Author Carmen Boullosa's Essential Reading After 2017
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Carmen Boullosa is a Mexican novelist, poet and playwright. Her most recent novels are El libro de Ana (Siruela, in Spain, and Alfaguara, Mexico), and on translation Texas (a PEN America Prize finalist), and Before (both at Deep Vellum). She was a visiting professor at Georgetown, NYU, Columbia, SDSU, Blaise Pascal at Clermont Ferrand, held the Chair Reyes at La Sorbonne, and during 8 years taught at City College CUNY. She also writes (and prints) artist books.
Former Guggenheim and Cullman Center Fellow, her work has received several prizes, among them the Xavier Villaurrutia (at Mexico), the Anna Seghers and the Liberatur (Germany), for her novel El complot de los románticos the (Spanish) Café Gijón Prize, and for the TV show, Nueva York, at CUNY-TV, five NY-EMMYS.
As 2017 comes to an end, what books could you suggest that people read to reflect on this year’s tumultuous events and why do you recommend them?
Present times are difficult. I think we should, for the sake of sanity—but mainly in order to be able to understand what’s happening—read classics in order to illuminate the present.
I have two very different recommendations. First, a classic in the Spanish tradition by María de Zayas. She’s the epitome of the feminist writer. She wrote novellas, as did her contemporary Cervantes, she also wrote novellas, as did Cervantes, (whose beautiful Exemplary novels is a delightful read). María de Zayas’ are tales of love and violence. I read her in Spanish, but in English I found one volume available containing ten of her stories called The Disenchantments of Love.
The editor wisely points out: “Published in 1647, these ten tales are among the earliest narratives in Western literature to focus on women's experiences and points of view in love relationships."
What’s not mentioned in this description is that her novellas are not all about "love relationships" but about violence. María de Zayas shakes misogynistic institutions with her writing, provoking cultural earthquakes. She’s the real thing. There are enormous differences between her time and ours. But violence has always been attractive to spectators and she knew this. She uses violence to bomb those who held all the positions of power in daily and domestic life.
My second recommendation is Robert Graves and Raphael Patai’s The Hebrew Myths. It’s a helping hand to re-read the biblical Genesis, and understand how much Eve’s silence was imposed on her. This also speaks to our present.
In their times—María de Zayas' as well as the Genesis authors'—their texts were shaping a new order. We have to face this old disorder. And for this reason, Graves and Patai's wonderful book is of key importance. They allow us to see how our gender imbalance has silenced us on important issues, and has shaped others.