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WOMEN'S

WISDOM
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|| Celebrating National Women's History Month ||

   

C O L U M N
DEUS EX MACHINA
i n d u s t r y   r e p o r t s

Heroines in blue stockings:
Magical realism's debt to America's female scholars

IF ONE were to take a long look at women's history in the United States, they'd be reminded that "schooling" was often only available, accessible and affordable to those women in the upper classes, and that the ultimate expectation for all women in the upper strata was to marry well.

(Certainly, it's clear that women of color were almost entirely removed from this experience, but a rough parallel might be made between "educated" and "uneducated" white women and their ethnic counterparts, differentiating between those who were, or who weren't, literate.)

For women of privilege, though, being learned in the two-syllable sense of the word was also a plus; developing artistic sensibilities came in handy for meeting the demands of life as a hostess to one's husband's company (especially if he was an influential politician or businessman of considerable stature). Of course, these renderings of early American women are just as romantic and lopsided as the stories of their leading men, who were recorded as being dedicated soldiers, clever frontiersmen, political afficianados, educated leaders and the like.

This is not to say that there weren't great men in American history, nor to deny that there were real women—no matter what race—performing their own great feats. But back in the day, education for early American women fit mostly into two categories: domestic and intellectual. Today's young women might laugh to think that a Home Economics degree was a prized dream for many a debutante in middle- to upper-class America, their "schooling" a surefire guarantee they would "marry up" and, by virtue of improved finances, live well enough to never have to think again about dishpanned hands. And then there were the intellectual women, the "bluestockings," as they were called, who went to school to learn about art, literature and the like. Many of these women expected to use their schooling in order to teach others; in fact, it was probably never viewed as practical to attend the university simply to learn.

Cut to today's university coeds, and you get an entirely different vision of the educated American woman. Women have made significant leaps in scholarly achievement thanks to new freedoms gained through a funky collage of Suffrage, electricity, the information age, the washing machine, ERA, Rosy the Riveter and the like. It means that women can now simply opt to go to college for the experience of mastering an esoteric subject, if they like. Some go on to earn multiple degrees and to become doctors over their love for subject matter that, from a practical standpoint, might be considered completely inessential to life. They go to college simply to know, understanding full well the meaning behind the phrase, "Knowledge is Power."

It's with gratitude that we honor a handful of these self-defined women in Margin as part of our celebration of National Women's History Month. We can't make it plainer: without their brilliance, their intellectual rigor, their endless curiosity, their communicative excellence and their selflessness, we'd not know nearly what we do about magical realism. They wear the bifocals so we don't have to. They write the books, lecture at the conferences and strengthen the works of others by their own pens so we can all find a way to master their own beloved theses. Let's face it: the days of the university professor as a balding man in an ascot reading leatherbound books by the green lamp are simply kaput. Cheers to the 21st Century bluestocking!

Wendy B. Faris

We've devoted lots of real estate to Ms. Faris in Margin, and why not? The professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas-Arlington is co-editor (with Lois Parkinson Zamora) of perhaps the finest collection of essays on the subject of magical realism ever published, Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (1995), to which she contributed an excellent essay: "Scheherazade's Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction." She's also an excellent scholar on the subject in her own right, and has written another book, Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative (2004) which we believe is the first of its kind to address the subject of magical realism as a narrative mode appropriate to feminist writing. Faris has also performed translation work important to the study and mastery of literary magical realism ("Magical Realism: Postexpressionism" by Franz Roh), and has published dozens of critical papers, many highlighting the work of some of magical realism's giants: Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez. Thanks to Faris's focused and career-long devotion to magical realism, students and writers all over the world can now study and master the genre more than it was ever possible before.
|| Links to Wendy Faris ||
Wendy Faris: Home Page ¤ Three Questions for Wendy Faris: Vanderbilt University Press ¤ "The Question of the Other: Cultural Critiques of Magical Realism," by Wendy Faris for Janus Head ¤ Review: Ordinary Enchantments

Edith Grossman
With all due respect to Dr. Gregory Rabassa (one of our favorite translators), what would have happened to the Latin American Boom had there not also been Edith Grossman to bring it to the English-speaking world? She's translated the work of several pre-eminent Latin American magical realists: Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez and Álvaro Mutis among them. Recently, she translated Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, but perhaps most widely known and appreciated these days is her translation of Miguel de Cervantes's classic Don Quixote of La Mancha. She also brought us the first book installment of Gabo's long-awaited memoir trilogy, Living to Tell the Tale; let's hope Gabo can break through his recent drought as a writer so she can translate the rest for us!
|| Links to Edith Grossman ||
Frontlist: Books by Edith Grossman ¤ "On Translation and García Márquez" for The Modern Word ¤ "On Translating the Prince of Wits: An Interview with Edith Grossman" for Guernica ¤ Edith Grossman's Distinguished Alumni Page

Barbara Howes
If you're a staunch and devoted fan of magical realism, then no doubt you know that Barbara Howes edited what might be considered the first great collection of Latin American magical realism ever published for an English-speaking audience, The Eye of the Heart (1973). Published under the popular Avon Bard imprint, the book was touted by Publishers Weekly as "a showcase for the best Latin American writers of this century": 42 short stories from an excellent cross-section of authors, with virtually no rival other than the heavyweight anthology, Black Water, edited by Alberto Manguel, which appeared almost a decade later. It was through Howe's acquaintanceship with translator Harriot de Onis, and after publishing the well-known anthology, The Green Antilles (1966)—one of the earliest known collections of modern Caribbean literature—that she became interested in the literature of Latin America. The Eye of the Heart became the celebrated result of that pursuit.
|| Links to Barbara Howes ||
"Barbara Howes and the Eminent Sorority" by Dana Gioia ¤ Internet Book List: The Eye of the Heart ¤ "The Americas in New England" by Eric Metcalf

Terri Windling
Most of the serious chatter about magical realism seems to come from academic circles, but author Terri Windling, who edited (with Ellen Datlow) sixteen volumes of the popular anthology series, the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, has worked hard to stretch the boundaries of genre fantasy to be inclusive of magic realism and other "slippery" imaginative modes. All this, during a time when women's voices and ideas in science fiction and fantasy are only now really breaking through decades of domination by male voices and ideas. [Note from TKS: This is no simple feat. If you ever visit science fiction & fantasy conventions and the subject of magical realism comes up, you're sure to find a vociferous crowd of folks denying its validity in American literature. Just read any of Margin's "Travels With Bruce" columns and see for yourself.] As a writer, folklorist, artist and editor, Windling advocates strongly for imaginative "border crossing" in literature and writes extensively on the subject of myths, folklore, fairy tales and magical realism. She also consults with New York's Tor Books, holds a membership with Interstitial Arts: Artists Without Borders and continues to run the nearly 20-year-old operation of the excellent Endicott Studio, "an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to the creation and support of mythic art," with Midori Snyder. Writes Windling: "My own work comes from the borderlands where contemporary fiction meets ancient myth, and where genre fiction rubs against American and foreign works of magical realism.… year after year, I crossed over many borders and came to know the border guards (agents, publishers, permissions departments) quite well." She's an excellent ally in the genre fiction world and simply too talented as an independent scholar to be overlooked.
|| Links to Terri Windling ||
Terri Windling's statement of the Interstitial Arts Movement ¤ Terri Windling Endicott Studio Home Page ¤ Interview with Locus Online ¤ Bibliography: Terri Windling

Lois Parkinson Zamora
Lois Parkinson Zamora has been described as a "leader in the comparative study of literature of the Americas." Her contribution as co-editor of the landmark anthology, Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (l995) includes her excellent essay, "Magical Romance/Magical Realism: Ghosts in U.S. and Latin American Fiction." Her work on this subject matter, in particular, has made it possible to differentiate the purpose of ghosts in magical realist fiction from ghosts written for other kinds of fiction. Like her cohort, Wendy Faris, Zamora has written extensively about many of the Latin American magical realists. Her article, "The Visualizing Capacity of Magical Realism: Objects and Expression in the Works of Jorge Luis Borges," appeared in the special magical realism edition published by Janus Head in 2002. Zamora's interest in Latin American Studies extends beyond literature: she was an important contributor to Image and Memory: Photography From Latin America, 1866-1994 (1998), where her essay "Quetzalcoatl's Mirror: Reflections on the Photographic Image in Latin America" examined the cultural roots of visual imagery in Latin American photography. Zamora has also done translation work (in particular: Enclosed Garden, a short story collection by the contemporary Mexican writer, Angelina Muñiz-Huberman). Look for Zamora's latest book, The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction, to be released by the University of Chicago Press in April 2006, and Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest, for release sometime in 2007.
|| Links to Lois Parkinson Zamora ||
"The Visualizing Capacity of Magical Realism: Objects and Expression in the Works of Jorge Luis Borges" for Janus Head ¤ Lois Parkinson Zamora: Home Page ¤ Enclosed Garden, published by the Latin American Literary Review Press ¤ Bibliography: Lois Parkinson Zamora

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