A year before his death from AIDS-related causes in 1991, Arturo Islas told an audience of his colleagues, students, and admirers at Stanford University that he saw his life as one lived on a bridge between cultures, languages, sexes, and religions, and between his profession as an educator and his vocation as a writer. The author of three of the finer novels in the Chicano/a literary canon, The Rain God (1984), Migrant Souls (1991), and La Mollie and the King of Tears (1993, posthumous), Islas was also a successful and beloved professor of English at Stanford, where he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees. In The Rain God and Migrant Souls, Islas wove in elegant, lyric prose a largely autobiographical account of his familial and cultural roots in El Paso, Texas, where he was born and where he grew up. These two novels also document, through the character of Miguel (Chico) Angel, Islas’s own struggles with his sexual and cultural identity, his commitment to both the traditional sensibilities of his family in Texas and the secular cosmopolitanism of university life in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his long history of illness. The ribald and playful La Mollie represents Islas’s stylistic and tonal departure from the more melancholic earlier novels, an artistic experiment Islas did not live to see through to its fulfillment. Critical work on Islas by both Chicano/a and gay scholars is ongoing, but perhaps the best-known study of Islas is José David Salvídar’s account in a chapter of The Dialectics of Our America, which describes Islas’s struggle to sell his first novel to the Anglo-dominated U.S. publishing industry. Ricardo Ortiz
Saldívar, José David. “The Hybridity of Arturo Islas’s The Rain God.” In The Dialectics of Our America: Queer Readings, Hispanic Writings. Emile Bergman and Paul Julian Smith, eds. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991, 105-20.