Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Post by: Sheryl R, Uncategorized
For those of you in Seattle for the AWP conference, don’t forget the So to Speak reading today, Saturday, March 1, from 3 PM to 5 PM! Our reading features poetry by Laura-Gray Street, fiction by Jessica Barksdale, and nonfiction by Tim Denevi and takes place at the Pine Box, a restaurant and bar located only a half-mile from the Washington State Convention Center at 1600 Melrose Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98122. We’d love to celebrate great feminist writing and have a drink with you! Most importantly, you’re not going to want to miss the line-up!
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Post by: Sheryl R, Uncategorized
The staff of So to Speak would like to invite you to our offsite reading at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle, Washington!
Our multi-genre reading will be held on Saturday, March 1 (the last day of the conference) from 3 PM to 5 PM and will feature poetry by Laura-Gray Street, fiction by Jessica Barksdale, and nonfiction by Tim Denevi. The reading will take place at the Pine Box, a restaurant and bar located only a half-mile from the Washington State Convention Center at 1600 Melrose Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98122. We’d love to celebrate great feminist writing and have a drink with you! Most importantly, you’re not going to want to miss this line-up:
Laura-Gray Street’s work has appeared in Many Mountains Moving, The Human Genre Project, Isotope, Gargoyle, From the Fishouse, ISLE, Shenandoah, Meridian, Blackbird, Poetry Daily, The Notre Dame Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere; selected by George Garrett for Best New Poets 2005; commissioned by the New York Festival of Song; and included in Pivot Points, an exhibition of poets and painters that traveled internationally. Street has received a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Editors’ Prize in Poetry fromIsotope, the Emerging Writer in Poetry Award for the Southern Women Writers Conference, the Dana Award in Poetry, and The Greensboro Review’s Annual Literary Award in Poetry, and fellowships at the VCCA and the Artist House at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. Her novel Becca’s Best is forthcoming from Ghostwoods Books. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.
Tim Denevi’s first book, Hyper, a memoir and history of ADHD, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2014. He received his MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa, his MA in English from the University of Hawaii, and his BA from Northwestern University. Recently he was awarded fellowships by the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Can’t wait to see you there!
Filed under: Christina C, Fiction, Nonfiction, Opinion, Uncategorized
By Christina Elaine Collins
The mute woman found in myths and folklore embodies issues of marginalization, subjection, and self-determination. She is an intriguing figure because she invokes both empathy and irritation, embodying both women’s experiences with silence and women’s resentment of that silence. Folk narratives offer a particularly compelling context for exploring silence as a feminist issue. Folk narratives exhibit patterns in character roles and gendered themes, and female silence is easily identifiable as one such pattern. It can be detected as early as 8 AD, when the Roman poet Ovid retold the Greek myth of Philomela in Book VI of the Metamorphoses, a fifteen-volume narrative poem.
In lines 401-674 of Book VI, Ovid explains how Philomela is raped by her sister’s husband, king Tereus of Thrace. When Philomela threatens to tell the world of his rape, Tereus violently cuts off her tongue, rapes her again, and locks her in a cabin in the woods. Thinking her absolutely silenced, he tells his wife, Procne, that her sister is dead. Philomela, undeterred, passes a year in the cabin weaving “purple signs” onto a tapestry that “tells the story of her wrongs” (Ovid 329). She gives this tapestry to her attendant, who delivers it to Procne. The enraged queen releases her sister and brings her back to her palace, where she seeks revenge on her husband by killing their son and serving the body to him as a meal. While eating, Tereus asks to see his son, and the sisters delight in their triumph; Procne informs him that his son is in his stomach, and Philomela bursts onto the scene with his son’s head. As Tereus attempts to kill the sisters, all three are transformed into birds. According to Ovid, Tereus becomes a hoopoe, Procne a swallow, and Philomela, most significantly, a nightingale (329-335). The nightingale’s song is particularly plaintive and mournful, and this transformation gives Philomela a voice to mourn her real voice and the violation that its loss represents.
Philomela is unmistakably a forerunner for the mute protagonists of folk and fairy tales that we see from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Philomela’s voice, like that of the sister in the “The Six Swans” and the mermaid in “The Little Mermaid,” is something valuable that has been taken from her. The very power of her voice threatens Tereus, when she tells him, “I myself will cast shame aside and proclaim what you have done. If I should have the chance, I would go where people throng and tell it” (Ovid 327). This threat is what prompts Tereus to remove her tongue, her organ of speech, so that her “speechless lips can give no token of her wrongs” (329). The removal is violent, forceful, and clearly unwanted. “But he seized her tongue with pincers, as it protested against the outrage, calling ever on the name of her father and struggling to speak, and cut it off with his merciless blade” (327). The tongue itself, the physical manifestation of Philomela’s voice, becomes the subject of the narrative as it clings in vain to speech, “calling” and “struggling to speak.” The very fact that it “protested” indicates Philomela’s dissent and proves that her muteness is forced upon her completely against her will.
This tale not only describes a woman’s enforced silence, but also presents her perseverance in spite of losing her physical voice, as we will see in European folk and fairy tales of mute women. In fact, the myth of Philomela presents the prototype for stories of women who devise other ways of speaking when they cannot speak physically. Without a physical voice, Philomela resorts to storytelling through weaving; she writes her story because she cannot speak it. Elissa Marder argues that “[t]his text invites a feminist reading […] because it establishes a relationship between the experience of the violation and access to language” (160). According to Marder, Philomela “writes out of necessity and in response to violation”; that is, she discovers a secondary way to manifest her voice in the absence of the conventional means. Karen E. Rowe similarly points out that “Philomela’s trick reflects the ‘trickiness’ of weaving, its uncanny ability to make meaning out of inarticulate matter, to make silent material speak” (56). Rowe thus emphasizes the importance of voice as well as silence in Philomela’s story, viewing the myth as a paradigm for understanding the female voice in folklore and fairy tale. By weaving tales and singing songs, Philomela not only embodies the later archetype of the female storyteller, but also “breaks her enforced silence by speaking in another mode—through a craft presumed to be harmlessly domestic, as fairy tales would also be regarded in later centuries” (57).
Rowe’s concept of “enforced silence” is the key link between the tale of Philomela and later European tales like “The Six Swans” and “The Little Mermaid.” In those tales, silence is also imposed on the protagonist. The major difference is that Philomela is brutally robbed of her voice by another character, whereas “The Six Swans” and “The Little Mermaid” concern women who appear to give up their voices voluntarily. This difference is trivial in light of the shared theme of female silence, which always involves some degree of coercion, raising the overarching questions of voice and autonomy, questions that remain pertinent to feminists today. We must not forget Philomela.
Marder, Elissa. “Disarticulated Voices: Feminism and Philomela.” Language and Liberation: Feminism, Philosophy, and Language. Eds. Christina Hendricks and Kelly Oliver. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. 149-169.
Ovid. Metamorphoses: Books I-VIII. Trans. Frank Justus Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: Heinemann, 1977.
Rowe, Karen E. “To Spin a Yarn: The Female Voice in Folklore and Fairy Tale.” In Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm. Ed. Ruth B. Bottigheimer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. 53-74.
Christina Elaine Collins is a Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction writer, an MFA candidate and English instructor at George Mason University, and So to Speak’s assistant editor. Her fiction can be found in various literary journals such as Jabberwock Review, Poiesis Review, Weave Magazine, and Rose Red Review. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts as well as the Art Commune program in Armenia. You can find her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CElaineCollins.
Filed under: Fiction, Interview, Opinion, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
Fairy tales—a term that might not be considered “literary” in some circles, but So to Speak’s assistant editor Christina Elaine Collins will argue with you for days on end about the artistic, social, and various other values of fairy tales and of the importance of retelling them. In particular, she has a weakness—no, a strength!—for feminist fairy tale retellings, both reading and writing them. And with her publication of one such retelling in a new anthology from Tenebris Books—Willow, Weep No More—she offered to share her thoughts on what feminist fairy tale retellings should do and why she writes them.
Sheryl: It sounds like you’ve been interested in fairy tales for a long time. Can you tell us what your favorite fairy tale is, and your personal experience with fairy tales?
Christina: I can’t decide between The Twelve Brothers from the Brothers Grimm and The Little Mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen. These two tales have something in common: a mute heroine. That is, a heroine who must be silent to succeed. This fascinates me, and also bothers me. One could interpret her silence both literally and figuratively—and where there is silence, there is potential for feminist revision.
My experience with fairytales started off like many people’s. As a child I was exposed to the Disney animated classics (the sanitized versions of fairy tales). But I was also exposed to Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre TV series and the Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics anime series from Nippon Animation, both from the 1980s, and these gave me a better taste of the original tales. And then in adolescence I had quite the obsession with reading fairytale retellings. When I studied abroad at the University of Oxford years later, I wrote several of my own retellings for a creative writing tutorial. Before I knew it, I was writing my senior thesis on mute women in folk tales, fairytales, and feminist revisions, as well as a novel that would retell one such tale. It’s safe to say that fairytales, along with feminism, have always been on my mind.
Sheryl: Tell us about your story “Glint of Gold,” which is included in Willow, Weep No More. Where did you draw your inspiration from, and what were you trying to achieve in your retelling?
Christina: “Glint of Gold” draws on two lesser-known tales: “The Twelve Huntsmen” and “The Golden Goose.” I was first inspired to write “Glint of Gold” when I discovered “The Twelve Huntsmen,” a tale from the Brothers Grimm that I’d never heard of before. Many people are familiar with the “femininity test” motif in fairy tales—The Princess and the Pea, for instance—and The Twelve Huntsmen includes this motif. But I was fascinated by all the feminist potential the tale holds. It is progressive—or at least it was in the nineteenth century when the Grimms published it—in that it shows women successfully behaving like men, proving they can be just like men, and acting in a role (hunter) that was traditionally considered inappropriate for women. Unfortunately, the tale fails to reach that feminist potential; the women are presented as though they would have fallen into the feminine stereotype if they had not been warned about the femininity tests in advance. Plus, the ending, in which the protagonist marries the king despite his ridiculous tests, negates much of the female empowerment that the tale initially offers. In my revision, I changed these two plot points. And my aim was not to portray the king as bad or evil—trading one gender bias for another solves nothing, in my opinion—but I wanted the protagonist to recognize how unreasonable and restricting his tests are. In the end, my goal is to offer liberating alternatives, following in the vein of admirable feminist fairy tale revisionists such as Emma Donoghue and Angela Carter. I hope that “Glint of Gold” can contribute to that crucial literary canon.
Sheryl: Speaking of Donoghue and Carter, what works would you recommend to StS readers looking to read literary feminist retellings?
Christina: Indeed, Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter are excellent places to start in terms of fiction. That is where I started. As for poetry, Anne Sexton’s Transformations is a must-read. I would also recommend Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England, an excellent collection edited by Jack Zipes. And, of course, the other stories in Willow, Weep No More from Tenebris Books!
Christina Elaine Collins is a Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction writer, an MFA candidate at George Mason University, and So to Speak’s assistant editor. In addition to “Glint of Gold,” she has published other feminist fairy tale retellings in literary journals such as Jabberwock Review, Rose Red Review, Poiesis Review, and Cliterature Journal. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts as well as the Art Commune program in Armenia, and is represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CElaineCollins.
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Interview, Monthly News Round-Up, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Paula B, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
The past few weeks So to Speak has devoted the blog to “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the official national recognition and celebration of the contributions made by generations of Latino/Hispanic Americans in the United States.
With a population totaling over 50 million, we at StS are aware that unique political, economic, educational, cultural, and linguistic dynamics are at play in each individual community within this broad classification. In our series we featured the voices of three Americans we felt represented significant segments of the Hispanic/Latino population in the nation.
The Exiled American
George Mason’s very own Women Studies professor and professor of English at Montgomery College, Cuban American Dr. Elizabeth Huergo, entered the United States with her parents a political refugee as a young child in the 1960’s. Huergo talked to StS’s blog editor, Sheryl Rivett, about how exile negates choice.
“Immigration can be very difficult, but at least there is some degree, however small, of choice. Exile obliterates choice. We are separated from everything we know (family, friends, homeland, language, culture), elements of our lives that deeply shape our identity. And exile also does great damage to our sense of agency in the world. The regaining, the reconstruction of identity and agency becomes the work of a lifetime, and that is not the easiest sort of work. Though if you can manage to endure, to persevere, there is a certain degree of joy to be experienced in that process of reconstruction—if you can come out on the other side.”
U.S.-born Frances E. Valdez, a Houston-based immigration attorney and activist, reflected on how she seems to frustrate people who ask her where she’s “from” and why she “cares” about immigrants when she hasn’t had relatives in Mexico “since the Mexican revolution around 1910.”
“Where were you born? Houston, Texas. Where were your parents born? El Paso, Texas. Where were your grandparents born? El Paso, Texas, Balmorhea, Texas and Ft. Davis, Texas. That is when people usually start to get frustrated and ask, Well, where is your family from originally? The actual meaning behind this statement is, you are a brown-skinned woman and brown-skinned women are not native to the U.S.” As to why she cares about immigrants: “Anyone who has ever experienced the feeling that you will never truly belong because of your gender, sexuality, skin color, ancestry, disability or a myriad of categories that differ from mainstream society, can develop sympathy for the immigrant struggle. When we recognize the similarities amongst oppressed communities, we realize that by fighting for justice for immigrants we fight for equality for all oppressed groups.”
The American Son of Undocumented Immigration
Poet Javier O. Huerta, a doctoral candidate in English at UC- Berkeley, identifies as a “Chicano poet from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas [Mexico] who lived as an undocumented immigrant in Houston, Tejas from 1981 to 1981.” We asked Huerta what it meant to him to be a 21st century feminist male and he told us of his work on a collection of poems inspired by the actress Lupe Ontiveros who told the New York Times that she played the role of maid 150 times.
“At the center of the poem is the problem of a double translation: “aspirar” as “to aspire” or as “to vacuum.” This is not really a choice for many poor women of color who for generations have had to turn to domestic work to support their families. Ontiveros claims she portrayed every maid she ever played with dignity and respect, so the 150 verses are my way of thanking her. The diversity of roles available to Latina actresses is definitely an important issue but one that should be tied with the more crucial issue of real life roles available to young Latinas. To be a 21st century feminist man means to support efforts that offer women more freedom of choice in their careers and in their lives and to oppose efforts that attempt to limit that freedom.”
Although the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably by media and interest groups, the decision to self-identify as one or the other is less a point of debate within the community (who tends to default to country of origin), and more a challenge for those outside who attempt to homogenize multi-ethnic, multiracial, astoundingly diverse millions. Since the surge of popularity of “Latino” in mainstream media especially, however, the umbrella terms are lately perceived as less contentious, and as such their use is now on the rise over what some feel are the more alienating “Mexican/Cuban/Dominican/Salvodorean American” labels.
“I think we should be cautious about the use of “Latino” because it is being used to target us, as voters, as shoppers, and as readers,” said Huerta when asked about the rising popularity of the umbrella terms. “The more specific the better is what we teach our students.”
You don’t need to be a feminist to know the risks of engaging in sweeping, simplified generalizations, even and especially if, these are deemed the norm or “official.” We are proud to have introduced these three stories of feminism in action to the So to Speak community. As American feminists and world citizens, it is imperative that we learn to recognize and value the myriad of experiences lived in Latino/Hispanic America.