Hispanic Heritage Month: Recommending Female Latin American Authors
Adriana Blancarte-Hayward, Outreach Manager
Latin America is known for its rich literary tradition, marked during the 1960s and 1970s by the Latin American Boom, a movement that introduced the world to such heavyweights as Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
While these male authors get a lot of time in the limelight, talented women have also captured the political and emotional landscape of Latin America in their books, from the Boom and beyond.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here is a selection of recommended books by classic and contemporary female Latin American and Latina authors for you to enjoy!
Estados Unidos de Banana / United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi
Giannina Braschi was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives in New York City. She writes in three languages: “Spanish, Spanglish, and English,” a medley familiar to countless Latinos in the United States.
United States of Banana is an absurdist novel that takes place at the Statue of Liberty in post-9/11 New York City. Three unlikely characters—Hamlet, Zarathrustra, and Giannina—are determined to free Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo.
Segismundo has been imprisoned by the King of The United States of Banana, who also happens to be his father, for the crime of being born. Eventually, the king reconciles, frees his son, makes Puerto Rico the fifty-first state of the country, and grants American passports to all Latin American citizens. Unexpected power shifts ensue.
Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral by Gabriela Mistral
The first Nobel Prize in literature awarded to a Latin American writer went to Mistral, a Chilean poet. Though famous and beloved in Latin America and Europe, Mistral’s reputation in the United States has has often been overshadowed by fellow countryman, Pablo Neruda. Translations and selections of her poems in Spanish have tended to soften her work towards the realm of tenderness and motherhood; this translation includes the strangeness, darkness, and intensity of her poems.
In the Time of the Butterflies / En el tiempo de las mariposas by Julia Alvarez
Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, then raised in the Dominican Republic until her family had to flee during General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s regime in 1960.Months after Alvarez and her family escaped the island, three sisters were found dead due to a jeep accident, according to official reports. What these official reports failed to mention was the three sisters were among the leading opponents of Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were known popularly as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies). With her imagination and heart, Julia Alvarez brings the Butterflies back to life again to expose the human cost of political repression.
Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa
Boullosa is a Mexican novelist who has written widely on issues of feminism and gender roles. In her family saga, Leaving Tabasco, Boullosa follows protagonist Delmira Ulloa through her difficult journey out of the imagined state of Tabasco, where magic is embedded in everyday life. In this town, Delmira’s grandmother floats over her bed at night, stones have been known to turn into water, and torrential downpours can be purchased at the market during the rainy season.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
In the stories of Her Body and Other Parties, Machado unflinchingly reveal the implicit violence of inhabiting a female body. A wife refuses her husband’s wish to remove a green ribbon from her neck, a woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity, and a weight loss surgery results in a shadowy houseguest.A writer of Cuban descent, Machado received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. She credits Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as influences.
Absolute Solitude by Dulce Maria Loynaz
Until being awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1992, Cuban poet Dulce Maria Loynaz lived in relative obscurity in her homeland. Absolute Solitude presents a selection of her prose poems about nature, emotions, and love. The book includes Loynaz’s works from the 1950s through her emergence in the 1990s. During her life, Loynaz came into personal contact with writers such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Gabriela Mistral, and Alejo Carpentier.
El Infinito en la Palma de la Mano / Infinity in the Palm of her Hand by Gioconda Belli
Gioconda Belli grew up in upper-class Managua Nicaragua. In 1970, a blossoming awareness of the social inequities in Nicaragua led her to join the Sandinistas in the struggle against the Samoza dictatorship. Her book, A Country Under My Skin, chronicles her journey from society girl to paramilitary rebel. She later published El Infinito en la Palma de la Mano, a parable about Adam and Eve. This book follows the couple as they come to grips with their expulsion from paradise, discover their responsibilities and limits, and make sacrifices to survive in a world of their own making.
In The Vortex Of The Cyclone by Excilia Saldana
Saldana is an Afro-Cuban poet, translator, and professor who won the prestigious Nicholas Guillen Award for Distinction in Poetry in 1988. This first-ever bilingual anthology contains a wide-ranging selection of her work including lullabies, erotic letters, autobiographical poems, and quiet reflections on Cuba.
Cola Franzen, translator of Jorge Guillen’s Horses in the Air and Other Poems said about Saldana’s collection, “A wonderful book, strong, with enormous energy, fast-paced, truly poetic, with a varied and rich vocabulary ranging from the vernacular to the exalted. This is poetry to be said aloud, sometimes chanted, sometimes shouted, sometimes sung… a book that is both original and significant.”
Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
Argentine writer Ocampo has been called “one of the twentieth century’s great masters of the short story.” Italo Calvino once said about her, “I don’t know another writer who better captures the magic inside everyday rituals, the forbidden or hidden face that our mirrors don’t show us.”
Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her writing life. Her spooky stories include the likes of a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, and a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.
A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros
Rounding out the list is a more recent book from the beloved Mexican-American author of The House on Mango Street. A House Of My Own centers on Cisneros’s search for her own constructed space, drawing inspiration from the Chicago streets where she grew up to a place in Mexico where “my ancestors lived for centuries.” This compilation of nonfiction stories creates an intimate album of this literary legend’s life and career.