A question of gender: five Argentine authors in New York

A few days ago, while the porteños were giving the editorial belly of the year in the FED, the New Yorkers did not want to be less: from October 2 to 4, between the Brooklyn Book Festival (BKBF) and the International Book Fair of the City of New York (FILNYC), they tasted an extensive series of talks and readings.

They were different events. The BKBF already turned sixteenIt’s Our Sweet Sixteen, says the website next to the mandatory donations button) and the FILNYC, just three. Perhaps it is as old as the BKBF is bigger, and also more cosmopolitan: FILNYC is strictly Hispanic American. This year, moreover, it was strictly virtual, and the BKBF opted for hybrid. Of course: both had their share of argentinity.

In dialogue with critics and authors from other latitudes, our envoys discussed various topics. The BKBF invited Mariana Enríquez to speak about the link between terror and reality, and Michel Nieva about his inclusion in the anthology of the best storytellers in Spanish in the magazine Grant 2020. At FILNYC, Martín Felipe Castagnet participated in Fantastic America, panel inspired by the eponymous book of which it is a part; Ariana Harwicz joined a debate around racism and marginalization. Fernando Olszansky, editor of Ars Communis in Chicago, was asked about the state of the Hispanic American publishing industry in the United States.

The difference in slogans, times, places and interlocutors did not augur coincidences between compatriots. However – guided by the Spirit of the time, or that of the Argentine people, or the Holy Spirit himself – the authors shared concerns.

Beaches, deserts and other dystopias

First, some lazy coincidences: Enriquez figures, like Castagnet, in Fantastic america, and Castagnet, like Nieva, in Grant 2020. All three write variants of the fantastic. It is not surprising, then, that the Castagnet panel has named Enríquez several times and referred to Nieva., at least indirectly, by citing the volume it integrates.

What is surprising is that all three have underlined, in a totally independent way, the political dimension of the fantasy genre in our country.

“I was very interested in treating the trauma of Argentina,” Enríquez said regarding his first book of stories, The dangers of smoking in bed. “It is a trauma that has to do with ruin, with decadence, with a dictatorship that in some way was closed but not in another, with insidious institutional violence.” The author added that the language of the horror genre, which appears for the first time there, was the one that led to the approach to these traumas in her writing.

Castagnet spoke of the weight of dystopia in the recent fantasy scene, citing texts such as The year of the desert by Pedro Mairal and Exquisite corpse by Agustina Bazterrica. “The dystopian had such a huge presence in Argentina,” he said, “because it is a territory of politics.”. Later he alluded to science fiction along the same lines; yes authors like Pola Oloixarac and Hernán Vanoli are exponents of the genre in its mainstream version, he affirmed, it is because his books “took up the political question.”

He could well have named Nieva: from Queens, the author defined his writing as “gaucho punk science fiction”, and his translator Natasha Wimmer described it as “dystopian terror”. Nieva further explained that her intention is “Use the tools and imaginaries of cyberpunk to trace the history of violence against bodies and land”. In “El niño dengue” (story that appears in the anthology of Grant), speculates on ecological collapse, creating a world in which Antarctic ice melts and turns our pampas into a beach. The political role of the literary genre was, thus, a recurring axis among Argentines.

So was the role of sexual gender.

The dangers of bringing the ladies together

The boom in “women’s literature” is undeniable (I would use a thousand quotes if spell checking allowed). In the talk about the fantastic, most of the authors cited were women: beyond historical figures such as Angélica Gorodischer or the Cuban Daína Chaviano, present on the panel, names such as Mónica Ojeda, Fernanda Ampuero, Cynthia Matayoshi, Giovanna Rivero sounded and the inevitable Samanta Schweblin. The boom is also evident in the recent selection of Grant: out of twenty-five authors, eleven are women. In the previous litter, 2010, there are only five.

Perhaps because we have accepted (almost all of us, I think, have accepted) the poetic and political justice of this boom, Enríquez and Harwicz alluded to its traps. About the writing process of The dangers of smoking in bedEnríquez confessed that until then he had not used a woman’s point of view. And he denied a prejudice in this regard: “Being a woman has nothing to do with knowing how to write a female narrator”. Speaking of The younger sister, her portrait of Silvina Ocampo, referred to a second prejudice: “They tell me that I have a resemblance to her as a writer. That is where the common place of thinking about ‘women writers’ plays, without thinking about how what we think about life, about politics and the like goes through each one of us ”.

Harwicz questioned the use of these totalizing brands as an editorial strategy, an advantage that must be resisted: “Many women are not allowed to write about what they want unless they are famous; they should write about ‘feminine’ issues or feminism “, which is what it sells today. Not even fame, it seems, offers guarantees when it comes to gender: when Marieke Lucas Rijneveld won the Booker Prize in 2020, Harwicz recalled, less was said about her work than about her quality as a “non-binary farmer”.

If present, Olszansky would have shared the point. When asked about the prevalence of literary branding in the United States, he responded like the author who is also: “You write for yourself, to say something to yourself. Facing the blank page is an intimate disappearing act. Contaminating it with labels is a sacrilege ”.

* From New York

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