El Paso writer’s latest book topped New York Times bestseller list

El Paso author Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s latest book is ranked # 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for young adult hardcover books.

His fictional novel, “Aristotle and Dante Plunge into the Waters of the World” debuted at No. 1 after going on sale last week. Rankings are determined by the weekly sales of a book. The latest rankings reflect sales as of October 16.

“I cried, I had no words,” Sáenz said one day after hearing the news. “This is not a testimonial from me, but a testimonial from my readers and how much they love this book. I am grateful to them and I will not forget it.”

Sáenz, 67, grew up on a family farm in southern New Mexico. He has lived most of his life in El Paso, steeped in the vibrant binational culture of the US-Mexico border. He used to sneak across the border with friends in high school and bars in Ciudad Juárez. Today, he writes and paints occasionally in a house in central El Paso that he shares with his Yorkie Chuy.

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Sáenz’s latest book is the sequel to the 2012 award-winning novel “Aristotle and Dante Uncover Secrets of the Universe”. This book has sold over 700,000 copies, Sáenz said. Both books are set in El Paso and detail the lives of two high school kids who fall in love at a time and place that don’t easily come to terms with their relationship.

“Authors live and write their lives in hopes of making it to the New York Times,” said Bill Clark, owner of Literarity Book Shop in El Paso. “I can pretty much guarantee you… no other El Paso author has ever made it to the YA charts at this location.”

Clark personally hand-sells dozens of titles from local authors based in and around the El Paso area, southern New Mexico, and northern Mexico. He said that “Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World” currently occupy significant real estate space in the window of his West El Paso store.

“I laughingly refer to (Sáenz) as the godfather of current local writers,” Clark said. “He has the largest body of work and the greatest breadth of writing. His writing contains everything from short stories to novels to young adult fiction. “

Sáenz’s first book in this now two-part series won the Stonewall Book Award, which recognizes works dedicated to the LGBTQ experience. This book is currently in the process of being made into a movie starring Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez and Mexican-American actress Eva Longoria. The film will be produced by Broadway star, Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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The cover of

Sáenz’s work has been translated into several languages, including Spanish.

Jose Mario Lopez Cardenas, 30, is a teacher at a primary school in Saltillo, the capital of the Mexican border state of Coahuila. Lopez Cardenas is eagerly awaiting to read “Waters of the World,” which he said he cannot buy in Mexico yet. He first read “Secrets of the Universe” in 2015 and became a huge fan of Sáenz.

“It was a book that opened a lot of doors for people in the LGBT community because it’s one of the first love stories that speaks openly about this topic,” Lopez Cardenas said. “It’s so important that we give the younger generations these kinds of stories so that they can confidently be who they are and love who they love. This book shows that our lives and experiences are valuable.

In 2013, Sáenz’s short story book, “It All Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club,” won the PEN / Faulkner Fiction Award, an honor also bestowed on writers such as John Updike and Annie Proulx. This book was published by Cinco Puntos Press, then locally owned. Sáenz was the first Latino to win the award, according to publisher Simon & Schuster.

Sáenz graduated from the Masters of Creative Writing program at the University of Texas at El Paso. His work includes children’s books, poetry and fiction. Much of his writing focuses on the US-Mexico border, telling stories about its people and desert landscape.

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