A gathering of the some of the best pieces by women we read this week.
Eliza Griswold’s “Landays” in Poetry
This piece of investigative reportage is nothing short of incredible. From the copious research to the stunning photos to the deft handling to the subject itself, Griswold and photographer Seamus Murphy reveal the culture of Afghan landlays, oral folk couplets used as means of expression for women. Subversive, humorous, undercutting and rousing, these couplets offer us a glimpse into a world we might not otherwise get to see.
I recently heard a writer say that the situation of any society in history instantly becomes more complex when you look at the experience of women in that society. The landlays do exactly this; they give us a fuller, more nuanced and ultimately more human picture of what it means it be an Afghan woman today.
This is the kind of art that’s made out of necessity, out of the innate human urge for expression. The piece serves to remind me that art isn’t a luxury but a right. — Lauren
Dana Norris’ “Bad With Men: What I feared Most About Living Alone Actually Happened” on Role/Reboot
This is one of the funnier essays I’ve read in quite a while. If you’ve ever suffered the end of a long relationship that leaves you living alone for the first time in your life, you’ll relate, even if you never did manage to set your kitchen on fire. And if you’ve been lucky enough to dodge this particular nightmare, you may still see a bit of yourself in it, as there is something so painfully human in Norris‘ voice, so embarrassingly true. There are no easy answers here, and the ending isn’t a tidy one, but I found something oddly uplifting in it, in this last plain-spoken line that nails something about the human experience: “I tell myself it’ll be fine, my landlord will fix the wall and get new appliances and I’ll never ever move a stove again and it will be fine. It doesn’t feel fine. But it will be fine.
I get up, go outside, and buy a broom.”
Anna Clark’s “Literary Archeology” in Guernica
In the days before I succumbed to the arguably even less lucrative career of creative writer, I was a history geek. I majored in History as an undergrad and used to get all fired up about the untold stories of the past, the narratives historians and writers like Howard Zinn and Charles Mann unearthed and reconstructed to challenge familiar story lines.
In this piece, Anna Clark examines the forgotten and rediscovered work of women writers who were either condemned to oblivion – Zora Neale Hurston – or left out of literary conversations that featured only men, as was the case with Muriel Rukeyser. Rukeyser was on one of the last trains to enter Spain before the outbreak of brutal civil war; she would go on to write a modernist novel about what she experienced in the country before she escaped on a packed Spanish ship. The novel, Savage Coast, was lost, and only recently rediscovered by the Lost & Found Project at the CUNY Research Center for the Humanities.
Clark illuminates Rukeyser’s career and passions as a writer, but what this essay is really addressing is the necessity of recuperating lost narratives, particularly those of women, who are so frequently marginalized by both the social conditions of their times and the powerful tendency to canonize and explore male writers while neglecting women’s work. (Clark uses the example of male writers in the Spanish Civil War: “While interest bloomed in how other major twentieth-century writers approached the Spanish Civil War—Hemingway, Orwell—Rukeyser’s perspective was not part of the narrative.”)
It is all too easy for the work of women writers to be lost, and, as Alice Walker says of Zora Neale Hurston’s, “casually pilloried.” Thus Clark calls for a “literary archeology” – more than simply featuring and honoring women writers in the present, we must reconstruct the male-dominated narratives of the past.
For “if today’s readers are not paying attention, even those writers who did break through risk being silenced, like Hurston, as if they too had never put pen to paper at all.”
Bruna Lobato’s “Reclaiming Freedom of Speech” on The Feminist Wire
There are some words that really can’t and don’t need to be translated or italicized, argues Bruna Lobato in this essay. Lobato, a Brazilian currently studying in the U.S., was a student in my creative writing for non-native speakers class at the Phillips Exeter summer school in 2010. I introduced my students to the writing of Dominican American writer Junot Díaz for the exact reason that she discusses in her essay on free speech. Díaz was one of the first U.S. Latino writers to use Spanish in his writing without translating it (for example, Julia Álvarez uses Spanish and then immediately translates it into English for readers). The act of not translating or not italicizing foreign words makes readers and professors, as Lobato discusses, uncomfortable. She makes an important point in her essay:
“Latinos” are not just “Hispanics.” We are Brazilians, Dominicans, Mexicans, Colombians, Argentines, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Peruvians, Nicaraguans, and from dozens of other countries from two separate continents, both of which are also called America. Not to mention the countless U.S.-born citizens who are Latin American descendants. We are diverse and complex. We can all benefit from this kind of richness.
And we can.