March 19, 1999
Th 1998 Premio Aztlán literary prize has been awarded to Ronald Ruiz for his novel, Giuseppe Rocco. The novel received the award for its strong portrayal of characters, its intriguing plot, and the evocation of the American Dream in the Santa Clara Valley of California in the 1940s.
The national literary honor includes a cash award of one thousand dollars which was presented to Ruiz at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he readed from his novel during the Eight Annual Conference on Ibero-American Culture and Society.
Established in 1993 by noted award-winning author Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me Ultima) and his wife, Patricia, the Premio Aztlán honors new Chicano writers for literary excellence in works that explore aspects of Chi-cano culture and experience. Anaya cited the importance of nurturing young writers by recognizing and encouraging their efforts as a major impetus for the creation of this literary award.
Ronald Ruiz, who joins a noteworthy group of previous winners of the Premio Aztlan such as Denise Chávez and Wendell Mayo, tells the gripping story of the rise, unificacion and decline of two very American families named Rocco and Martinez in a penetrating look at our national myth of rags-to-riches success.
Giuseppe Rocco, an Italian immigrant, raises himself from nothing to improbable wealth and political influence in northern California through his self-made scavenger business and a series of shrewd land investments. Rocco's money and power allow him to possess a bridge of high birth and breeding, and although to her he will never be more than a garbage collector, it is through their loveless marriage that Giuseppe Rocco becomes the patriarch of a dynasty of three sons.
Thirteen-year-old Sally Martinez abruptly becomes the matriarch of her family of six younger brothers and sisters when their drug-addicted mother disappears. Over the next several years, Sally manages to keep her family fed, clothed and unbroken through a steely determination equal to that of Giuseppe Rocco.
But when 19-year-old Sally elopes with 19-year-old Joey Rocco, Giuseppe's oldest son, Rocco's world undergoes a subtle change. Only as he gradually recognized his daughteer-in-law's considerable strengths does he begin to see her as a means to perpetuate his empire. The result is not what readers have come to expect from countless Hollywood and television tales, but a subtle and gripping recasting of America's Horatio Alger myth by "a talented, painstaking and intelligent writer" (The Houston Post).
Library Journal said of Giuseppe Rocco: "Ruiz's sparse narrative is highly effective. Recommended."
Ronald Ruiz, a former prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, now practices law in northern California, specializing in criminal defense work. His controversial first novel, Happy Birthday Jesús, appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle's "Best-Sellers" list and along with other high acclaim, earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly.
Arte Público Press is the largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. Together with its imprint for children, Piñata Books, and its Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project, Art Público Press provides the most widely recognized showcase for Hispanic literary arts and creativity.