Monday, November 13, 2006

News: Concubines, queens inspire writers Allende, Belli

Allende's latest novel, 'Ines of My Soul,' tells the tale of a real life Spanish seamstress, Ines Suarez, who wielded the sword as well as the needle, beheading her enemies, pulling arrows from soldiers' flesh, divining water in the desert and captivating the heart of Chilean conqueror Pedro de Valdivia

MIAMI - The Associated Press

Chilean author Isabel Allende's 1982 best-seller "House of Spirits" helped generate a wave of Latin American literature featuring heroines who dared cross geographic, political and social boundaries.

Now, the grande dame of Latina lit, whose books have been translated into 27 languages, is going back -- way back -- to the 16th century.

Her latest novel, "Ines of My Soul," tells the tale of a real life Spanish seamstress, Ines Suarez, who wielded the sword as well as the needle, beheading her enemies, pulling arrows from soldiers' flesh, divining water in the desert and captivating the heart of Chilean conqueror Pedro de Valdivia.

Like Allende's last novel, "Zorro," her new work is an action-packed view of the New World, closer in style to "Treasure Island," than the magical realism of "House of Spirits." It is being published this month in Spanish and English by Harper Collins.

Allende is not alone in her voyage back in time to the Spanish Conquest.

In September, Harper Collins' Rayo division released the English version of Nicaraguan poet and author Giocanda Belli's "The Scroll of Seduction," the story of the 16th century Spanish Queen Juana of Castile. Belli mixes the tale of the queen, better known as Juana the Mad, with the obsessive love story between a modern day history professor and a teenage orphan.

Earlier this year, Simon & Schuster's Atria Books published "Malinche," by Laura Esquivel, author of "Like Water for Chocolate," about the Aztec woman who helped Hernan Cortez conquer Mexico.

"People say, 'Why is everyone writing historical novels?"' joked Allende, who will present her book at the Miami Book Fair International this week along with Belli. "We don't call each other and say 'Hey, I'm writing about this.' It just happens to be in the air."

Mitchell Kaplan, the Miami fair's co-founder and owner of the four-store Books & Books chain, says the latest releases by Allende and Belli highlight the growing interest of major U.S. publishing houses in Hispanic literature both in English and Spanish. The authors will be reading in English from their books, a reminder that their influence now reaches far beyond the niche of "Latin American literature."

Both Allende and Belli see parallels in the Spanish conquerors' search for gold and today's tensions over oil in the Middle East.

"Greed has been the great motivation in history -- greed and power and sex are the great driving forces of men," Allende said.

Belli adds another theory.

"When one is in a situation in a world so convoluted as this one is, it's difficult to get distance and write about the situation. It's a way to get perspective and decipher what is happening," she said.

Juana's story highlights how little the situation has changed for many women, Belli said. The queen is locked away for 40 years and manipulated first by her husband, then by her father and eventually her son, the Emperor Charles V.

"In some Arab countries, women are still kept in the home. What happens under the Taliban isn't much different from what Juana faced. It seems unbelievable that 500 years later, women are still punished for their passion and for not following the rules," Belli said.

The two novels show the flip side of women's lives during the Spanish conquest. In Spain, Juana is called crazy when she refuses to choose between love and power.

"She is the opposite of Elizabeth I, who had to renounce her sexuality and femininity to succeed as a ruler," Belli said.

Juana's struggle is internal.

"I waged war for all those whom I loved. It was for me that I did not fight for," Juana says from her prison cell. "So much have I lost that I no longer care. Yet I have one last endeavor: to win myself for myself."

Allende shows what it took for a woman to survive on the other side of the castle walls -- and the world.

During one battle in Chile, Ines describes coming face-to-face with an Indian tribal leader.

"I remember that we faced each other -- he with a short lance and I with the sword I had to lift with both hands -- each crouched in identical postures, each furiously yelling terrible war cries, each with eyes boring into the other's..."

Ines, too, is betrayed by Valdivia, but in the New World, at least, it seems a woman could still carve out her own identity. Ines eventually discovers love and marriage with the Chilean governor, while Valdivia falls victim to his own avarice -- forced to drink the molten gold he fought for.

Allende refuses to gloss over the brutality of the soldiers while still drawing them as compelling characters. She describes the Mapuche, Inca and other tribes with detail but avoids whitewashing their violent acts.

"I tried not to be partial to anyone and not to idealize anyone," Allende said. "I come from a Mestizo culture. We may not like it, but we would not be who we are without the Spanish conquest."

Like their characters, Allende and Belli share more than a few similarities. Both were born to wealthy, educated families and sympathized with leftist political elements. Allende, 64, was a journalist who fled Chile after Agusto Pinochet's 1973 military coup toppled her uncle Salvador's government, eventually marrying an American and settling in San Francisco.

Belli, 58, joined Nicaragua's Sandinistas in the 1970s and held political posts while writing poetry before eventually becoming disillusioned with the party. She married an American, too, and splits her time between Los Angeles and Managua, serving as a spokeswoman for the splinter party, the Sandinista Renewal Movement.

But ultimately, both authors say it was the women's stories, waiting to be told, not politics, that inspired them to write.

As Ines says when she discovers water in the Chilean desert, "I can find water only where there is water. ... I can't create it."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not to miss!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 07:00 PM

Isabel Allende, will be promoting Ines of My Soul
Appears on/at:

33 East 17th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 253-0810

Thursday, November 09, 2006

AOL Teams with PW

AOL has inked a deal with Publishers Weekly to feature selected portions of the magazine's content on its Books Channel. The licensing agreement will allow AOL to post PW book reviews, author interviews, bestseller lists and selected feature stories. Through the deal, AOL will also link to PW's consumer site,

Jennie Baird, executive director of AOL Coaches & Books, said PW will be providing content that "will be a solid addition to the features currently hosted on the site."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Latina Sylvia Plath: Julia de Burgos


Julia de Burgos
1914-1953Poet, nationalist

"Writing in the 1930s through the 1950s, de Burgos was ahead of her time in grasping connections between history, the body, politics, love, self-negation and feminism that would later prove to be the foundations for writers like [Adrienne] Rich and [Sylvia] Plath." — Publishers Weekly

Julia de Burgos was one of the foremost poets to come out of Puerto Rico in the first half of the twentieth century. Her poverty-stricken background and African heritage were factors in the evolution of the revolutionary politics de Burgos espoused as part of the independence movement in Puerto Rico. She also attracted attention for her unconventional lifestyle: she divorced her first husband and lived openly with her lover at a time when such behavior was virtually unthinkable for most Puerto Rican women. "A woman of great sensibility, rebellious spirit, and exceptional intelligence, Julia de Burgos no doubt felt imprisoned by circumstances," explained Notable American Women contributor Carmen Delgado Votaw. "Her discomfort with social ills, her love for Puerto Rico, and her preoccupation with justice and death, all come out in the torrents of her poetry with its richly emotional metaphors."

Poverty and Education
De Burgos was the oldest of 13 children born to Paula García de Burgos and Francisco Burgos Hans. Although her father worked for the National Guard and farmed near the town of Carolina, Puerto Rico, when she was born, the family later removed to the barrio of Santa Cruz. De Burgos grew up on the banks of a major branch of the Rio Grande de Loiza and attended the University of Puerto Rico High School thanks to donations from local townspeople. After graduation in 1931, she entered the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan and obtained her certification as a teacher two years later. She began her teaching career working at the Barrio Cerdo Arriba in Naranjito, a provincial town some distance from the capital.

In Naranjito, de Burgos became reacquainted with the social problems and poverty that had haunted her own childhood. "From early on..." after her high school career, related Votaw, "... she was committed both to learning and to social change." In 1934, however, she married Ruben Rodrigues Beauchamp, a match that essentially ended her teaching career. During the three years of her marriage, de Burgos sharpened her social conscience by working at a publicly-run day-care center managed by the Puerto Rico Emergency Reconstruction Administration. At the same time she honed her writing skills by writing educational plays and songs for radio broadcast by the Puerto Rico Department of Education's Escuela del Aire.

In 1937, the same year her marriage to Beauchamp ended in divorce, de Burgos saw her first volume of poetry, Poemas exactos a mi misma, privately published.

De Burgos published two more volumes of poetry, Poema en veinte surcos (1938) and Canción de la verdad sencilla (1939), which won a prize from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature, before she left Puerto Rico in 1940. She spent part of that year in New York City working as a journalist. Late in the year, however, de Burgos fled the city with her new love, Dr. Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, for Cuba, where she began writing for newspapers. For the next two years she lived in Cuba, writing and enrolling as a graduate student in literature and philosophy at the University of Havana. In 1942 she went back to New York, where she found support for her poetry from the Circle of Ibero-American Writers and Poets.

She also married again, choosing for her second husband a fellow poet, Armando Marín. Most of the work she published during this period was journalism, especially editorials and interviews. In 1946 the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature awarded her another prize for "Ser o no ser la divisa," an editorial she wrote for the journal.

Lyrical Poetry
Modern critics believe that de Burgos's poetry anticipated the work of feminist writers and poets as well as that of other Hispanic authors. "Writing in the 1930s through the 1950s," declared a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "de Burgos was ahead of her time in grasping connections between history, the body, politics, love, self-negation and feminism that would later prove to be the foundations for writers like [Adrienne] Rich and [Sylvia] Plath." "Her poems," stated Votaw, "reveal her gift for lyricism, while their erotic content and their cosmic symbolism provide autobiographical glimpses into a troubled and pagan soul which often felt itself lost and abandoned."

De Burgos combined these themes with a use of her native language that critics compare to that of Carlos Fuentes or Jorge Luis Borges. Colleen Kattau in Symposium, noted de Burgos's use of ambivalent language to describe a "Julia de Burgos" that was in some ways like the writer and in others very different. In one of de Burgos's best-known poems, "A Julia de Burgos" (originally published in Poema en veinte surcos ), the poet depicted "...a feminine subject who transgresses the borders of predetermined standards of behavior." "While `Julia de Burgos' is severely criticized for conforming and thus leading an existence devoid of meaning," Kattau continued, "the other ... `I' of the poem advances a totality of existence and meaning" that places it outside normal standards of behavior.

"In 'A Julia de Burgos,'" stated Votaw, "and in `Yo misma fuí mi ruta,' de Burgos calls attention sharply to the restrictions imposed on women by a society that forces them to live by laws and by social and ethical patterns not of their making."

This concern with proper standards of behavior reflected elements in de Burgos's own life. In the 1930s she joined other Caribbean writers in a literary protest against European colonialism and its denigration of African culture. Négritude, as the movement was called, promoted the idea that artists of African descent must look to their African heritage for inspiration rather than relying on Western traditions and aesthetics. The Négritude movement was not as big in New York as it was in Paris, but it gave de Burgos a cause to identify with and injustices to speak out against. "Because she was dedicated to the cause of social change," wrote Votaw, "de Burgos may often have felt that what she had to say was more important than how she said it; literary craftsmanship thus gave way at times to her impulse to speak out."

De Burgos's poetry also used images of love, sex, and death in a way similar to that of other Latin American poets, including Pablo Neruda. However, she mixed these images with the pain that her own life and upbringing brought her. In "Río Grande de Loíza," one of her most anthologized works, for example, she begs the river to absorb her, both body and soul:

"Muy señor río mío. Río hombre. Unico hombre / que ha besado en mi alma al besar en mi cuerpo." In her last years, which were marked by depression, alcoholism, and despair, the poet revealed an ever darker concept of life. She wrote in "Farewell from Welfare Island," one of her last poems, "The past is only a shadow emerging from / nowhere. // Life was somewhere forgotten / and sought refuge in depths of tears / and sorrows; / over this vast empire of solitude and darkness. // Where is the voice of freedom, / freedom to laugh, / to move / without the heavy phantom of despair?"

Decline and Death

The mid- to late 1940s marked an important period in de Burgos's life. In 1940 and 1941 her poetry was performed in New York City and had been honored by several organizations, including the Asociación de Periodistas y Escritores Puertorriqueños. In 1942, however, the relationship between de Burgos and her lover, Dr. Juan Isidrio Jimenes Grullón, fractured and she returned to New York. The breakup of her relationship greatly depressed de Burgos and she neglected her writing in an attempt to find work. She found temporary employment working for an optician and as a secretary before meeting and marrying Armando Marín, her second husband, in 1943. During the last years of World War II, she lived and worked with her husband in Washington, DC, serving in the office of the Coordinator of Interamerican Affairs. In 1946, de Burgos was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, the result of years of alcoholism. She also developed a papilloma on her vocal cords and had to seek treatment in a variety of hospitals.
De Burgos's mental and physical health continued to degrade and made her almost a recluse during the late 1940s.

She continued to be hospitalized for treatment of her alcoholism and her liver problems. Even the acceptance for publication of a new collection of poetry, El mar y tú y otros poemas, failed to raise her spirits. The papilloma in her throat was removed in December 1952, but her health was so poor that she had to stay in Goldwater Memorial Hospital in New York City through the first months of 1953. Letters that she wrote to her relatives in Puerto Rico during this period show that de Burgos was obsessed with death and dying. Her poem "Farewell from Welfare Island," written in English in February of 1953, indicates that she was deeply depressed and possibly suicidal:

"It has to be from here, / forgotten but unshaken, / among comrades of silence / deep into Welfare Island / my farewell to the world."

Toward the beginning of May 1953, de Burgos was finally released from the hospital and went to live with friends in Harlem. The last letter her family received from her was dated June 28, 1953. In July, she disappeared. Later it was revealed that she had been discovered unconscious on the street and taken to the Harlem Hospital where she died. The coroner's certificate indicated that the cause of death was a pulmonary condition. Because de Burgos had no identification on her when she died, her body was buried in a public cemetery. A month after her death, the coroner's photograph of her body finally led to her identification.

Posthumous Recognition

De Burgos's husband and her friends from the Circle of Ibero-American Writers and Poets immediately launched an effort to have her body moved back to Puerto Rico for burial. Many important Puerto Rican officials, including Margot Arce Vázquez and Juan Avilés, formed a committee to expedite the process. De Burgos's body finally returned to the island of her birth on September 6, 1953. She received last honors from the Sociedad de Periodistas and was given a Christian burial in the municipal cemetery at Carolina.

Public praise for de Burgos and her work began almost immediately after her funeral. In November 1953, the journal Artes y Letras produced a special issue entitled Homenaje a Julia de Burgos: su vida y su obra. The issue featured articles and literary criticism by many prominent Hispanic writers, who honored de Burgos for her poetry, and political figures, who honored her for her social activism. They included Antonio J. Colorado, Margot Arce de Vázquez, Nilita Vientos Gastón, Angel M. Arroyo, César Calvo Araujo, Samuel R. Quiñones, Juan Avilés, Emilio Pagán Garcia, Juan B. Pagán, Adela Alvelo, Violeta López Suria, and Armando Rivera. Her final original collection of poems, El mar y tú y otros poemas, was published in 1954.
Since de Burgos's death several collections of her work have been published. An anthology entitled Obra Poética appeared in an edition published by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in 1961.

Another collection, entitled Antología poética, was published in 1967 by the Puerto Rican publishing house Editorial Coqui. That same year Editorial Coqui brought out the first major full-length study of de Burgos's work, Julia de Burgos: vida y poesía, by Ivette Jiménez Báez. In 1987 the University of Puerto Rico awarded de Burgos the posthumous degree of Doctor Honoris Causa in recognition of her contribution to the island's literary culture. The poet's devotion to social causes was recognized in the 1980s when Public School 9 was renamed the Julia de Burgos School and an experimental bilingual Spanish-English curriculum was introduced.

Poemas exactos a mi misma.
Poema en veinte surcos. San Juan, PR: Imprenta Venezuela, 1938.

Canción de la verdad sencilla.
San Juan, PR: Baldrich, 1938.

El mar y tú y otros poemas.
San Juan, PR: Printing and Publishing Co., 1954.

The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos, Obra Completa Poetica, translated by Jack Agueros, Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 1997.


Monday, November 06, 2006

A couple of things...

- Listen to the “Release Your Inner Loca” podcast by

Latina work and life coach, Nancy Marmolejo:

* * *

From the Catalina Magazine Newsletter:

Latina Author, Lara Rios Offers At-risk Girls Hope, and Invites You to Join Her

Lara Rios is an author on a mission. The nationally- published writer is not only challenging Latina at-risk girls in her new thought-provoking novel, Becoming Americana, but she’s taking her powerful message on the road too.

Starting this month, Rios will be motivating young women at Latina events, colleges, book stores and more. “I think it's important to provide help and opportunities to young people who may not have many advantages,” Lara explains.

“We all benefit as a society by making sure our youth do well and reach their potential.”Lara invites you to join her mission by getting involved with organizations that support at-risk girls.

Her favorite groups include: The Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo program, Junior Achievement, Stand Up, and America’s Promise, and the Why Try Organization.

For more information, including links and tips, visit Lara’s new web site for at-risk girls or

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Free 10-issue digital subscription to Hispanic Business

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