Women's participation, both formal and informal, in the creation of what we now call Spanish America is reflected in its literary legacy. Stacey Schlau examines what women from a wide spectrum of classes and races have to say about the societies in which they lived and their place in them. Schlau has written the first book to study a historical selection of Spanish American women's writings with an emphasis on social and political themes. Through their words, she offers an alternative vision of the development of narrative genres—critical, fictional, and testimonial—from colonial times to the present.
The authors considered here represent the chronological yet nonlinear development of women's narrative. They include Teresa Romero Zapata, accused before the Inquisition of being a false visionary; Inés Suárez, nun and writer of spiritual autobiography; Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, author of an indigenist historical romance; Magda Portal, whose biography of Flora Tristán furthered her own political agenda; Dora Alonso, who wrote revolutionary children's books; Domitila Barrios de Chungara, political leader and organizer; Elvira Orphée, whose novel unpacks the psychology of the torturer; and several others who address social and political struggles that continue to the present day.
Although the writers treated here may seem to have little in common, all sought to maneuver through institutions and systems and insert themselves into public life by using the written word, often through the appropriation and modification of mainstream genres. In examining how these authors stretched the boundaries of genre to create a multiplicity of hybrid forms, Schlau reveals points of convergence in the narrative tradition of challenging established political and social structures. Outlining the shape of this literary tradition, she introduces us to a host of neglected voices, as well as examining better-known ones, who demonstrate that for women, simply writing can be a political act.