The Mouth: Spanish-Speaking Women Writers from the 1500s to the 1970s

Instructor: Carmen Boullosa
Offered by Macaulay Honors College
Thursdays, 5:00 – 7:40 PM
Macaulay Honors College

500 million people around the planet speak Spanish. It’s the second ranking tongue behind Mandarin Chinese. It has a brilliant popular cultural tradition. Its accomplishments – in music, cuisine, and movies – are well known. Its literary history boasts writers on the order of Cervantes, Neruda and Garcia Marquez. But these seminal figures – using the word advisedly – are all men. It would appear to non Spanish speakers, and a good many Spanish speakers as well, as if the contributions of women writers to the Spanish and global culture are non existent. This course will serve as a portal that allows students to pass through the cultural frontier and explore the treasures hidden on the other side of the Wall.

We are going to meet an extraordinary array of powerful and vocal women. They come from wildly different times, places, backgrounds, and cultures. Their social and political positions differed dramatically: nuns, revolutionaries, saints, rebels, generals, heads of state, feminists, traditionalists, wealthy aristocrats, teachers, and 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, María de Zayas, Catalina de Erauzo, Juana de Asbaje, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Flora Tristán, Juana Manuela Gorriti, Clorinda Matto de Turner, Delmira Agustini, Victoria Ocampo, Alfonsina Storni, Nellie Campobello, Gabriela Mistral, Elena Garro and Rosario Castellanos have in common? They all had to work within the matrix of constraints and possibilities embedded in the gender codes of their era, rules for “womanhood” which they all transgressed in one way or another.

We will come to know them in the most obvious of ways, by listening to them speak, and by examining their life and times. But in a more unorthodox move we’ll consider each writer’s relation to the food and/or cuisine of their time and place. Their literary works have a lot to say about producing, cooking, and consuming foods. This will give us insights into their personas and their worlds, as well as their appetite for love and desire. In our work together we will seat them at a common table (as Judy Chicago did in a famous art piece) and listen to the conversation between themselves, and between them and us, and see how much of what they have to say still resonates in #MeToo times.

All the readings will be in English translation.

(La obra que mostramos en esta pagina representa a la mística española Santa Teresa de Jesús (1515-1582), también conocida como Santa Teresa de Ávila, y es una copia de autor anónimo basada en una obra de José de Ribera.)

Course Code:

MHC 346