This post is part of our International Women’s Day celebration. See all the posts here.
Quick, name the first ten Latin American authors that come to mind. Ready? Now tell me how many women there are in the list. Is your list male-dominated? For most people, it will be. In fact, even a good deal of enthusiastic readers will struggle for a moment or two to come up with ten Latin American authors in the first place. And when they do, nine out of ten will probably be male.
Women writers to the south of Bravo River all too often get the short end of the stick in the global literature department. There are a handful of male authors who are as prestigious and famous globally as any American or British novelist: nearly any reader will have heard about Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps about Roberto Bolaño and Mario Benedetti, too. But when it comes to female authors, far too many people will be limited to Isabel Allende. Maybe, maybe Laura Esquivel will pop up there as well. And that’s it, for most folks.
It’s an unfortunate reality that Latin American literature is too often reduced to magical realism written by men, mostly of European descent. But it is such a bigger, richer body of work, composed by authors from more than twenty-five different countries, belonging to so many different cultures and races. Half of these authors are women. They write poetry, novels, theatre, essays, short stories, flash fiction and more. And yet, they’re almost always overlooked in favor of the men. This happens, of course, to female authors across the world. But Latin American women authors, along with their African and Asian counterparts, are screwed over twice. They’re women and they’re in the periphery. It’s kinda like trying to make a mark in slippery rock. Good luck with that.
And it gets more complicated than that. White women still find it easier to be published than black women. Women from the provinces have a much harder time than women in the capitals. It’s messy and unfair and most authors know that the odds of finding literary success, let alone being able to make a living out of their writing, is nothing short of utopic. But still, they write on. They have stories to tell, and they’ll be damned if they’ll let anything silence them. They will pull you into their thriller until you resent every second you’re not reading, they will envelop you within their verse until you find yourself in an almost trance-like state, and they will demand that the country acknowledges their communities, brutally trampled but persevering.
Somebody once said that well-behaved women seldom make history. But Latin America is home to women, well-behaved and otherwise, that leave a mark on history through their writing. Through words on pages they engrave themselves indelibly in the history of a continent with a contradictory, complicated and all too often bloody, history. They have a voice and they will use it. Sometimes, Netflix will decide to put one of them on the map of readers worldwide. Others will remain a bittersweet surprise for those who stumble upon them by accident. But they all make history. It’s out there for you to read.