Rebel Women: Spanish-Speaking Writers and Artists

Instructor: Carmen Boullosa
Tuesdays, 3:00 PM – 5:40 PM
Modality: In Person
Macaulay Classroom 2 (204)
Course Code: MHC 346

There is a world out there that has been under-represented or misleadingly portrait.

Except, of course, if you remember Cervantes, the “El Quixote” author. There is a tradition of great tradition, as García Márquez, Neruda, etc. But the forgotten ones – and not only in English- are women writers. There has been this great tradition of authors in Spanish that is totally outside radar. This seminar will be the portal to their extraordinary world.

Enquiring minds will want to know what is, and what was, there. Where were these women from? What world did they belong to? Why, if a good number of them, were key players – and not only in Spanish-, why were later erased from the collective – and local- memory? Why, even one of them is the first Nobel winner of the Spanish language, why aren´t them considered as principals on that Literary Canon?

During our seminar, we´ll read and talk about a number of women writers and the artists that worked aside them. These writers have little in common. They come from wildly different times, places, backgrounds, cultures. Their social and political positions differed dramatically: nuns, revolutionaries, saints, rebels, generals, heads of state, feminists, traditionalists, wealthy aristocrats, teachers, journalists… Their literary output took wildly differing forms: novels, poems, essays, memoirs, manifestos, plans, diaries, letters, testimonies and recipes books. One was a Nobel Prize winner, others never got recognition; some have been erased from literary history, their legacies forgotten, when not distorted, while others lives and works have been thoroughly scrutinized and highly praised.

What, then, do Teresa de Avila – a Saint, a memorist, the founder of a religious order-, María de Zayas – an outspoken feminist, a best-seller author that wrote excesively violent plots-, Catalina de Erauso – the Nun Ensign who passed as a man, and had a successful the life of a soldier-, Juana Inés de la Cruz – the main Mexican author of all times, who decided to become a nun to avoid marriage and other social constrictions-, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda – first author that at this continent published a successful antislavery novel-, Flora Tristán – the Feminist and socialist of the Americas, grandmother of Gaughin-, Juana Manuela Gorriti – whose dining room housed a cultural life of its own, gahtering authors from all Latin America, who was also a well known writer, an editor, a teacher, Clorinda Mattos de Turner – the Peruvian editor, novelist and activist whose house was burn by the mob for having denounced the priest´s abuses-, Delmira Agustini – author of innevitable erotic poetry that revolutioned the Poetic form in Spanish, the first legally divorced in Uruguay, murdered by her ex husband the same day they signed their separation-, Victoria Ocampo – the publisher and promoter of Borges and many other authors of all languages, a millionaire, a controversial feminist, an antipopulist, a generous and bright memorist-, Alfonsina Storni – a feminist poet who opted for a “death of her own”-, Nellie Campobello – the only woman writer who authored a Novela de la Revolucion Mexicana, at her old age kindapped and murdered by her assistant and her lawyer, to the blind eyes of all Mexico, in the 2008s–, Gabriela Mistral – the first Novel Prize ever in Spanish-, the Mexican novelists Elena Garro and Rosario Castellanos have in common? And Elena Poniatowksa, and Domitila Chungara?

They all had to work within the matrix of constraints and possibilities embedded in the gender codes of their era, and they all broke them, and went against constraints on themselves and on others whom they could see.

We will explore the creative tension between these women writers “womanhood” and their respective times social codes or laws, through an examination of their texts and biographies – and, their rebellion against gender roles and social injustices. Our seminar will be in fact a conversation among us. We’ll all contribute to their understanding, and a questionnaire we´ll keep growing ensamble.

Our main goal should be to evaluate these authors as the key players on the Spanish language literary history – when most are seen as marginal-, understand their contributions to their moments, and what´s their actuality. Doing so, we would contribute to the rewrite of the Canon of “La Literatura” an “Las Artes” in both sides of the ocean.

Silvina Ocampo, Selected Stories; Rosario Castellanos, The Nine Guardians; Elena Poniatowska, Lilus Kikus; Elena Garro, Recollection of Things to Come

Carmen Boullosa

Carmen Boullosa

Macaulay Honors College
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