South American Women Authors the U.S. Has Overlooked
If you only know Borges, Márquez, and Bolaño, make room on your bookshelf for these writers
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For the longest time, literary recognition of Latin American writers in the U.S. seemed to be limited to a handful of men: Borges, Márquez, Bolaño. But now that the literary world is gradually becoming more inclusive, we have seen a slow but much-needed burst of young Latinx voices in the landscape. Writers like Lilliam Rivera, Erika Sánchez, and Yesika Salgado have created works that tell the stories of Latinx experiences in the United States. Established writers from Latin America are also seeing a resurgence of interest, as independent publishing houses like New Directions and Coffee House Press publish new translations of well-loved authors like Clarice Lispector and Julio Cortázar.
A wonderful thing about contemporary South American authors is that their writing becomes a window into the idiosyncrasies of their countries while remaining honest about what the influence of globalism has meant for each region. As a Colombian and multicultural writer living in the U.S., I love finding writing that illustrates the many nuances of the South American experience of writing. I profoundly enjoy how these Colombian and Dominican authors recognize that their most authentic language is now forever laced with American expressions and references, and I admire the Cuban and Peruvian writers who portray the nuances of being from a country they love but that also makes them uncomfortable. These writers bring fresh language, queer perspectives, and inquisitive writing to people in and outside of South America who were looking for an accurate representation of their experiences without necessarily coming through the lens of living in the United States.
Even as more diverse voices get their due, there is still space to bring recognition to some South American women authors who not only write new perspectives into a rather ossified cannon, but do so with humor and a spectacular grasp of language. Below are some South American female authors, all available in English translation, that the U.S. readers have been sleeping on.
Uno siempre cambia al amor de su vida by Amalia Andrade Arango
In her first book, set to come out in English in the United States next year, we are treated to the charming, kind, and funny voice of this Colombian author that very often feels like that one friend who will sit with you in times of trouble and crack jokes in between the gentlest of slaps in the hand for once again emotionally auto sabotaging yourself. It came out in Colombia in 2015 and became a runaway success with multiple translations and several reprintings in a country where it is notoriously hard to get people to buy and read books. Arango combines illustrations, activities, pop culture and micro essays to deal with very complex issues like love and how the earth seems to rupture beneath your feet when heartbreak happens—and what to do with these feelings.
Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener
Like many gonzo journalists before her, Wiener has taken a profound interest in writing about sexuality and the people who thrive in the corners and side alleys of it. Unlike many gonzo journalists, she keeps her wits and honesty about her at all times, making her an imperturbable observer and a hilarious witness of human interaction. Wiener is a Peruvian journalist whose unflinching honesty and generosity in writing have made her one of the most loved and respected writers of her generation. Her nonfiction writing about her polyamorous relationship of many years is still one of the few accounts of polyamory that feels honest to me.
Miami Century Fox by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias
This Cuban poet, author, and playwright´s writing is some of the most refreshing and insightful that I have encountered in a long time. Her book is composed of collected poems, as is usual for her. Each poem links with the next one in unexpected ways that envelop the reader in their rhythm like garland of deliciously crafted language. An extremely valuable aspect of her writing is the sensibility she has towards the experience of being a person who writes and lives in different cultures. That confusing melancholy of being foreign finds its shape in the poetry and prose of this writer who finds the connection in all things commonplace.
Papi by Rita Indiana
Like Junot Díaz’s work, Indiana’s writing broke open my world by showing me a place where all the pop culture and all the English and all the Spanish and Caribbean expressions that would get me side-eye from family and friends not only existed but flourished. In Papi, translated by the extremely talented Achy Obejas, we see a young girl´s life in the Dominican Republic as she navigates all the discoveries of growing up. Rita Indiana’s writing is fun, but more than that is textured and almost tasty in a way that only Caribbean writing could be.
Everyone Leaves by Wendy Guerra
In this diary novel, also translated by Obejas, narrator Nieve remembers crucial year of Cuba’s political turmoil through the life of a family whose coming and goings are as uncertain as those of the country they live in. Guerra was initially a poet, a fact that seeps into her writing, making it vivid and lyrical. Wendy Guerra is a multidisciplinary Cuban author, actor and director. The sources of inspiration for her writing are varied: from her experiences as a child actor in Cuba to a profound investigation on the life of Anais Nin.
This, of course, is far from an exhaustive list of female authors from South America, but it can serve as a starting point. These writers excel at talking about the contemporary Latin American experience while embedding their language with such force, personality, and care that it is impossible to not feel attached to the their countries and regions just by virtue of having read them. This sort of perspective is the perfect companion to Latinx writing that comes from within the United States. No one author will ever set on the page a universal Latin and Hispanic experience, but reading from the many different angles that compose it will help create the more accurate picture.