**ker in a Cape
showcases the stories of marginalized, non-traditional and relatively unknown fans and creators in the wide world of nerd-dom, from a sex worker who also makes comics to devoted cosplayers to Wayne Winsett of Time Warp Comics, who talked about what it’s like to own a pop-culture shop in this day and age.
But Brooks isn’t just about the podcasting and performance; he writes educational comics and The Adventures of Captain Colorado
for Pop Culture Classroom (the nonprofit that also produces Denver Pop Culture Con), and also created the 2016 graphic novel The Burning Metronome
Kali Fajardo-Anstine's debut collection, Sabrina & Corina
, launched her stratospheric rise into the rarefied air of the literati earlier this year. The book has been lauded in many ways and garnered national attention — but it’s also a work of fiction that’s completely and utterly homegrown, much like Fajardo-Anstine herself, who was born and raised in Denver, though she's lived in many other places over the years.
Still, her heart — and her fiction, so far — remains rooted in Denver, honoring the women and the families and the history of the Mile High City while infusing her stories with universal themes. Friendship. Mothers and daughters. Deep roots, family and place.
“Here are stories that blaze like wildfires," praised author Sandra Cisneros, “with characters who made me laugh and broke my heart, believable in everything they said and did. How tragic that American letters hasn’t met these women of the West before, women who were here before America was America.”
Fajardo-Anstine is working to make sure we do meet them and, more important, that they are remembered.
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