Lou’s book, here posthumously assembled in her honor, does indeed celebrate her gifts as a storyteller and as a memorialist, does indeed exhibit a voice which brings to the everyday and intra-historical portraits and reports her warmly beautiful aliveness. What gives Lou’s book a special thrust, moreover, is that it has a foundation in journalism: the bulk of her literary output consists of some 700 pieces published under her by-line in The Gazette during a brief period from 1995 through 2002. Had her life not been cut short, her book might conceivably have taken a shape different from that of this collection. Lou’s book is none the less extraordinary: she is both its author and its subject.
She was the daughter of a centuries-old Southwestern family, her father a Latino cowboy, and she was the first woman in the family to go to college. With her understanding of marginalized persons--minorities, the elderly, the poor the victims of bureaucracy and others--she became the conscience of a city and a county with a population of 500,000. Gifts from the Heart was a finalist for the 2011 Colorado Book Award, Creative Nonfiction/Memoir.
Lou Gonzales Oller. Gifts from the Heart. Selected and edited with an Introduction by Alexander Blackburn
…Despite her trepidation, Gonzales thrived at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs due in part to a set of outstanding writing professors, including Alexander Blackburn, the editor of Gifts from the Heart, who helped Gonzales publish her first pieces in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Springs Magazine, and Writers’ Forum a nationally known literary magazine...Writer Bill Vogrin called her “ a champion of the poor , the forgotten, those caught in ‘the system’ or fighting City Hall, and editor Sharon Peters, named her the papers’s “conscience.” For Gifts from the Heart, a finalist for the 2010 Colorado Book Awards, Blackburn gathered 60 of Gonzales’ 700 columns, most from the Gazette, and several of her short stories. The result is a superb example of journalism as literature.
Many of her best columns focus on place, particularly locales along the Colorado-New Mexico border with deep Hispanic roots. For instance, in the pieces “La Llorona" and “Neighborhood,” Gonzales describes her kaleidoscopic Shooks Run childhood in wonderful detail…
Still many of Gonzales’ strongest columns focus on contemporary political issues, like southeastern Colorado’s unresolved racism, the steelworkers strike at Pueblo’s CF&I Corporation, and the problems that arise when incapacitated elders become wards of the court. The latter piece —“In Josie’s Best Interest?” —was nominated for a Pulitzer.
Ultimately, however, the most powerful written pieces in Gifts from the Heart are the short stories. There are “An Odor of Promise,” with its comedic vision of childhood in a 1950s barrio and “Walking on Graves,” a story about a nueva mejicana woman who runs off with a German spy at the end of World War I…
The book’s finest gem is “A Gift from El Médico.” Its narrator, a young Hispanic girl living near Colorado’s San Luis Valley, chronicles a spiritual battle between the man who sells eggs to her family and a village of brujas. It has one of the finest openings of any short story I’ve read in years:
They call the place Tierra Colorado. If you try to find it on a map, do not be confused by similar sounding names. This place is not near any town. It is not on any map. I have been told of other places, one on the North Rhine, where the earth smells rotten, smells of ashes, and places in the earth where bones, layer upon layer of them, are so old, they no longer smell human. Tierra Colorado is
I wish there were more short stories forthcoming from Lucille Gonzales Oller, but, sadly, this is not to be, for she died in 2003 of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, thanks to seven years of Gazette columns and Gifts from the Heart, Gonzales has a place in the literature of New Mexico-Colorado borderlands, alongside Frank Waters, Rudolfo Anaya, Aaron Abeyta, John Nichols, and Albino González Montesinos.
——John Nizalowski, The Bloomsbury Review, 31:3, 2013.
…As editor of an annual literary magazine publishing mostly western writers and aiming their poems and stories at the world, I had by 1993 accepted for publication about 150 stories out of some 20,000 submitted manuscripts. Authors in Writers’ Forum were often advanced in craftsmanship—one author would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his short stories, another would win it in 1994 for poetry—but our policy was to publish deserving writers whatever their track record of previous accomplishment. And so when Lou sent me “Walking on Graves,” my consulting editors agreed with me that the story simply had to be accepted.
From that moment on, I anticipated that Lou would one day write a book. It would be, I believed, a novel, a collection of stories, or a memoir.
Lou’s book, here posthumously assembled in her honor, does indeed celebrate her gifts as a storyteller and as a memorialist, does indeed exhibit a voice which brings to the everyday and intra-historical portraits and reports her warmly beautiful aliveness. What gives Lou’s book a special thrust, moreover, is that it has a foundation in journalism: the bulk of her literary output consists of some 700 pieces published under her by-line in The Gazette during a brief period from 1995 through 2002…
—-Alexander Blackburn, Introduction. Gifts from the Heart.
…Had her life not been cut short, her book might conceivably have taken a shape different from that of this collection. Lou’s book is none the less extraordinary: she is both its author and its subject. I am sitting with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, having just finished reading Gifts from the Heart: Stories, Memories & Chronicles of Lucille Gonzales Oller.
The book is a compilation of the works of my friend and colleague Lou Gonzales from her all-too-short but important career as a reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Though she’s been gone since 2003, Lou’s work resonates still today: standing up for the poor of Colorado Springs Mill Street neighborhood; speaking out for residents of the Lowell School neighborhood pushed aside by urban renewal; and inspiring a tax revolt among mobile home owners against an unforgiving Teller County tax assessor. The book reminded me how much we still need Lou, using her unique voice to help others and expose injustice. The book recalls her crowning achievement: revealing the plight of an 80-year-old grandmother who became trapped in the probate system and lost her money after she was declared a ward of the courts.
Lou’s work prompted court reform and earned her a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor. It’s all here. And reading it, I was reminded of Lou’s warmth. Her constant smile. Her love of her family and Colorado Springs. The sound of her laugh. The memory prompted me to smile, too. And shed a tear.
—Bill Vogrin, The Gazette
I had the privilege, and indeed it was a privilege, to know Lou Gonzales for a decade. I had the honor of sitting nearly on her lap in a newsroom for one of those years. In a place filled with sarcasm, she was our kindness. In a room filled with cynics, doubters and misanthropes, Lou Gonzales was our faith.
She made us better in every way.
In a world of cramped workplace cubicles where you can tell what a colleague had for lunch by the smell of the breath, I got lucky. I got Lou. Sitting literally inches from the gentlest person I’d ever known, I would often lean back and listen to her. As she spoke with readers and co-workers who wandered by, I marveled at her patience and her compassion, her understanding and her intelligence.
And then, before we hardly knew it, she was gone. I think of her a lot.
She was a terrific writer.
But she was a better person.
—Rich Tosches, The Independent
Lou and I met at a Chicano community meeting when I was organizing in Colorado Springs in the late 1980s. Although we knew each other for only a few years, I saw her come into her own both as a Chicana who was not yet done doing things she wanted to do in life and as a writer. Though a quiet person, there was a certain strength and determination about her that quickly became evident to those who knew her. She was part of our community work and through her writings found a venue through which she demonstrated her own leadership. Lou had a profound passion for social justice and understood the importance of promoting a public discourse that would bridge the great divides not only in race relations but in our communities generally. She wrote with passion and sensibility, and envisioned a better world for all. Her writings in this book reflect her efforts to get people to think beyond ideological views and take a genuine interest in the well being of all. Like all great writers, Lou offered insights into our common human condition by critically examining the everyday world around her, and she did it with grace and a voice that speaks to all of us.
—Rubén Martinez, Michigan State University
Lou was a courageous woman whose big heart and hard-won wisdom made the world a better place. She enrolled in the journalism course I taught at UCCS in 1994, and I was immediately impressed by the fact that she could ask tough questions. I learned more from her than she from me. At the end of the semester I talked her into leaving a good, steady federal job for a life in daily journalism. I hope she forgave me.
—James G. Wright, Editor, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho
…She believed it was the media’s job to ferret out both what is wrong in our community and to highlight what is right. But most importantly, she believed it was the media’s job to provide a voice to those unable to speak.
I would like to think that she learned these skills when she came to UCCS, having already raised three children and having had a successful career, but firmly set on becoming the first woman in her family to pursue a college degree.
But I know better.
Lou Gonzales came to UCCS with experiences that had taken her around the world but whose roots in southern Colorado provided her with a unique perspective and voice, one recognized by Alexander Blackburn, now professor emeritus of English at UCCS. He recognized that her stories provided a viewpoint that was often overlooked in our fast growing city, that of a Latina who had seen our community and herself change. He helped her polish her work and, through publication, for her voice to be heard.
This is what universities do. We take raw material, refine it and turn it loose on unsuspecting employers, in this case the readers of The Gazette who learned a little about Colorado Springs and a lot about people from Lou. They learned that we have common experiences, hopes and dreams, regardless of our race or origins…
The story gives me hope. I wish Lou Gonzales were here to write it. But I am grateful to her family for establishing a scholarship in her memory and allowing others to walk in her path. I am also grateful to Dr. Blackburn for first helping Lou to discover her voice and for editing this compilation to extend her words to a new generation, inspiring them to remember the past while creating the future. I am also grateful to The Gazette for providing Lou an outlet for her work and for providing the rights to publish her work for a new generation to read and to enjoy.
—Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Chancellor, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Foreword, Gifts from the Heart,.
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