Celebrating Latin-American women writers

by Rachel Rousseau

The first -- but definitely not the last -- international conference at Concordia on the writing of women of contemporary Latin America was held March 9 to 11 under the auspices of the Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics (CMLL) Department. Professor Catherine Vallejo, CMLL Chair, organized the conference, with Professors Lady Rojas-Trempe and Hugh Hazleton.

The conference, whose title was Celebración de la Escritura Femenina Contemporánea en las Américas, was able to attract scholars from across Canada, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It did so mostly through contacts established by a Canadian association studying Latin-American women writers that was co-founded five years ago by Professors Rojas-Trempe and Vallejo.

Latin-Am 1 b+w"We know a lot of academics, and a lot of writers," Vallejo explained. Featured speaker Pilar Dughi, a Peruvian writer, gave an analysis of the state of women's literary work across Latin America. Another speaker was Luisa Campuzano, from the cultural organization Casa de las Américas, whose 40th anniversary was celebrated at the conference. This was also an opportunity for students from Concordia's own Spanish program, such as GisŹle Brochu, to present their material.

For Professor Vallejo, the conference served a number of purposes. It gave good exposure to Latin-American women writers who are either well-known or deserve attention. It also put the spotlight on academics throughout the Americas who specialize in the subject. And finally, it was a celebration of all sorts of women writers, from academics to poets, touching on a wide variety of topics -- including some that weren't always viewed as legitimate, such as cooking and child-rearing.

The writers featured at the conference displayed strength, love, passion, appreciation of beauty, rage and most of all, a fierce intelligence. "There are so very many of them now, and they are so very good," said Professor Vallejo, adding that these books and poems often deal with the gender and political issues that surround the writers.

The conference was also an opportunity to celebrate Casa de las Américas, a Cuban-born institute that Vallejo describes as "one of the best, if not the best, cultural institutions in Latin-America."

Rector Frederick Lowy gave Casa representative Luisa Campuzano a piece of Inuit art to thank the institute for "fostering Latin-American culture in America for the past 41 years." Casa de las Américas has given Concordia University a collection of prize-winning books by Latin-American authors.

Vallejo hopes that the conference will help "put Concordia on the map of respected academic institutions that do serious scholarly research." Concordia's Spanish program is sometimes referred to as small, but Vallejo objects to the classification. She says the program shouldn't be compared to others at Concordia.

"Compared to Political Science or Psychology, we have a small program," she said, "but compared to other Spanish programs in the province or even in Canada, we're very large."

While literature is a major component of the program, it also has an innovative language major that provides studies in culture and translation, and promotes writing "at a very high level." The program has been growing at a rate of 10 per cent per year for the past five years, and two new tenure-track positions will be added next year. As for the conference, Vallejo hopes to repeat it every two or three years.


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