by Octavio Solis
City Lights Books
Seminal moments, rites of passage, crystalline vignettes—a memoir about growing up brown at the U.S./Mexico border.
The tradition of retablo painting dates back to the Spanish Conquest in both Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. Humble ex-votos, retablos are usually painted on repurposed metal, and in one small tableau they tell the story of a crisis, and offer thanks for its successful resolution.
In this uniquely framed memoir, playwright Octavio Solis channels his youth in El Paso, Texas. Like traditional retablos, the rituals of childhood and rites of passage are remembered as singular, dramatic events, self-contained episodes with life-changing reverberations.
Living in a home just a mile from the Rio Grande, Octavio is a skinny brown kid on the border, growing up among those who live there, and those passing through on their way North. From the first terrible self-awareness of racism to inspired afternoons playing air trumpet with Herb Alpert, from an innocent game of hide-and-seek to the discovery of a Mexican girl hiding in the cotton fields, Solis reflects on the moments of trauma and transformation that shaped him into a man.
"These stories soar and shimmer with poetry and a playwright's gift for dramatic compression, comedy and pathos running through them arm in arm. Retablos is deeply moving, and a joy."--Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen: A Novel
"To enter into this book is like walking into a shrine, walls lined with beautiful paintings, each one colorful and visceral, depicting memories, life on the border, death and sadness and joy. This is one of the most memorable books written about the borderlands in years"--Daniel Chacón, author of Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops
"Small but mighty, these stories will stay with you long after the moment has passed."--Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not: A Memoir
"The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Solis reflects on the foundation of the work ('true stories... filled with lies') and how memories evolve over time--creating life fables that elaborate on experiences, like 'lace trimming on a tablecloth.' Each piece recounts a specific memory, wholly satisfying even in its brevity. . . . Taken as a whole, Retablos becomes a glorious mosaic, as if one has stepped back from a single piece of strikingly painted tin and watched a larger masterpiece emerge."--Lauren O'Brien, Shelf Awareness
About the Author:
Author of more than twenty plays, Octavio Solis is considered one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America. His works have been produced in theatres across the country, including the Center Group Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, South Coast Repertory, the Magic Theatre and the California Shakespeare Theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area, Yale Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theater Center, and other venues nationwide. Among his many awards and grants, Solis has received an NEA Playwriting Fellowship, the Kennedy Center's Roger L. Stevens award, the TCG/NEA Theatre Artists in Residence Grant, the National Latino Playwriting Award, the PEN Center USA Award for Drama, and the William Inge Center for the Arts 2019 Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater Award.