Sophie Hughes has translated such Latin American writers as Alia Trabucco Zerán, Laia Jufresa, Brenda Navarro, Guadalupe Nettel, and Fernanda Melchor. She is the recipient of grants from PEN/Heim in the US, and the Arts Council and Arts Foundation in the UK. Her recent translation of Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, the Dublin Literary Award, and longlisted for the National Book Award in Translation and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Sophie has also worked with the Stephen Spender Trust promoting translation in schools and is the co-editor of the anthology Europa28: Writing by Women on the Future of Europe.
from top left to right: Olga de la Fuente, Silvia Rothlisberger, Brenda Morales, Mara Rahab Bautista, Jael de la Luz, Tae Solana.
In this experimental episode in Spanish, Silvia Rothlisberger talks with five members of the writing workshop Pequeñas Labores which focused on maternity literature organised by Libreria El Traspatio in Mexico and facilitated by the author Isabel Zapata. Listen to writers Jael de la Luz, Brenda Morales Muñoz, Tae Solana, Mara Rahab Bautista and Olga de la Fuente talk about their experiences as mothers and writers during the pandemic. Music by Camila Moreno.
In this episode the writers discuss the authors and books they read about maternity and share some of the writing they did during the workshop. Among the books discussed are: Gabriela Wiener – Nueve Lunas, Lina Menaure – Contra los hijos, Ariana Harwicz – Mataté, Amor.
Olga de la Fuente, Es guionista. Su más reciente proyecto fue escribir un episodio para la serie de televisión PEG + CAT de PBS Kids. Ha colaborado como crítica de cine y televisión en Letras Libres y participó como escritora en una obra de teatro colectiva llamada 7 sins in 60 minutes que se presentó en Off Off Broadway. Hizo la maestría en Dramatic Writing (MFA) en la Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, donde fue acreedora del Dean’s Fellowship. Es madre de dos niñas de 4 y 6 años.
Brenda Morales Muñoz es doctora en Estudios Latinoamericanos, investigadora y profesora de tiempo completo en la UNAM. Se especializa en la literatura latinoamericana contemporánea escrita por mujeres y sobre distintos tipos de violencia. Es mamá de una niña de dos años.
MARA RAHAB BAUTISTA LÓPEZ Morelia, Michoacán, México. Egresada de la Escuela de Lengua y Literaturas Hispánicas de la U.M.S.N.H. Directora General de El Traspatio. Proyecto de promoción y fomento del quehacer editorial independiente y de literatura. Ha realizado hasta la fecha, cuatros encuentros titulados El Traspatio. Lo que sucede detrás del libro, Encuentro de editores y editoriales independientes. Proyectos realizados con invitados nacionales e internacionales entre 2014 y 2018, gracias al apoyo del Programa de Fomento a Proyectos y Coinversiones Culturales en sus emisiones 29-2013, 2014 y 2017 del Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes FONCA y México Cultura para la Armonía 2015. Co-fundadora e integrante del equipo para realizar el proyecto “Originaria. Gira de poetas en lenguas indígenas”. Imparte talleres de literatura infantil y juvenil desde el año 2009 a niños y jóvenes en situación extraordinaria.
Jael de la Luz. Historiadora, editora, mediadora de lectura, escritora y columnista en Feminopraxis. Radicada en Londres desde hace cinco años, es activista en la comunidad latinoamericana, facilita el programa de autoformación feminista interseccional Mujeres tejiendo el Cambio (Change Maker Program) en LAWA, y es parte del Club de lectura en Español de The Feminist Library.
Tae Solana, feminista, actriz, mamá y gestora cultural. Es codirectora de Las Desconocidas, espacio independiente de formación, investigación y vinculación de las artes escénicas. Es coordinadora de actuación en el Centro de Cinematografía y Actuación Dolores del Río en Durango, México.
Manifiesto sobre Maternidad escrito durante el taller:
Songs at the end of the show:
Camila Moreno – Tu mamá te mato
Camila Moreno – Millones
El derecho de vivir en paz – tributo a Victor Jara
Feebleminded is narrated with an intense and fragmented prose characteristic of Ariana Harwicz (Argentina, 1977). It is the second book of what Harwicz calls an “involuntary trilogy” where she explores motherhood, how it affects the characters psychically, and how it sways their desires. Divided in three parts and with only 117 pages Feebleminded is a bold and superb short novel that confronts the impossible parameters society has set for women.
In the book, a woman in her late 20s lives with her toxic and alcoholic mother. They are more like two best friends than mother and daughter. Their house is a creepy place with wigs hanging up and mice in jars of formaldehyde. We learn about the daughter’s neglected childhood through feverish memories unveiled in conversations and internal monologues. Memories as far in the past as when she was conceived (“the guy comes inside my mum looking skyward and so it all begins”), or from one night when she was in her mother’s womb and the mum threw dice to decide if she’d get rid of the unknown creature inside her.
The pace of the novel is like a staccato: short punchy sentences where there is an intensity, a heaviness; only with short sentences can this roller-coaster of a book be bearable. We follow the story through dialogues where you don’t know if it’s the mother or the daughter talking. Other times the dialogue is internal. We feel their madness, their constant delirium in each phrase, or as the daughter says: “I’m not crazy, just possessed”.
The daughter is in a relationship with a married man who leaves her because his wife is pregnant. She feels angry — “it was the other common bitch who got him”, she thinks. She wishes for the baby to be born dead, or to be a Siamese twin stuck to a dog. But when her mum learns about this, she has a more sinister plan of revenge.
The two women are marginalised, they are maladaptive, they are happy in a very disturbing way. They have relationships with impossible men. They fantasise about men coming to their house to rape them. They drink whisky, talk about sex and masturbate in an insatiable way. From the opening paragraph —each chapter is one long paragraph— when we are getting to know them: “sitting on my clit I invent a life for myself in the clouds. I quiver, I shake, my fingers are my morphine and for that brief moment everything’s fine”.
They are verbally and physically violent to each other. Sometimes the daughter wishes for a different life. “If I could only have started a new chapter elsewhere… say bye to mum without fearing the crack of a fired arrow”. Yet, they are inseparable. At the end of part I, the mother has left and the daughter is searching for her. At the end of part II, it is the daughter who leaves the mother. But they both return. At times they are tired of life, but most times they can’t get enough of it. At the end of part III they are crawling on hands and knees, covered in blood: “let it all explode, let it all turn to dust, says mother, still wanting more.”
Translated into English by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff, from its original in Spanish La Debil Mental, reading this book is an intense deranged tension that only a writer like Ariana Harwicz, who wants to transgress with her work, can achieve.
Harwicz’s main characters – at least in this trilogy – are women searching for who they are in a world that is telling them how they should be. The first book of this trilogy Die, My Love is similarly a sharp book about a marginalised woman who lives with her husband and unwanted baby. It was nominated for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, and for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, placing Ariana Harwicz at the forefront of the so-called new Argentinian fiction.
* I’ll be talking with Ariana Harwicz and Gabriela Cabezón Cámara in an online event on 3 June 2020 7pm (UK time), Find out more HERE!