Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

"Theatre in the Time of the Pandemic"--Forbes Magazine
Apr 16, 2020

Before the pandemic, he had already began to explore writing beyond the confines of theatre. Retablos, his 2017 memoir about growing up on the southern border, has been praised as “an expansive new vision of a troubled America,” and a “gift of memory, not always pleasant, but always true.” Now living on a farm in Oregon, it has also allowed him space, time, and refuge from the “maddening rat race” to be himself. He looks forward to returning to his work on the stage, but with a renewed sense of purpose. . . . In seeing our cities unpopulated, our streets emptied, our routines abandoned, we are asked to imagine a world without us. How humbling to find that it doesn't really need us at all. How distressing to learn that we have been such a detriment to it thus far.”

"Santa Fe Reporter" book recommendations
Feb 26, 2020

"I've read enough of American Dirt to know that there are way better recent books about the border. Here are a few that deserve more attention."—Molly Boyle

Essay "There's Nothing Thrilling About Trauma" by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Feb 4, 2020

Octavio Solis is Inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters
Jan 27, 2020

Book recommendation in "The Addison County Independent"
Jan 20, 2020

Retablos is one of eight books recommended to read about the Mexican-American border.

RETABLOS chosen a Southwest Book of the Year!
Jan 6, 2020

"In a lyrical memoir that is as much storytelling as it is autobiography, Solis shares his experiences growing up as a brown person on the US/Mexico border in El Paso in a series of tightly-written essays he calls *retablos,* a reference to the devotional paintings that depict a dire event which one has survived. Our memories, he says, are faded by time, place and invention, but his vivid accounts and lively imagery that exist beyond politics and rhetoric belie this sentiment. Solis, one of America's most prominent Latino playwrights, evokes the drama of his own life, each chapter functioning as an act in the narrative arc that is his coming of age. This book, which tells a story everyone should hear, will have a special resonance for Latina readers like myself, who will recognize and relate to many of the people who moved in and out of his eventful early days."—Margie Trujillo-Farmer

"Retablos" recommended on the Verso Blog
Dec 17, 2019

"A mesmerizing memoir rendered in short stories of Octavio Solis' life growing up in El Paso, right along the border. Each story comes packed with wisdom, insight, and extraordinary compassion. It's the type of book that before you know it begins to swim into your thoughts (and maybe dreams) and subtly changes the way you think. This was especially true for me for another reason: I was reading Retablos at the same time the El Paso Walmart massacre happened in August."—Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders: The Expansion of the US Border Around the World

NBC News - The best Latino books, according to Latinx writers
Dec 11, 2019

I am definitely gifting Octavio Solis's "Retablos," a series of gorgeously written vignettes about the events, moments, traumas and transformations that filled Solis's childhood in the east side of El Paso.

The Chicano playwright has a gift for shaping these "holy memories" to bring to life a spare, evocative existence of the working class. Bravo!

Recommended by Sergio Troncoso, author of "A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant's Son" and "From This Wicked Patch of Dust"

Feature in the Albuquerque Journal
Oct 25, 2019

El Paso memories: Playwright's book tells stories of childhood along the border.

Pan Dulce Podcast
Oct 16, 2019

Octavio Solis and Sergio Troncoso discuss their new books with host Jessica Powers. 

Essay "American Enough" on
Sep 26, 2019
- Octavio Solis

"Retablos" is honored by the National Reading Group Month
Sep 20, 2019

National Reading Group Month (NRGM) is the innovation of sisters Martha Burns and Alice Dillon, Women's National Book Association (WNBA) members and the authors of Reading Group Journal: Notes in the Margin (Abbeville Press). NRGM augments the WNBA's mission to promote the value of books and reading. Through this initiative the organization aims to foster the values reading groups encourage: camaraderie, enjoyment of shared reading, and appreciation of literature and reading as conduits for transmitting culture and advancing civic engagement.

Feature in American Theatre Magazine
Sep 9, 2019

"Every memory has a patina of invention on it," writes Octavio Solis in his poignant and illuminating new memoir, Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border (City Lights Books). “That patina thickens every time we revisit those moments in our past, until they seem more like stories and myths of our formation, more dreamlike and yet more real than what really happened to us. So where is the fact of what actually happened? It's still there, lost inside of and enhanced by fiction.”

Interview on "Writer's Voice Radio"
Aug 14, 2019

"We talk with playwright and author Octavio Solis about growing up the son of Mexican migrants in El Paso Texas. His book of stories based on that history is Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border. We also talk about the August 3 mass shooting in El Paso and the impact it has had on Solis' hometown."—Francesca Rheannon

Featured in the New York Times
Aug 7, 2019
"4 Books for a Better Understanding of the Border"
Chosen by novelist Oscar Cásares, author of Where We Come From

"It's just a gorgeous little book," said Cásares about this memoir in vignettes by a playwright who grew up in El Paso. "Ultimately I think books that work best about the border, without trying too hard, have that fluidity between the cultures. In Retablos, he said, "sometimes you're asking yourself, 'Are we in Mexico or in the U.S.?' The language is moving back and forth, and you're in two places at once. I think for people who don't know much about the border, it’s incredibly accessible, and gives you that sense of wonder that he had as a kid in trying to navigate these two worlds."

Review in F(ricton)
Jul 25, 2019

"From the high ground of hindsight, Solis avoids the pitfalls of confessionalism. He's able to relive trauma, embarrassment, joy, and misery without the melodrama of a diary. He’s able to contextualize his past and show readers how it made him the man he is, all the while illuminating how absurd life on the border has always been, despite what may be the most cartoonish present we’re stuck in."—Thomas Chisholm

Playwright Todd London on Octavio Solis -- HOWLROUND
Jul 16, 2019

"This past year, he made another dive into place, another temporal return, with the publication of his fractal memoir, Retablos. The book is to the Texas borderland of El Paso—what Dubliners is to James Joyce's Ireland patria. It’s a place where the Border Patrol, la migra, slow-drives by each day in green and white cruisers, peering at the skinny boys through aviator sunglasses, unconcerned that Octavio and his friends are, in fact, citizens."—Todd London

Featured in the New York Times's "Crossing the Border newsletter"
Apr 18, 2019

Feature in aldíadallas
Apr 10, 2019

Feature in the San Antonio Express
Mar 27, 2019

"Retablos" is a "Foreword Magazine" 2018 Indie Book of the Year Finalist
Mar 11, 2019

Review in "Seattle Review of Books"
Feb 19, 2019

"Solis's book is a collection of flash prose pieces that kaleidoscope together the transformative moments of a border kid . . . the stories [are] compact little gems centered around a patch of land that encompasses his El Paso neighborhood, the streets of Juarez, and the border in between."—Donna Miscolta, Seattle Review of Books

Interview with Octavio Solis by Robert Scheer, "Scheer Intelligence" on KCRW Santa Monica, CA
Feb 1, 2019

Q&A with Deborah Kalb
Jan 31, 2019

A profile of Octavio Solis in "The Monthly"
Jan 1, 2019

Lou Fancher interviews Octavio Solis about his memoir Retablos.

"These Are The 9 Nonfiction Books That Helped Me Understand 2018" on "Bustle"
Dec 30, 2018

"It is so easy to feel desensitized listening to one devastating news story after another, but reading Retablos was a stark reminder that for millions of people, the ongoing struggle at the Mexican-American border is so much more than a headline. This book was truly eye-opening, and it helped me better understand the growing rift between not only political parties and countries, but the families and communities that live where this conflict rages on every day."—Sadie Trombetta, "Bustle"

Electric Literature presents "7 Books that Illuminate the People and Places on the U.S.-Mexico Border"
Dec 28, 2018

"Playwright Octavio Solis lays out his memoir in retablos, folk paintings made on repurposed metal in gratitude for the divine resolution of life's crises. Each of the retablos present a vignette from his life growing up in the border town of El Paso, Texas, as an 'anchor baby' in the 60s and 70s. The taut, charm-filled stories depict episodes such as encountering a young immigrant while playing hide-and-seek in a cotton field, a tow truck tug-of-war over an abandoned marijuana-packed Jeep stuck in the middle of the Rio Grande, and a young Solis practicing his English pronunciation by reciting names off globe and adorably mispronouncing the Pacific 'Ohkeean' to his class."—JR Ramakrishnan

Interview on KERA, Dallas "Think"
Dec 21, 2018

"Retablos" is included in the best 100 books of the year by the "San Francisco Chronicle!"
Dec 18, 2018

Buzzfeed cites "Retablos" as one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2018.
Dec 17, 2018

Book recommended on NBC News
Dec 14, 2018

"10 books by Latino authors you shouldn't miss this year."

"Best known for his groundbreaking work in theater, Solis takes readers back to the El Paso-Juárez borderlands of the 60s and 70s through a series of short prose nonfiction pieces that he calls retablos. Like devotional paintings, each micro-essay is poetic, rich with detail, and offers a spiritual connection to the land, people, and culture that taught him how to live, love, and survive the troubled times yet to come."—Rigoberto González

Octavio offers his fave reads of the year 2018 on "The Millions"
Dec 12, 2018

The Oregonian
Dec 4, 2019

"In Oregon playwright Octavio Solis' debut memoir, he presents compelling vignettes from his childhood and early adulthood along the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico border in the spirit of retablo paintings, which tell the story of a dramatic event and its repercussions. Racism, illegal border crossings, budding sexuality, a fraught sibling relationship, Herb Alpert's music, Solis' discovery of the power of theater and more all get a turn in the spotlight."—Amy Wang, The Oregonian

Town Hall Podcast Interview with Octavio Solis
Dec 1, 2018

The Seattle Times
Nov 29, 2018

"In Octavio Solis' carefully crafted Retablos, an expansive new vision of a troubled America."—Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Seattle Times

"Retablos" is recommended reading in the “New York Times"
Nov 27, 2018

"Tensions were high at the Mexican border on Sunday when border patrol agents released tear gas on hundreds of migrants trying to cross from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego. The border was closed, and President Trump has vowed to keep them on Mexican soil as they seek asylum. These books give insight into life along the border and to the migrants trying to cross it.

Based on the tradition of retablo painting, a Mexican folk art in which stories are depicted visually on pieces of repurposed metal, this memoir is framed as a series of singular episodes from the writer's life that had far-reaching impact. Solis grew up just a mile from the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, and he tells stories about his childhood and coming of age, including his parents' migration to the United States from Mexico, his first encounter with racism and finding a Mexican migrant girl hiding in the cotton fields."

- Concepción de León

Interview with Sonali Kolhatkar on "Rising Up"
Nov 16, 2018

 "To be a brown-skinned immigrant in today's America is to immediately be part of the a demographic that has become demonized and weaponized for political use. Octavio Solis, the acclaimed playwright, grew up along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. In his new memoir, Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border, Solis writes poetic vignettes from his childhood and complicates the simplistic narrative that supporters of President Donald Trump have been fed."—Sonali Kolhatkar

Octavio Solis at ALOUD, Los Angeles
Nov 13, 2018

Sharing the stage at the Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, Los Angeles: Bestselling author Reyna Grande's newest memoir, A Dream Called Home, offers an inspiring account of one woman’s quest to find her place in America as a first-generation Latina university student and then pursue her dream of writing. Award-winning writer Jean Guerrero’s Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir tries to locate the border between truth and fantasy as she explores her troubled father’s life as an immigrant battling with self-destructive behavior. Octavio Solis, one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America, turns to nonfiction in Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border, a new collection of stories about growing up brown at the U.S./Mexico border. At this most urgent time of family separation through borders, join us for a unique evening of storytelling as we welcome these three fierce voices to share from their work that breaks down the walls of the immigrant experience.

The Texas Observer
Nov 15, 2018

"Octavio Solis' Retablos recounts a 'beautiful, messy' youth on the border. Though its title evokes Mexican folk art, Retablos is closer in effect to that of French pointillism. Its small dabs of vivid color produce a brilliant cumulative effect."—Steven G. Kellman, The Texas Observer

"What They're Reading: Octavio Solis"
Nov 12, 2018

Octavio Solis discusses his current three favorite books on Book Page.

Interview on Jefferson Pubic Radio, Ashland, OR
Nov 9, 2018

Octavio Solis is used to telling the stories of other people in his work. He's a playwright with a large body of work and several awards to show for it; his plays have been produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among many other venues. Now he's strayed from his usual genre by writing a memoir focused on his early years in El Paso, Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border. 

Casa Camino Real Bookstore

"I have read Retablos and it is very powerful, very moving, puro corazón. Thank you for this testimonio to our cultura, familias, la frontera, the world. It couldn't be more timely at this time of sequestation of our families and the sadness of it all. And yes, the empowerment and tide-turning of justice that is awakening, alive and moving!"—Denise Chavez, Owner, Casa Camino Real Bookstore, Las Cruces, NM 

Bookshop Santa Cruz

"A retablo is a devotional painting, often laid on tin and depicting, as Solis describes in his introduction, 'some terrible rift in a person's life that they survive thanks to the intercession of the Divine.' This memoir-in-vignettes from the celebrated playwright and poet Solis is a series of treasures: absorbing, vivid, sensitive, and sorrowful. Solis, who grew up in El Paso, deftly and humbly depicts individual formative moments (an encounter with a young border-crosser in a field near his home, excruciating first loves, a venture south of the border). The Divine in these retablos is not always visible, but the retablos themselves are full of grace."—Chorel Centers, Events Manager, Bookshop Santa Cruz, CA

Dallas Morning News
Nov 8, 2018

"The book is rendered in tight, stand-alone recollections rich with poetry and honesty. . . . If retablos are offerings, then Solis' book is a gift of memory, not always pleasant, but always true."—Beatriz Terrazas, Dallas Morning News   

Los Angeles Review of Books
Nov 6, 2018

" . . . what struck me most about each chapter was Solis's ability to plant a specific image in your mind. With every retablo, you can see in ferocious detail exactly what the author wants you to see, like a special kind of telepathy. I found myself wanting to paint them."—Caitlyn Reynolds, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Publishers Weekly
Nov 5, 2018

"In this debut memoir, playwright Solis delivers top-notch vignettes of his youth with riveting imagery and empathy, recounting—and embellishing, he says—memories of growing up brown in El Paso, Tex. . . . These brilliantly told stories of missteps and redemption are a treat."

The San Francisco Chronicle
Oct 31, 2018

 "The experience of reading his tightly contained memories in succession is a bit like drawing old coins up from a wishing well. Filtered through veils of distance and time, these scenes and reflections are wonderful and weird flashes of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in the life of this particular Mexican American boy."—Sophie Haigney

Octavio Solis interviewed on the PBS Newshour
Oct 24, 2018

Feature on Octavio Solis in The Millions
Oct 23, 2018

"Landing somewhere between Neil Gaiman and Juan Rulfo, Solis secularizes the mythological by turning men and women into saintly figures—like their criada [maid], Consuelo, and a white priest who shows his family empathy—and monsters: border agents who take his friends away and school bullies."—Michael Adam Carroll

Retablos with Octavio Solis
Oct 21, 2018

LitQuake 2018 - Octavio Solis in conversation with Oscar Villalon, managing Editor of ZYZZYVA and Sheila Balter, of Word for Word, about his book: Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border. Available from

Feature on Octavio Solis in Texas Monthly
Oct 20, 2018

"Through his characters and his memories, Solis offers a nuanced portrayal of a border community beyond the 'border issue.' He hopes that gives readers a way to glimpse life on the border beyond the headlines and executive orders. 'Before, the border was a fact of life, and now it’s gotten to a point where everybody has to have a stand on it,' Solis says. 'Rather than ideas and precepts and arguments, I chose to focus on the people. That’s where one can gain a real understanding of what these issues are really about.’"

Shelf Awareness
Oct 19, 2018

The introduction alone is worth the price of admission. Solis reflects on the foundation of the work ('true stories... filled with lies') and how memories evolve over time--creating life fables that elaborate on experiences, like 'lace trimming on a tablecloth.' Each piece recounts a specific memory, wholly satisfying even in its brevity. . . . Taken as a whole, Retablos becomes a glorious mosaic, as if one has stepped back from a single piece of strikingly painted tin and watched a larger masterpiece emerge."—Lauren O'Brien, Shelf Awareness.

Interview on KQED Forum
Oct 18, 2018

Excerpt on Lit Hub
Oct 16, 2018

"On God, Country, and Being Brown on the U.S.-Mexico Border." Read excerpts from Retablos.

Largehearted Boy Playlist
Oct 16, 2018

Octavio Solis creates a playlist for his memoir Retablos, featuring the Latin Playboys, Roberta Flack, Paul McCartney & Wings, and many others!

Book Page
Oct 16, 2018

"Set in the gritty border town of El Paso, where Solis spent his youth during the 1960s and '70s, the stories of Retablos are as harsh and dry as the sunbaked land along the Rio Grande that he so vividly evokes. . . . Like the images he emulates, Solis’ stories transcend the limits of borders and time."—Deborah Mason, BookPage

Octavio Solis honored with the 2019 Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater Award
Oct 5, 2018

The William Inge Center for the Arts will honor playwright Octavio Solis with the 2019 Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater Award. Solis will be presented with the award at the 38th annual William Inge Theater Festival, which runs May 22-25, 2019, at Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.


San Antonio Current
Oct 4, 2018

"There has never been a border book like Retablos, a collection of smoldering epiphanies suffering the baptizing waters of recall. . . . The stories in Retablos are invigorating in their unapologetic economy and intoxicating in the poetry of their moral excesses."—Roberto Ontiveros, San Antonio Current  

Book excerpt on Book Post
Sep 14, 2018

Octavio Solis grew up just a few miles from the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas. Join him as he remembers his Saturday visits with his family to neighboring Juárez.

Booklist Online

"In all, a beautiful, evocative, and timely expression of border culture for every collection."—Sara Martinez, Booklist

Buzzfeed's Best Books of Fall 2018
Aug 31, 2018

"In Spanish, a retablo is an altarpiece; Octavio Solis describes it as a painting on an 'old beaten tin' on which 'a dire event is depicted, [...] some terrible rift in the person's life, but which the person survives thanks to the intercession of the Divine.' It is a lot of meaning to pack into one scene, but all of it is there for the viewer who takes a moment to look. The fragments of Solis's memoir do similar, impressive work: Each depicts the details of a life lived along the Mexico–US border — sometimes chaotic, sometimes tragic, often poignant — but presents a host of 'divine intercessions' as understood in retrospection: survival by family, imagination, and faith. Still, it's hard not to consider the border itself as a representation of a 'terrible rift,' a split between homes, communities, identities, generations. While reading this generous and eye-opening account, it's easy to see how, for the country at large, the rift has only deepened."—Arianna Rebolini, Buzzfeed's Best Books of Fall 2018

"Retablos" is included in the CBC's international book preview
Aug 16, 2018

"Here are 15 works of nonfiction from around the world coming out in the second half of 2018 that we can't wait to read. What it's about: In Mexican folk art, a retablo is a devotional painting featuring images painted on repurposed metal and typically laden with Catholic iconography. In Retablos, American playwright and director Octavio Solis examines his Mexican heritage, personal traumas and rites of passage and what it truly means to grow up brown living at the U.S./Mexico border." 

Kirkus Reviews

"In this coming-of-age memoir, a playwright illuminates the culture of the El Paso border as he perceived it when he was young. . . . An intriguing work that transcends category, drawing from facts but reading like fiction."

The Millions: Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview

"A memoir about growing up a mile from the Rio Grande, told in vignettes, or retablos, showing the small and large moments that take place along the U.S. border. Julia Alvarez says of the book, 'Unpretentiously and with an unerring accuracy of tone and rhythm, Solis slowly builds what amounts to a storybook cathedral. We inhabit a border world rich in characters, lush with details, playful and poignant, a border that refutes the stereotypes and divisions smaller minds create. Solis reminds us that sometimes the most profound truths are best told with crafted fictions—and he is a master at it.'"—Lydia Kiesling

Foreword Magazine, Starred Review

"The stories that make up Octavio Solis's Retablos are as taut, riveting, and immersive as the sunrise in a red rock desert.  Be forewarned—they're addictive. . . . Writing is original and laser-sharp, alive with adjectives that start and images that linger. Encountering a river-soaked girl who’s just crossed the border the narrator notes the 'fugitive dullness’ of her face, and the ‘animal lurch’ of her body as she turns to flee from him."