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Writers group aims to uplift Hispanic talent in Las Vegas Valley

A local journalist started Literarte in 2019 as a way to bring together writers and other creatives, officially registering as a nonprofit in 2021.
Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon

As lifelong enthusiasts of literature, Las Vegas journalist Roberto Peláez and his wife Maritza Maldonado wanted a way to spark cultural contributions by Latinos in Southern Nevada that challenged misconceptions about the Hispanic community. 

Literarte a group whose name is the combination of the Spanish words for literature and art — began in 2019 as occasional gatherings and workshops in the homes of friends and other writers. In 2021, Literarte became a more concrete project for the couple; this year, it officially became a nonprofit, with regular meetups where creatives can critique, give advice and exchange ideas on their works in Spanish. 

The organization is not limited only to literature, but encourages “all artistic manifestation” such as art, music and theater, Peláez said. Earlier this month, Literarte partnered with the Las Vegas Cuban Heritage Foundation and opened the Kaleidoscope Gallery south of downtown to support and showcase up-and-coming artists with immigrant backgrounds. 

“My goal is to propel culture, because in my opinion, culture is the most important thing that needs to be kept,” Peláez said. “You come to this country — you get a job, you have health, you can get ahead. It has many material things, but what we cannot do is forget our roots, our traditions and live for the culture.” 

A journalist-turned-poet and storyteller, Peláez, 62, is the editor in chief and a reporter for El Mundo, Las Vegas’ oldest Spanish newspaper. He started his career at 17 as a sportswriter for the newspaper Venceremos in his hometown of Guantanamo, Cuba, where he continued working for more than 25 years.

Throughout the years, Peláez recalls being told that bringing Hispanic writers together in Las Vegas would be difficult because of the transient nature of the valley. But Peláez saw the potential in the community and didn’t want to turn down a challenge.

Peláez said his “love for words” stemmed from his mother, who was “always reading.” Although he loves what he does, he said that being creative in his writing outside of his normal job has sparked a new flame.

“Today I understand more what Hemingway meant when he said ‘I am a journalist. But like all journalists I wish to write literature,’” he said. 

But being part of Literarte, seeing the writers being active and getting published, as well as being able to work with other nonprofits to better the community, feeds his soul. 

“That is for me the fundamental thing and the final result, because the community is experiencing a spectacular moment in literature,” he said. “And I predicted it a long time ago, when I said that we had to take advantage and stop externalizing talent.” 

Now, members of Literarte get together weekly and have created a support system for writers to gain confidence in their work and be recognized — especially for those whose professions are outside of creative writing, Maldonado said. 

“There’s a bias and people generalize Latinos and Las Vegas. There are people who think that people from Las Vegas live in the casinos. No, that's where we work,” said Maldonado, a former journalist and teacher assistant at Del Sol Academy. “And we are interested in giving another vision of Las Vegas, giving another vision of what the Hispanic community of Las Vegas is and the immigrants who have come to Las Vegas.”

Janina Pérez, who is also from Cuba, said being part of Literarte pushed her away from a tendency to be introverted to be more open to interacting with other writers.

“I sometimes feel out of my comfort zone, but I go and talk to the other writers, sharing ideas and sharing our work. Afterwards I just feel so excited — it’s worth it,” Pérez said. 

Pérez, 54, often sits down to write and escapes to another world outside her daily job. She has written for a youth audience through fiction books that focus on mental health and bullying — some reaching schools in Latin America. She said her goal is to reach the next generation of readers and writers, similar to how she became obsessed with books around the age of 12 and would spend days on end at the library.  

“Bookstores are closing and we’re kind of going against the current in the modern day with technology and the internet. But it’s important to push kids toward books — they’re the future readers and writers,” Pérez said.  

Last month, the group held its second annual meet-up, which brought 38 writers, along with community members, to celebrate their culture and published work. Tables around a room in the North Las Vegas City Hall displayed each of the writers’ books decorated with flags representing their home countries — including Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Cuba — while they caught up with each other in Spanish over coffee. 

Those deeper conversations and dialogues where people can share ideas and their cultures and backgrounds are part of the mission, Maldonado said. 

“Literarte goes beyond literature or the plastic arts or music … Each person, artist or not, that you interact with, offers you something about their background,” Maldonado said. “We are interested in people being seen, talking, sharing, making friendships. That they respect them and that they feel close to them. And that is important, maintaining your roots, loving them, respecting your ancestors. That's what literacy is all about.”


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