Dagoberto Gilb is gregarious and genuine, a built but not quite imposing figure with a big smile. He could easily pass as a writing instructor moonlighting as a carpenter on his days off. Or, as he once implied in an essay, perhaps it's the other way around. As a tenured professor who spent years working union gigs on high rises and in home construction between Los Angeles and El Paso, he's more than familiar with both teaching and el trabajo -- literally, the job, or manual labor -- and he brings the latter's experience and understanding to bear in his stories. Gilb writes of flawed, contradictory, and not always sympathetic characters in a complex, morally ambiguous, and unfair world, much like today's reality. His prose crackles with an intensity and verve that brings to life the working-class and Chicano laborers, lovers, drifters, and downtrodden, who inhabit his pages in some of the best contemporary fiction of the past few decades. In his just-released coming-of-age novel The Flowers, Gilb takes us to an apartment complex in a multiracial, urban metropolis where he sets things on simmer until they inevitably boil over. So far, it's received rave reviews for its deft insights into racism, youth, anger, alienation, and life in the big city.
Tue., Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m., 2008