As announced in our previous post, we would like to start 2018 by celebrating overlooked texts by transatlantic literary women, and we would love for you to get involved. In February, we will run another #TLWBookChat dedicated to forgotten texts. it will go by the hashtag #ForgottenTLW. This discussion will broadly tackle issues of history, and memory, in relation to women authors. We will be talking about neglected texts by famous women writers, but also (and especially) about transatlantic authors whose work has somehow been overlooked. What has prevented those women from gaining literary fame? Why are some texts privileged over others? To prepare for this discussion, we will post several blogs about neglected transatlantic literary women. We would also like to ask you to make a case for a forgotten text or writer that you think would deserve to be in the limelight! You can send us your posts at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of February, along with a short bio! We will publish contributions as we receive them.
To kick off this series, we come to you with some suggestions of books to read ahead of our discussion! We compiled a list of neglected texts by women writers from both sides of the Atlantic to give you some reading ideas. While some names will probably have a familiar ring to them, we tried to choose slightly less canonical titles for this list, and we also hope that you’ll be in for some discoveries…
1) Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986), America Day by Day (1948)
As if the influence of her landmark analysis of femininity, The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe), was not enough of a claim to transatlantic fame, Simone de Beauvoir also spent several months in America in 1947. Her travel diary, America Day by Day, published in 1948, recounts her impressions of the country, from New York to Los Angeles and Chicago, where she met her lover Nelson Algren. Published two years before The Second Sex, the text poses Beauvoir as ‘an intuitive sociologist’ and ‘a voyeur of America’s transient underbelly’ in the words of critic Douglas Brinkley.
2) Leonora Carringon (1917 – 2011), The Débutante and Other Stories: Selected Short Stories
Leonora Carrington has become one of our favourite transatlantic literary women. She was a genuine adventurer, who seemed to have spent her life eschewing titles, however glamorous – rich English débutante or Surrealist Muse -, to dedicate herself to her artistic career. After growing up in England and escaping to France in her twenties, she moved to Mexico during the Second World War to become an influential artist and a member of the Women’s Liberation Movement of Mexico. This edition of her short stories includes translations from French and Spanish, as well as some stories originally published in English. The titular story portrays a young woman’s attempt to escape her bal by sending a hyena in her place. Perhaps one of Carrington’s best known pieces (along with her novel, The Hearing Trumpet), it is featured among such surreal, oneiric masterpieces as ‘The Oval Lady’, a tragic tale of coming of age and family cruelty, ‘The Sisters’, a strange take on the myth of the woman-vampire, and ‘Jemima and the Wolf’, a stubborn child’s love story with a man who conceals his real animal identity.
3) Silvina Ocampo (1914 – 1999), Thus Were their Faces: Selected Short Stories (ed. 2015)
Silvina Ocampo was the co-editor of the Antología de la literatura fantástica (1940 – translated as The Book of Fantasy), alongside Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Talent certainly ran in the family – Silvina Ocampo’s sister, Victoria Ocampo, was also a writer and became the founder of the famous publication Sur. At a time of intense intellectual exchange between Argentina and France, Silvina Ocampo travelled to Paris, and worked with artists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger. Her stories have been recently re-edited and anthologized, and are definitely worth a read. And if you are curious, but not quite convinced yet, you can even read one of the texts included in the collection here.
4) Jumpa Lahiri (1967 – ), In Other Words (In Altre Parole) (2016, trans. Ann Goldstein)
Born in London of Indian parents, raised in America, Jumpa Lahiri gives us the opportunity to talk about a country we have only rarely mentioned since the beginning of the project – Italy. After a Pulitzer prize for Interpreter of Maladies (2000) and publishing, among other works, The Namesake (2003), which was adapted into a movie, Lahiri decided to start writing in Italian, a language she had been drawn to for years. Her memoir, In Other Words, is the fruit of her experimentation with the language. You can also read this essay written for the New Yorker, in which she describes the delight and vertigo of speaking and writing in another tongue.
5) Una M. Marson (1905 – 1965), Pocomania and London Calling (ed. 2017)
The works of Jamaican poet and dramatist Una M. Marson were recommended to us by one of our attendees. A radical intellectual, political activist, and influential artist, whose writing paints her experience of racism in vivid words, She created Cosmopolitan, a publication to promote the work of stenographers, and championed black and African aesthetics, affirming the beauty of darks skins and unstraightened hair, a long time before such debates had surfaced fully in the feminist movement. Among countless other achievements, Una Marson was also the first black woman to work as a producer for the BBC, creating Calling the West Indies, a programme dedicated to Caribbean writers. You can listen to a radio programme dedicated to her work here. During her life, Una M. Marson published poetry collections (Tropic Reveries, 1930, Heights and Depths, 1931) and plays, two of which are included in this new edition!
6) Denise Levertov, Collected Poems (ed. 2013)
Denise Levertov perfectly encapsulates the experience of displacement linked with living at the crossroads of different cultures: ‘Among Jews a Goy, among Gentiles … a Jew or at least a half-Jew … among Anglo-Saxons a Celt; in Wales a Londoner … among schoolchildren a strange exception whom they did not know whether to envy or mistrust.’ Born in England, Denise Levertov was to become a renowned poet and peace advocate in the United States, who travelled to Mexico and Vietnam. In the words of critic Drew Calvert, talking about her poetry of the 1960s: “She imagined stabbing Henry Kissinger, throwing napalm in Nixon’s face. She channeled Neruda’s call for people to “come and see the blood in the streets.”” Such fantasies, however, coexisted with Levertov’s spiritual preoccupations – an apparent contrast reflected in her recently published Collected Poems.
7) Louise Erdrich (1954 – ), The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003)
In The Master Butchers Singing Club, Native American writer Louise Erdrich portrays the lives of German migrants settled in America, and the comings and goings between the two continents from the First to the Second World War. Erdrich’s novels frequently portray Native American communities in the United States, and the Transatlantic dimension of her work may not appear immediately. This novel, however, deals with Erdrich’s own European roots and heritage – with the cover of the original edition showing a picture of the author’s own grandfather.
8) Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960), Barraccoon (ed. 2018)
We end this list on what is now a TLW household name – as our next book club (which will take place on January 16th, at 5.15pm, in the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club at the University of Glasgow) will be all about her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. However if you have not heard of this one yet, fear not, as it will only be published later this year. Barraccoon recounts Zora Neale Hurston’s interviews with Cudjo Lewis who, by the time of their meeting, was the last man alive to be able to tell his experience of the Transatlantic slave trade.
What neglected text by a transatlantic woman writer would you like to see here? Keep an eye on the blog for more suggestions from our team in the next few weeks, and remember:
- You have until the end of February to send your posts on a neglected transatlantic woman writer to email@example.com.
- The next TLW Book Chat, #ForgottenTLW, where we’ll talk specifically about those texts, will be on Wednesday 28 February at 7pm on Twitter.
- If you’re in Glasgow, join us on Tuesday 16 January at 5.15pm in the Gilchrist Postgraduate Club for our first book club, where we’ll be discussing Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The TLW Team.