Processing Information note
Title: Helena Maria Viramontes Papers
Identifier/Call Number: CEMA 18
University of California, Santa Barbara, Davidson Library, Department of Special Collections, California Ethnic and Multicultural
Language of Material:
Description is inEnglish
18.0 linear feet
Date (bulk): Bulk, 1980-1997
Date (inclusive): 1930-1997
This collection is in Del Norte in the UCSB Libraries Special Collections.
General Physical Description note:
45 Boxes (includes 1 oversize box)
Helena Maria Viramontes' papers chronicle this important Chicana writer's life from a child in East Los Angeles to a successful
writer and university professor. Personal and biographical information, correspondence, literary work and critical writings
as well as other parts of her life as a writer are included in Helena's collection. It contains some photos and slides of
different parts of her life.
Language of Materials note:
Most of the documents are in English with a few items in Spanish.
Viramontes, Helena Maria, 1954- -- Archives
Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or
quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given
on behalf of the Department of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply
permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.
Helena Maria Viramontes was born on February 26, 1954, in East Los Angeles. She grew up in a working class family with eight
siblings, three brothers (Gilbert, Frank, and Serafin) and five sisters (Mary Ann, Ruthie, Rebecca, Barbara and Francis).
Helena graduated from East Los Angeles’ Garfield High School in 1972. She graduated from Immaculate Heart College with a B.A.
Considered one of Hispanic literature's most distinguished craftsperson, Helena Maria Viramontes career began with her work
for the avant-garde Chicano magazine "ChismeArte". Assigned as literary editor, she began to develop a style that reflected
her understanding and upbringing in the streets of East Los Angeles. Hip, yet polished, her approach imbued her work with
credibility and flare.
Her love of literature led her to study English and creative writing over the next two decades. Her work as a writer was put
on hiatus when she married and became the mother of two children, to whom she devoted most of her time. In 1994, almost a
decade after the publication of her first book, she finished her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing. By the time she
had her M.F.A degree in hand, Viramontes was already a force on the Hispanic literary scene, and her works had been canonized
in important textbooks and anthologies used by academia.
Viramontes creates highly crafted tales of women struggling to make their lives in the barrios. However, her imagery, as in
"The Moths," is often classically based and her command of language reveals years of hard study and her works are the result
of numerous drafts. Viramontes’s powerful writing is based in politics and are ground in the sociological reality of working-class
Latinas. In her conscious effort to give voice to women through her stories, she is personally battling and subverting patriarchal
practices. Sonia Saldivar-Hull wrote, "Her groundbreaking narrative strategies, combined with her sociopolitical focus, situate
her at the forefront of an emerging Chicana literary tradition that redefines Chicano literature and feminist theory." The
feminist journal, Belles Lettres, added: "Viramontes's stories convey the impact of repression on women’s lives and graphically
depict the price paid by women who dare to challenge a misogynist social system that moves rapidly to squelch their every
attempt toward self-definition… The result is a rich, challenging narrative that rewards the reader with insight to the passions
and torments that drive the characters."
In 1995 Viramontes won the John Dos Passos literature prize. Martha E. Cook said she received this award, for "her use of
places and characters that are distinctly American, yet are not usual or stereotypical in American fiction; the amazing variety
and experimentalism of her individual works of fiction; and, above all, the stunning unity of each work, with word and idea,
image, symbol and theme all woven into a seamless whole." She incorporates the real stories of women struggling to survive
and raise their children in a world dominated by men and where women of color face double jeopardy of racism and sexism. Through
this evolutionary process, she has become a leading national Chicana fiction and non-fiction writer.
"Under the Feet of Jesus" (1996), Viramontes's first novel, is an apparently simple and direct narrative that follows the
life of a thirteen-year-old migrant worker girl, but soon becomes an indictment of corporate agriculture in California and
its practices of child labor and pesticide poisoning. The book is narrated from the point of view of the young girl, Estella,
who also questions the limitations placed on her as a female. Reviewers see Viramontes as working in the social realist vein
of cultural companies which she portrays in Under the Feet of Jesus. The Bloomsbury Review said that, "Her lush, precise prose
lends beauty to this world and shows us that the struggle for dignity is as vital a struggle as survival." Her novel "Their
Dogs Came with Them: A Novel (2007)" takes place in East Los Angeles in the 1960's. It continues her conversation regarding
the harsh realities and social conditions of the poor. Viramontes received the Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino
Literature in 2006. Writer, Julia Alvarez, has called Viramontes "one of the important multicultural voices of American literature."
This collection reflects the process Viramontes has gone through to find her own unique voice as a Chicana writer from East
Los Angeles. Her papers provide invaluable insight to her growth as a writer. This collection includes school papers, manuscripts,
short stories, award presentations, press critiques, literary reviews, teaching materials and her presentations.
Viramontes' collection currently covers from 1930 through 1997, with the bulk of the contents from 1979 - 1997. There is some
family correspondence connected to Frank La Brada from 1936 through 1949. The collection consists of five series: I Personal
Biographical, II Correspondence, III Literary Work and Critical Writings, IV Subject Files and V Photographs, Slides and Miscellaneous.
Series I Personal and Biographical Information, 1930 - 1997
This section contains papers from grade school through her professorship at Cornell. Accomplishments, conferences she spoke
at, awards, reviews and articles about Viramontes are included in this section. Parts of her personal journals and diaries
Series II Correspondence, 1930 - 1997
Correspondence records contain family letters, some before she was born, as well as personal and business correspondence with
publishers, writers and non-profit organizations. The Correspondence section has family letters and postcards from 1930 –
1949 that were connected to Frank La Brada. Cornell University correspondence and Contracts with Publishers are in this section.
Series III Literary Work and Critical Writings, 1980 - 1994
Rough drafts and manuscripts of many of her works are included. The titles are arranged in alphabetical order and are listed
in the Series III box and folder section.
Series IV Subject Files, 1970 - 1997
The subject section includes her research as well as information on organizations that she was involved with such as the Latino
Writers and Filmmakers. A script for "Zoot Zuit" is in this section.
Series V, Photographs, Slides and Miscellany, mostly undated
This section includes photos, some from her childhood, photos with her daughter and her husband and photos of her workspace.
There is also an oversize box with newspaper articles and miscellanea.
Processing Information note
Processed by Callie Bowdish, Greg Simon, and Yolanda Alaniz, October 1, 2008.
Donated by Helena Maria Viramontes with a gift agreement dated May 2000.
Helena Maria Viramontes Papers, CEMA 18, Department of Special Collections, University Libraries, University of California,
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Latino Writers and Filmmakers. -- Archives
American literature--Hispanic American authors
Mexican American neighborhoods--Fiction
Mexican American women
Mexican American women authors
Mexican Americans--California--East Los Angeles