Quiñonez, Ernesto 1966(?)–
Quiñonez, Ernesto 1966(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1966, in Ecuador. Education: Graduate of City College of New York.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—Watkins/Loomis Agency, 133 E. 35th St., Ste. 1, New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: Writer. Teacher of elementary-school students in New York City public school system.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named among Village Voice's "Writers on the Verge," 2000; Jerome Dejur award, 2000, for Bodega Dreams.
Bodega Dreams (novel), Vintage (New York, NY), 2000.
Chango's Fire (novel), Rayo (New York, NY), 2004.
ADAPTATIONS: Film rights to Bodega Dreams have been sold to Fox Searchlight and Good Machine.
SIDELIGHTS: A "feisty and hard-hitting" novel marked Ernesto Quiñonez's debut on the literary scene, according to Salon.com reviewer Anderson Tepper. Bodega Dreams is set in the Ecuadorian-born author's adopted home town of Spanish Harlem, and its characters include entrepreneurs with both lawful and unlawful natures. The book is narrated by Julio "Chino" Mercado, a young denizen of the inner city counting on college and a career to turn life around for himself and his pregnant wife, Blanca. Chino's ambition draws the attention of Willie Bodega—a character who, "as Gatsby did for America in the Thirties,… represents both the virtues and the character flaws of el barrio," according to Citypages Web site contributor John Freeman. A former member of the Young Lords, the 1960s-era Puerto Rican liberation group, Bodega has now grown into corrupted middle age; "he runs detox centers with his left hand and sells crack with his right," in the words of Maud Casey writing in the New York Times Book Review. However, added Casey, even Bodega has his larger dream: that of a "revolution-ready, college-educated professional Latino class" in the barrio. As the novel progresses, Chico "begins to work for Bodega, dreams with him, and, in the end, takes his place," according to School Library Journal contributor Francisca Goldsmith.
Bodega, wrote Casey, "is a fascinating character—a twisted, complex cultural hero who provides momentum in Chino's momentumless neighborhood." Time contributor Desa Philadelphia credited Quiñonez's familiarity with his setting, noting that "readers may have to remind themselves that this is a work of fiction and not a memoir." While noting "some periodic, semistereotypical machismo-laced comments" in her review for Black Issues Book Review, Gale Greenlee praised Bodega Dreams as "a suspenseful and strangely comedic tale" that is "gritty, yet entertaining." As for the fast-paced storyline, two reviewers agreed that Bodega Dreams bore the earmarks of a movie; indeed, film rights were sold in mid-2000.
In his next novel, Chango's Fire, Quiñonez tells the story of Julio Santana, who has become a professional arsonist in Spanish Harlem. Seeking to improve his family's lot in life, Santana also goes to night school and works a normal day job. As his old neighborhood becomes increasingly upscale, a white girl named Helen, who runs an art gallery, arrives on the scene and attracts Santana's attention, leading him to a doomed love affair. In a review in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor wrote: "What's best about Chango's Fire … are Quinonez's ingeniously detailed revelations of how people cheat and improvise, to survive in an impoverished and dangerous racist environment." Frank Sennett, writing in Booklist, commented that the author's "exploration of the often misunderstood Santeria—the title references the religion's trickster god, Chango—proves especially fascinating." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "has a comfortable familiarity with his turf and the catchy Spanglish most of his characters speak."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, July, 2000, Gale Greenlee, review of Bodega Dreams, p. 20.
Booklist, August, 2004, Frank Sennett, review of Chango's Fire, p. 1902.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2004, review of Chango's Fire, p. 772.
Library Journal, January 17, 2000, Lawrence Olszewski, review of Bodega Dreams, p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, March 12, 2000, Maud Casey, "Bad Influencia," p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, January 17, 2000, review of Bodega Dreams, p. 42; August 9, 2004, review of Chango's Fire, p. 228.
School Library Journal, September, 2000, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Bodega Dreams, p. 259.
Time, March 27, 2000, Desa Philadelphia, "Moving Up: A Debut about Upward Mobility, Lowdown Crime," p. 98.
Times Literary Supplement, November 3, 2000, Stephen Henighan, review of Bodega Dreams, p. 23.
Citypages, http://www.citypages.com/ (April 26, 2000), John Freeman, review of Bodega Dreams.
Puerto Rico Herald Web site, http://www.puertoricoherald.org/ (October 24, 2004), Mary Ann Grossmann, "Latino Writers, Universal Themes."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (March 16, 2000), Anderson Tepper, review of Bodega Dreams.
Vintage Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/vintage/ (March 13, 2000), "A Conversation with Ernesto Quiñonez."