Author combines words and images to create reality

By A.J. Ortega - Guest Column
Nov. 14, 2017 at 5:06 p.m.

A.J. Ortega

A.J. Ortega   Contributed Photo by K. Jordan for The Victoria Advocate

Thursday's University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series speaker is author, scholar and professor Frederick Luis Aldama.

I'm a popular culture geek. I love film, television, video games and professional wrestling. On top of that, I'm an old millennial. That means I remember when it wasn't cool to be a geek. Today, however, everyone geeks out over something, whether it's "Stranger Things," fantasy football, online gaming or the new "Thor" movie.

I'm currently reading Aldama's new book, "Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands." While nearly all of his prior writing is nonfiction, the sophistication in the storytelling shows his command of multiple languages and forms. It has a great cover by Jaime Hernandez of Los Bros Hernandez, the stories are about the borderlands, the languages are English and Spanish, and it bends a lot of conventional rules. To be honest, I'm geeking out over it.

Aldama was born in Mexico City. His mother was a Guatemalan-Irish American from Los Angeles, and his father was a Mexican from the capital. His mother's work as a schoolteacher showed her positive influence on the Latino community, so Aldama valued education. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkley and went on to earn his doctorate from Stanford University. He is both a Distinguished Professor and Distinguished Scholar at Ohio State University, where he also is the founder and co-director of LASER, an outreach program for Latino high school students.

He is the author, co-author and editor of roughly 30 books. He covers a fascinating array of topics in his writing: literature, film, television, music, comic books and video games. More specifically, he writes about Latino comics, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, narrative theory and Latinos in the media, among other subjects.

Since Aldama studies narrative in literature and popular culture, it is not odd or peculiar that he would now write a book of fiction. All of these genres can borrow from each other, especially now when we live in a rich, multimodal world. Historically, oral traditions evolved into written stories. Then our stories appeared on screens in theaters and eventually our homes. Now the theaters are in our pockets and the TV screens are on our wrists. The length of our stories can be dozens of hours on Netflix or eight seconds on Snapchat. If we write them out, they can be a thousand pages in a book, a few words in a tweet or even a meme.

Aldama's fiction reflects the evolution of storytelling. The way we read has evolved, with our eyes darting around from screen to screen, scrolling and clicking or tapping, focusing on economized language and images. Aldama accounts for this development and embraces a hybrid form in "Long Stories Cut Short" - a reflection of how new media has influenced the way we move through the world - all while exhibiting a real representation of Latinos on the border. Some stories in the book are a sentence long, others a page or two. These little micro tales are punctuated with artwork by Mapache Studios. The black-and-white art enhances rather than distracts and feels natural rather than forced. The result is a compelling, fast-paced read.

Aldama has an amazing range of knowledge in a number of areas. It's evident that he is invested in sharing his perceptions on several of them. I'm excited to hear what he has to say, and I hope that you can join us.

Aldama will give a free public reading at noon Thursday in the Alcorn Auditorium inside UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

A.J. Ortega teaches English at the University of Houston-Victoria. He may be contacted at ortegaaj@uhv.edu.


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