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Classical 91.7-Arte Público Press Author of the Month: René Saldaña

Author René Saldaña has been selected as this month’s Classical 91.7/Arte Público Press Author of the Month. In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with Mr. Saldaña.


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René Saldaña, Jr., grew up in Nuevo Peñitas in deep South Texas, a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande. He didn’t know it then, but the humdrum of his everyday life would become fodder for his semi-autobiographical novel for young readers, The Jumping Tree (Delacorte, 2001).

The story, which The New York Times Book Review describes as a “warm coming-of-age novel,” began in Saldaña’s own middle and high school classrooms. “I was bored stiff teaching how to write for the TAAS, the then-state-mandated exam,” he says. “My students were sick and tired of writing in what had become for them a very lifeless act, but what to do? It was my job to ensure they passed the essay part of the test.” But it wasn’t real writing. So, he began telling them stories, cuentitos like the ones his Abuelo Federico used to tell, and these became a new way of presenting writing to his students. They also become the basis for the book.

The Case of the Pen Gone Missing CoverHe later left teaching and the state of Texas to begin work on his Ph.D. in English and creative writing at Georgia State University, where his second manuscript, a collection of short fiction, served as both his dissertation and his next book with Random House. Finding Our Way: Stories (Wendy Lamb Books, 2003) explores the many ways teens can feel lost. But these are not bleak stories. Instead, Saldaña focuses on teens discovering that survival is very much an individual responsibility.

His next book, The Whole Sky Full of Stars (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), is “about the perils of friendship and the burdens of parental expectations,” according to a starred review in Booklist. It centers on gambling, boxing, and a 1964 Ford Galaxie.

A longtime fan of detective stories, Saldaña recalls the stories of his own fascination—first Encyclopedia Brown, then the Hardy Boys, and then Nancy Drew. Of these last two, he preferred the latter: “I mean really, with Nancy Drew, it takes one chick to do the work it takes two guys to do in their series.” He jokes that Mickey Rangel, the web-licensed kid detective and protagonist in The Case of the Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery (Piñata Books, 2009), is his Latino answer to Sobel’s own kid P.I., only he calls Mickey his Encyclopedia Brownskin. Kirkus Reviews writes of it that it “will engage intermediate readers in both languages, English and Spanish, and offers multiple possibilities for school projects, group discussions and read-aloud sessions.” The Case of the Pen Gone Missing is the first in this bilingual series.

Saldaña lives in Lubbock, Texas, with his wife, Tina, and their sons Lukas and Mikah. He teaches in the College of Education at Texas Tech University.

Arte Público Press is the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. Based at the University of Houston, Arte Público Press, Piñata Books and the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project provide the most widely recognized and extensive showcase for Hispanic literary arts and creativity. For more information, please visit

In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with Mr. Saldaña about his works.