As in the case of other Western literary traditions, women’s relationship to writing in Spanish America has been problematic since early modernity. From colonial times onward, women’s emergence on the writing scene as authors went hand in hand with a redescription of the feminine that allowed them to become producers of written culture and to find a respectable entry into the public sphere from which they were excluded. Spanish-American feminine tradition from the 16th through the 20th centuries may be read as a gradual, heterogeneous, and difficult but nonetheless sustained and very productive occupation of new ground. Legitimation of their voice passed through the reading of the male tradition, the establishment of a female tradition, and the redescription of a subjectivity that would make it possible for them to take up the pen and eventually to imagine themselves being read by others. Establishing the contents of these women’s libraries, reconstructed through their testimonies of reading both in a colonial society in which illiteracy was very high—especially among women—and in 19th-century society in general, and in which access to the written word remained restricted, are key elements for understanding their writing. Most female authorship during the colonial period took the form of religious writing and was dependent upon the male figure of the confessor, as was the possibility of publishing their life stories and writings. But women authors were not only nuns, and it is also possible to find examples of women who left their mark on writing due to special circumstances (travelers and so-called witches). Male tutelage tended to remain in force throughout the 19th century, and newspapers would provide vitally important new spaces for publication in the young independent republics. Women’s relationship to newspapers, both as readers and authors, was essential to this writing tradition, and it would allow them to build reading and editorial networks—both within the Americas and across the Atlantic, a context that must be understood to properly understand their writing projects. Women writers in the early 20th century would travel, not without difficulty, along the roads paved by the pioneers. The year 1959, a provisional closing date marked by the Cuban Revolution, helps position 20th-century literature as one of the forms of the crisis of modernity: that which reveals and celebrates heterogeneity and could no longer openly continue excluding women from the authorized spaces for the production of meaning.
Carolina Alzate and Betty Osorio
Women seem barely visible in the lively Australian literary scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Popular wisdom has it that after the war women were sent home and imprisoned in domesticity, but this was not entirely true. Significant numbers earned a living, and gained popular success, writing historical fiction, children’s stories, feature journalism, and radio and television scripts, but the growing separation of literary from popular writing meant that their work lacked serious critical attention, and still does. Others did not achieve publication for years, while those who did were rarely recognized as significant artists. As a writing generation, these women, in particular the novelists, were eclipsed from view, both at the time and in subsequent histories. One reason for this is that they tended to be detached from prevailing debates about national identity and from traditional Left-Right oppositions. Their sense of the social responsibility of writers led them to explore topics and ideas that were outside the postwar political mainstream, such as conservation, peace, civil liberties, and Indigenous rights. Four case studies offer some illustration of the range of literary activities undertaken by these women writers, and allow a consideration of the ways in which they engaged with their social and cultural milieux: Kylie Tennant (1912–1988), Nancy Cato (1917–2000), Judith Wright (1915–2000), and Kath Walker/Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1993).
The novels The Squatter and the Don (1885) and Who Would Have Thought It? (1872), written by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (1832–1895), are the first novels written in English from the pen and perspective of a Mexican American woman. The author, born in Mexican Baja California, came to Northern California after the 1846–1848 Mexican American War, marrying US Army Captain Henry S. Burton. An extraordinarily talented woman, Ruiz de Burton addresses crucial issues of ethnicity, power, gender, class, and race in dialogue with a number of contemporary 19th-century discourses—political, juridical, economic, commercial, and literary—all to voice the bitter resentment of the Californios faced with despoliation and the onslaught of Anglo-American domination in the aftermath of annexation to the United States. Hers is a strong, distinctive—and notably—female voice with a critical Mexican American perspective; her novels have served to shift the benchmarks of US literature and 19th-century literary scholarship, moving it further away from an Anglo-centered, East Coast, and mostly male-centered canon. Her writings have been productive sites against which to reread both canonical and newly emerged texts. By addressing US government policies, and in that regard, racial, ethnic, and class formations, as well as foregrounding gender issues, Ruiz de Burton’s works have problematized and enriched the US literary and cultural landscape. Her rediscovered novels were republished (in 1992 and 1995, respectively) by Sánchez and Pita and have become key elements in better understanding US 19th-century literary history.