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Guide to the Helena Maria Viramontes Papers CEMA 18
CEMA 18  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Use Restrictions
  • Access Restrictions
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope
  • Series List
  • Processing Information note
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Helena Maria Viramontes Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: CEMA 18
    Contributing Institution: University of California, Santa Barbara, Davidson Library, Department of Special Collections, California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives
    Language of Material: Description is inEnglish
    Physical Description: 18.0 linear feet
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1980-1997
    Date (inclusive): 1930-1997
    Location note: This collection is in Del Norte in the UCSB Libraries Special Collections.
    General Physical Description note: 45 Boxes (includes 1 oversize box)
    Abstract: 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.
    creator: Viramontes, Helena Maria, 1954- -- Archives

    Use Restrictions

    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.

    Access Restrictions


    Biographical Sketch

    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. in English.
    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 List

    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 are included.
    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.

    Acquisition Information

    Donated by Helena Maria Viramontes with a gift agreement dated May 2000.

    Preferred Citation

    Helena Maria Viramontes Papers, CEMA 18, Department of Special Collections, University Libraries, University of California, Santa Barbara.

    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