Chango, the Biggest Badass

In African American History, Authors, Books on April 12, 2012 at 12:24 am

My latest literary crush...

Once I received my creative writing degree, I decided to read whatever I wanted. Now, I have stumbled upon a book that has me reminisicing about the days when I debated with my former classmates about critical theory, culture, society, and politics. Manuel Zapata Olivella’s, “Chango, the Biggest Badass,” is my latest literary crush. I opened the book tonight and realized that I need a highlighter for this journey–it is going to be that good. Check out the summary of the book below. I think it is befitting to read this creative piece of art work  during National Poetry Month. It begins with a poem that is thirty-two pages. 

Summary:  Among the African pantheon of the Orichas—deities and messengers often inscrutable to the Western mind—stands Changó, god of fire, war, and thunder. In Manuel Zapata Olivella’s four-hundred-year epic of the African American experience, first published in 1983 as Changó, el gran putas, Changó both curses the muntu—the people—for betraying their own kind and challenges them to liberate not only themselves but all of humanity. In luminous verse and prose, Zapata Olivella conveys the breadth of heroism, betrayal, and suffering common to the history of people of African descent in the Western hemisphere.

Ranging from Brazil to New England but primarily turning his wrath on the Caribbean centers of the slave trade, Changó inhabits personas as diverse as Benkos Biojo, Henri Christophe, Simón Bolívar, José María Morelos, the Aleijadinho, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X. His message is one of vengeance, but also one of hope. Readers and critics will relish the opportunity to at last experience Zapata Olivella’s masterpiece in English and to appreciate this extraordinary tapestry, woven from equal strands of myth and history.

Author: Manuel Zapata Olivella (1920–2004), hailed by critic Richard Jackson as “the dean of Black Hispanic writers,” was the author of more than a dozen novels as well as numerous essays and short stories, including A Saint Is Born in Chimá and Chambacú, Black Slum. One of six children in a Colombian literary family, Zapata Olivella initially pursued medical training at the National University of Bogotá but interrupted his studies to write and travel. From the 1940s through the 1990s he explored not only the folklore and ethnography of his native country but an expansive range of international social and political themes.

His work garnered prestigious literary awards worldwide, including the Símon Bolívar Prize, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the Parisian Human Rights Prize. Jonathan Tittler, professor of Hispanic studies at Rutgers University–Camden, holds the Ph.D. in Hispanic literature from Cornell University.

He is the author of four books, including the political-literary biography El verbo y el mando: Vida y milagros de Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazábal (Language and Power: The Life and Times of Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazábal) and numerous articles in the field of contemporary Latin American literature. He has previously translated two Afro-Hispanic novels into English: Juyungo, by Adalberto Ortiz, and Chambacú, Black Slum. William Luis, Chancellor’s Professor of Spanish at Vanderbilt University and editor of the Afro-Hispanic Review, is the author and editor of several scholarly books on Latino Caribbean, Afro-Hispanic, and Latin American literature.

Learn more about Manuel Zapata Olivella

Summary/Author Bio Courtesy of  &


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