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CULTURE | 29-11-2021 13:30

Latin America's women writers ride wave of acclaim

From Uruguay to Mexico, Argentina to Ecuador, women writers from across Latin America are enjoying growing acclaim after years of marginalisation by an industry they say has long favoured male authors.

From Uruguay to Mexico, Argentina to Ecuador, women writers from across Latin America are enjoying growing acclaim after years of marginalisation by an industry they say has long favoured male authors.

They reject the label of a new "Latin American boom" like the one that thrust male writers such as Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa and Colombia's Gabriel García Márquez to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s.

Instead, they see their success as a welcome break from the prejudice that sidelined many of their predecessors during the 20th century.

This weekend, hundreds of writers, editors and literary agents are expected to gather in Mexico's second city for the Guadalajara International Book Fair, considered one of the world's most important.

Uruguayan writer Fernanda Trías will receive the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize for her novel Mugre Rosa ("Filthy Rose").

The 20th-century Latin American boom elevated figures such as García Márquez and Vargas Llosa, but also "made the great women writers of that time invisible," Trías, 45, told AFP.

But things are changing.

Her compatriot Cristina Peri Rossi won this year's Cervantes Prize, considered the most prestigious award in Spanish-language literature.

Rather than a boom, Karina Pacheco of Peru prefers to speak of a "wonderful outpouring of women's voices."

"They have been there, contained by a dam, by the prejudice that a woman will not write as well as a man," said Pacheco, 52, the author of El año del viento ("The Year of the Wind").

 

'Intimate stories'

Mexico's Guadalupe Nettel, winner of the 2014 Herralde Spanish literary prize for her novel Despues del invierno ("After the Winter"), sees underlying shifts in readers' tastes.

Writers and readers alike are now inclined "much more towards subjectivities, minorities, the most intimate stories," she said.

"And in that, women have always been the great narrators of everyday life, of the inner life," said the 48-year-old.

Common themes explored by Latin American women writers include violence, fear and victimhood, as well as terror, supernatural or otherwise, said María Fernanda Ampuero, the Ecuadorean author of Pelea de Gallos ("Cockfight").

Shunning marriage or having children is another shared thread, since "we were on the streets more, more exposed... [to] the dangers of being a woman," added Ampuero, 45.

Trías sees common themes of de-romanticising motherhood and "the different types of violence suffered by women's bodies."

"Women's issues are issues of humanity," she said.

 

'Fight not won'

Despite the changes, discrimination persists insofar as "everything that women produce is positioned as if it were female literature," and male literature is just literature, said Brazilian writer Djamila Ribeiro, 41.

"There is a hierarchy," she said.

The extent of progress is also uneven depending on the country.

Pacheco regrets that in Peru there are not as many reviews of women's work as in Argentina or Spain.

But "I'm not going to cry about this inequality. We denounce it and turn it into a challenge," she said.

Striking a note of optimism, Nettel underlined that in 2014 she was only the third woman in 30 years to win the Herralde award – and since then, three others have received it.

Although there are steps in the right direction, Trías warned that "the fight is not won in the least."

"To think that at this moment we are on an equal footing is a bit naïve," she said.

It is as important as ever to be vigilant to ensure "that what has been won is not lost," Trías added.

Ampuero sees the increased visibility of women thanks to international movements against gender violence such as "Me Too" as an important factor.

There is also "a thirst to read other stories, to read about themselves in the stories," she added. 

Argentine writer Claudia Piñeiro, who recently won awards at two crime novel festivals in Spain, says that the concept of a boom is "generally commercial," though it has arisen in line with the feminist movement and social advancement of women.

"A focus was placed on certain discourses, thoughts, stories told from other points of view and other peripheries," she said.

But the bottom line, according to Nettel, is that women's writing sets a high standard and is capable of opening universes and little-explored conversations. 

"To get uncomfortable, you have to read women's literature," she said.

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by Jean Luis Arce with AFP bureaus in Latin America

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