JOHN LANTIGUA was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in a neighborhood where Spanish was the language of the streets. His mother was from Ponce, Puerto Rico, and his father from Matanzas, Cuba, and during his first years Lantigua spoke only Spanish. That radically changed when he was four.
His family moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey, where, at the time, no other Latinos lived. Lantigua, an only child, was told to forget Spanish and learn English, and his parents never spoke a word of Spanish to him again.
In retrospect, his entire professional life has been a return to the streets where Spanish is spoken. Set in Latino milieus, his novels and short stories have been nominated for the Edgar and Shamus awards, and his journalism has won him two Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prizes, a share of the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism, and other prizes.
In his twenties, Lantigua was a reporter at The Hartford Courant in Connecticut. The only Latino at the newspaper, he soon was assigned to cover the city’s large Puerto Rican population. In doing this, he began to reconnect with his heritage and Latin America in general. He soon quit journalism and at age 25, hitchhiked to Mexico, where he spent most of the next five years in Oaxaca. He started a business guiding young American and Canadian tourists on camping trips in the mountains. He owned two burros, packed them, and led his clients on hikes through the beautiful sierra of the Pacific coast of Oaxaca.
His business eventually went bankrupt, so Lantigua sold his burros and moved to Oaxaca City, where he taught English and joined the municipal theater company as an actor.
Over the next few years, Lantigua’s travels brought him temporarily back to the U.S. working for a theater in New York, a Reno casino, and on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, before taking him back to Latin America. There, he worked as a translator in Salvadoran refugee camps, and he covered the “Contra War” for United Press International, and later for The Washington Post, while living in Honduras and Nicaragua. Lantigua also wrote his first two novels during this time.
Heat Lightning (Putnam, 1987), about the Salvadoran civil war, was nominated for the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Burn Season (Putnam, 1989), about the Sandinista/Contra conflict, was praised by The New York Times Book Review as “a superior job.” The reviewer lauded Lantigua for his “crisp style” and called him “a clear, forceful writer.”
Lantigua later moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where he wrote much of his third novel, Twister (Simon & Schuster, 1992). Set in Texas, it involves radical religious fundamentalism and, in part, the Mexican-American community. In The New York Times Book Review mystery column, Marilyn Stasio said the character studies in the book “are crisp and clear as anything you will hear in the prairie wind.”
In 1993, Lantigua joined the Miami Herald, where he covered Cuban exile issues and used his experience to write his next two novels: Player’s Vendetta (Signet, 1999), about Pedro Pan children who were smuggled from Cuba to the U.S., and The Ultimate Havana (Signet, 2001), about the counterfeiting of Cuban cigars. Lantigua was also part of a Miami Herald investigative team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1999 for articles written on voter fraud.
Lantigua most recently joined The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Florida. At The Post, he has specialized in reporting on migrant workers in the U.S. His work won him and two colleagues the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 2004 and 2006, as well as the World Hunger Year Award in 2004.
In 2007, Arte Público Press published The Lady from Buenos Aires, a gripping installment in Lantigua’s Willie Cuesta Mystery Series, about Argentina’s “children of the disappeared.” On Hallowed Ground (March 2011) is the most recent in the series and focuses on Colombian kidnappers. Publishers Weekly hailed it as, “a treat for Elmore Leonard devotees.”