Lorde, Audre


is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside. There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a words, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book – buy and sign and tear apart -
and come whatever will all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Other know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me

Love is word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.


Picture of Audre Lorde

Image by K. Kendall/CC Licensed

“Liberation is not the private province of any one particular group” – Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was born in 1934 in New York to parents of West Indian heritage. She passed away in 1992 from breast cancer. Her battle with the disease, which was chronicled in works like The Cancer Journals (1980), was just one of many struggles she encountered. Audre Lorde was a black woman and a lesbian in a world dominated by white heterosexual males. She fought for justice on each of these fronts. Her writings protest against the appropriation of black American culture by an indifferent white population, the perpetuation of sex discrimination, and the neglect of the movement for gay rights. Her poetry, however, is not entirely political in content. It is extremely romantic in nature and is described by Joan Martin as ringing with, “passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.”

In addition to being a writer and activist, Lorde was an educator. She held numerous teaching positions and toured the world as a lecturer. She formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women, founded a sisterhood in South Africa, began Women of Color Press, and established the St. Croix Women’s Coalition. She was living in St .Croix at the time of her death. Perhaps the most fitting summary of her life and work can be found in a Boston Globe tribute by Renee Graham: “She took her frailties and misfortunes, her strengths and passions, and forged them into something searing, sometimes startling, always stirring verse. Her words pranced with cadence, full of their own rhythms, all punctuated resolve and spirit. With words spun into light, she could weep like Billie Holiday, chuckle like Dizzy Gillespie or bark bad like John Coltrane.”


National Endowment for the Arts Grants, 1968 and 1981
Creative Artists Public Service Grants, 1972 and 1976
National Book Award Nominee for Poetry, 1974 for From a Land Where Other People Live
Broadside Poets Award, Detroit, 1975
Woman of the Year, Staten Island Community College, 1975
Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence, 1987
Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, Poet Laureate of New York, 1991

Is Audre Lorde a Postcolonial Writer?

Does Audre Lorde belong on a page of postcolonial writers? She was, after all, born in New York City. To raise this question is to ask again, what does the term “postcolonial” mean? Debates have raged on the issue of terminology (see the special issue of Social Text and volume 26 1 & 2 of Ariel for articles on this subject). While birthplace or other factors can be the determinant, another indication of postcolonial status would be the purpose and mentality of the writing. If the postcolonial writer is one who poses a challenge to the dominant Eurocentric model, Audre Lorde fits the definition. She grew up in a household of West Indian immigrants, probably her most conventional connection to the commonly thought of postcolonial model. She shares the experience of seeing black culture endangered by the donminant white one, LGBT rights suppressed, and women relegated to second class citizens.

Selected Works


  • Lorde, Audre. Between Our Selves. Point Reyes, CA: Eidolon, 1976.
  • —. The Black Unicorn. New York: Norton, 1978.
  • —. Chosen Poems Old and New. New York: Norton, 1982.
  • —. Cables to Rage. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970.
  • —. Coal. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • —. The First Cities. New York: Poets Press, 1968.
  • —. From a Land Where Other People Live. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1973.
  • —. The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • —. The New York Head Shop and Museum. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1974.
  • —. Our Dead Behind Us. New York: Norton, 1986.
  • —. Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New. New York: Norton, 1992.

Other Writings

  • Lorde, Audre. Burst of Light. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1988.
  • —. The Cancer Journals. San Francisco: Spinster Ink, 1980.
  • —. I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities. Latham, NY: Women of Color Press, 1985.
  • —. Need: A Chorale for Black Women Voices. Latham, NY: Women of Color Press, 1990.
  • —. Sister Outsider. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984.
  • —. The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1978.
  • —. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1982.

Author: Ryan Becker
Last edited: July 2012

Ben Jelloun, Tahar


Picture of Tahar Ben Jelloun  at book signing

Image by Giuseppe Nicoloro/CC Licesned

Born in Fez, Morocco to a shopkeeper and his wife in December of 1944, Tahar Ben Jelloun is one of North Africa’s most successful post-colonial writers. Winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, Ben Jelloun moved at eighteen from Fez to Tangier where he attended a French high school until enrolling at the Université Mohammed V in Rabat in 1963. It was at the university where Ben Jelloun’s writing career began. Exposed to the journal Soufflés (Breaths ) as well as the journal’s founder, poet Abdellatif Laabi, Ben Jelloun completed his first poems, publishing his first collection, Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence, in 1971. After completing his Philosophy studies in Rabat, in 1971, Ben Jelloun immigrated to France. In France, he attended the Université de Paris, receiving his Ph.D. in psychiatric social work in 1975. Along with providing material for his dissertation, La Plus Haute des Solitudes,  Ben Jelloun draws upon his experience as a psychotherapist for his creative writing. His second novel, La Reclusion Solitaire (later Solitaire), is a fictionalized account of some of his patients’ dysfunction which was written in 1976. Between 1976-1987 Ben Jelloun was regularly published and received awards, but it was not until his novel L’Enfant de Sable, (later translated as The Sand Child) that he became well-known and recognized, all of his novels after The Sand Child were translated into English. The sequel to L’Enfant de Sable, La Nuit Sacree  or The Sacred Night  is the work for which he received his most notable award, the Prix Goncourt in 1987.  Ben Jelloun now lives in Paris with his wife, Aicha, and his daughter, Merieme.



Book cover of The Sand Child, 1985.

The Sand Child, 1985

The use of language is an interesting factor in Ben Jelloun’s work. Critics have maintained that Ben Jelloun is catering to a French audience. After all, although Ben Jelloun is Moroccan and hence Arabic is his native language, he chose to write in  French. Likewise, in his novel Les Yeux Baisses, a young Moroccan girl becomes enamored with the French language and wishes to be a French writer. Some say it is difficult not to parallel this character’s situation with Ben Jelloun’s. Ben Jelloun simply declares, though, “When I started to write it came normally to write in French… I feel freer when I write in French.” From this statement and others such as “Arabic is my wife and French is my mistress; and I have been unfaithful to both,” it is obvious though that bilingualism is an integral part of his life as well as a theme in his works. Regardless of Ben Jelloun’s inclination towards French or lack thereof, he is quite clever in incorporating languages into his writings. For instance, in La Nuit Sacree, he refers to a woman waiting on people in the restroom as L’Assise which in French means “the seated woman” and which in Arabic is translated into gellas, the title given to women who sit and wait on those in the restroom. This use of duality of languages adds to the complexity and sophistication of his pieces.

Moroccan Culture

Although the language for some readers may be an obstacle, others argue that it is Ben Jelloun’s incorporation of Moroccan culture into his texts which alienates readers. Situations unfamiliar to his audience may be difficult to relate to; therefore his stories may lose some legitimacy. An obvious example is that of pretending that one’s daughter is a son in order to preserve one’s property and maintain one’s prestige. Although this probably seems foreign to most, one could argue that the themes of gender identity and the way in which it relates to power and societal structure are pervasive throughout all cultures. If the reader does not agree with this statement, he can simply take Ben Jelloun’s work as an entertaining tale rather than a social commentary. However, it is just this latter aspect of Moroccan incidents or references that are disturbing for some critics. Not only does Ben Jelloun write about Moroccan situations that may be seen by others as nonsensical and/or uncivilized, but he openly criticizes them. Although this has resulted in the praise by, for example, women’s groups, critics protest that Ben Jelloun defends and appeals to Europeans through stereotyping and a skewed perception of Morocco.


It has been said that Ben Jelloun is primarily a poet; therefore his writing style resembles that of a poet. His work is concise yet full of poetic images and lyrical language. Ben Jelloun is a story teller, but he also allows the reader to become involved in his magical world. Dream-like states, hallucinations, and allusions to Andre Breton and the exquisite corpse each give Ben Jelloun’s work a magical intoxicated quality. Unreliable narrators and different points of view of the same story add to the mystical atmosphere as well. Ben Jelloun ends L’Enfant de Sable with, “If any of you really wants to know how this story ended, he will have to ask the moon when it is full. I now lay before you the book, the inkwell, and the pens.”  This creative space for doubt and wonder gives the piece a surrealist quality. After all, it may have simply been a fanciful tale, it may have been a true story. One is not quite sure.

Sexuality/ Dysfunction

In light of his doctoral research on the relationship between sexuality and immigration for North African male workers in France, it is clear that Ben Jelloun is quite interested in sexuality and dysfunction. The majority of his works have the protagonist suffering from some sort of dysfunction whether it be sexual, as in,  L’Enfant de Sable or more physical, as in, L’Ecrivain Public.

The Sand Child/Sacred Night

Ben Jelloun’s first book translated into English, The Sand Child, catapulted him into the literary spotlight. The themes of gender identity and a male-dominated society, of masking and storytelling, and surrealism provide the backdrop for a surreal story of secrets, sexuality and identity. The main character, Ahmed, is the eighth daughter of man without an heir. Raised as a boy, Ahmed eventually realizes she is a girl, but accustomed to her status of power as a male in Islamic society, decides to remain a man, even marrying her distant cousin Fatima. Her desire to have children marks the beginning of her sexual evolution. As a woman named Zahra, Ahmed discovers her true sexuality and her true identity. The sequel, The Sacred Night, completes Zahra’s transformation, with Zahra finding her life with a blind man named Consul.



  • Ben Jelloun, Tahar. L’Ecrivain Public. Paris: Seuil, 1983.
  • —. L’Enfant de Sable. Paris: Seuil, 1985. Translated by Alan Sheridan as The Sand Child. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987.
  • —. Harrouda. Paris: Denoel, 1973.
  • —. Jour de Silence a Tanger. Paris: Seuil, 1990. Translated Silent Day in Tangier. London: Quartet, 1991.
  • —. Moha le Fou, Moha le Sage. Paris:Seuil, 1978.
  • —. Muha al-ma`twah, Muha al-hakin. Paris: Seuil, 1982.
  • —. La Nuit Sacree. Paris: Seuil, 1987. Translated by Alan Sheridan as The Sacred Night. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
  • —. La Priere de l’Absent. Paris: Seuil, 1981.
  • —. La Reclusion Solitaire. Paris: Denoel, 1976. Translated by Nick Hindley as Solitaire. London: Quartet, 1988.
  • —. Les Yeux Baisses. Paris: Seuil, 1991. Translated by David Lobdell as With Downcast Eyes. London: Quartet, 1993.
  • —. Corruption. Carol Volk (Translator). New York: The New Press, 1995.
  • —. L’Auberge des pauvres. Paris: Seuil, 1997.
  • —. Racism Explained to My Daughter. New York: The New Press, 1998.
  • —. This Blinding Absence of Light. New York: The New Press, 2001.
  • —. Islam Explained. New York: The New Press, 2002.
  • —. La Belle au bois dormant. Paris: Seuil, 2004.
  • —. The last friend. New York: The New Press, 2006.
  • —. Yemma. Berlin: Berliner Taschenbuch Verl, 2007.
  • —. Leaving Tangier. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: Penguin, 2009.
  • —. The Rising of the Ashes. Translated by Cullen Goldblatt. San Francisco: City Lights2009.
  • —. A Palace in the Old Village. New York: Penguin, 2010.


  • Ben Jelloun, TaharA L’Insu du Souvenir. F. Maspero, 1980.
  • —. Les Amandiers Sont Morts de Leurs Blessures. F. Maspero, 1976.
  • —. Le Discours du Chameau. F. Maspero, 1974.
  • —. Hommes Sous Linceul de Silence. Atlantes, 1970.
  • —. La Memoire Future: Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poesie du Maroc. F. Maspero, 1976.
  • —. La Remontee des Cendres. Seuil, 1991.
  • —. Sahara. Mulhouse, 1987.


  • Ben Jelloun, TaharChronique d’une Solitude.  Avignon, France, 1976.
  • —. Entretien avec Monsieur Said Hammadi, Ouvrier Algerien. Theatre National de Chaillot , 1982.
  • —. La Fiancee de l’Eau.  Theatre Populaire de Lorraine, 1984.


  • Ben Jelloun, Tahar. Giacometti. Grandvilliers: Editions Flohic, 1991.
  • —. Haut Atlas: L’Exil de Pierres. Paris: Chene, 1982.
  • —. Hospitalite Francaise: Racisme et Immigration, Maghrebine. New York: Seuil, 1984.
  • —. Marseille, Comme un Matin d’Insomnie. Marseilles: Le Temps Parallele, 1986.
  • —. Le Pain Nu. Translated from Arabic by Mohamed Choukri. Paris: F.Maspero,  1980.
  • —. La Plus Haute des Solitudes: Misere Sexuelle d’Emigres Nord-Africains. New York: Seuil, 1977.


Prix de l’Amitie Franco-Arabe 1976 for Les Amandiers Sont Morts de Leurs  Blessures
Prix de l’Association des Bibliothecaires de France et de Radio Monte-Carlo 1978 for Moha le Fou, Moha le Sage
Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres 1983
Prix Goncourt 1987 for La Nuit Sacree
Chevailer de la Legion d’Honneur 1988
Prix des Hemispheres 1991 for Les Yeux Baisses

Works Cited

  • Colby, Vineta, ed. World Authors 1985-90. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1995.
  • DiYanni, Robert, ed. The Reader’s Adviser. 14th edition Volume 2: The Best in World Literature. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1994.
  • France, Peter, ed. The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Peacock, Scot, ed. Contemporary Authors. Volume 162. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

Author: Amy Owen, Spring 1999
Last edited: April 2012

Yeats, W.B. and Postcolonialism

Which Yeats?

Picture of W.B. Yeats

Image by George Charles Beresford/Public Domain

There are many versions of William Butler Yeats (b 1865  d 1939),  Ireland’s most famous poet, dramatist, critic and Senator. Variously claimed by nationalists, occultists, fascists, modernists, Romantics, and postcolonialists,Yeats’s life and work are open to many interpretations. As a writer who devoted himself to building Irish culture and literature, Yeats’s position as a postcolonial figure seems obvious. At the same time, he was a member of the Anglo Irish Ascendancy and flirted with fascist ideas in his old age. This article summarizes some of the most compelling arguments for Yeats as a major postcolonial artist.

Critical Overview

This discussion rests on the question of Ireland’s place as a postcolonial nation. In their foundational reader, The Empire Writes Back,  Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin exclude Ireland from the list of postcolonial nations, even though Canada and the United States are included. Even so, they include Ireland within certain points of their discussions.  Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, argues for Yeats as a decolonizing writer, and makes the claim that Ireland is indeed a postcolonial nation. David Lloyd’s essay,”The Poetics of Politics: Yeats and the Founding of the State” explores the connections between Yeats’s poetry and nationalism. Interrogating Yeats’s position as both postcolonial and colonialist, Seamus Deane’s Celtic Revivals raises important questions about images of nation and history. Jahan Ramazani uses Yeats to interrogate postcolonial studies, and vice versa, coming to the conclusion that Yeats’s work as a nation-maker qualifies him for inclusion as a postcolonial (Ramazani prefers the term “anticolonial”) poet. Finally, Declan Kiberd works with Yeats’s literary reconstructions of childhood and argues that Yeats’s search for a writing style mirrors a quest for selfhood in a postcolonial context.


The Early Years: Sligo, London, Gonne, Folklore and Mysticism

Born in Dublin in 1865, Yeats was the son of a painter, John Butler Yeats, and Susan Pollexfen Yeats, whose family lived in Sligo, in the Northwest of Ireland. Yeats spent much of his childhood in Sligo,and repeatedly returned to those memories in his work. His homesickness when the family moved to London in 1874 and his sense of isolation in an English school resurface in his Autobiographies. After briefly attending art school, Yeats devoted himself both to Irish literature societies in London and Dublin and his own literary development.

Maud Gonne, whom Yeats met in 1889, would become the inspiration for most of his love poetry. Though Yeats never agreed with Gonne’s militant Republicanism, he continued to write about her all of his life. In the 1890s, Yeats became fascinated by Irish folklore, and published collections of Irish legends and original poems inspired by mythological Irish figures. During this period, Yeats joined the Theosophical Movement, and became a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. This mystical, esoteric group, devoted to the supernatural, supplied Yeats with important symbolic systems. He developed an interest in Indian mysticism.

The Abbey Theater and The Irish Revival

In 1904, Yeats, along with Lady Augusta Gregory and Annie Horniman, founded the Abbey Theater. At the Abbey Yeats sought to create an Irish theater and educate the Irish public by offering a place for the performance of works by Irish dramatists. This laudable goal met with difficulties. The 1907 Playboy Riots, in response to supposed indecency in John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, infuriated Yeats, who supported Synge’s play in the face of pushes for censorship. After discovering ancient Japanese Noh Drama in 1916, Yeats began to incorporate Noh conventions (little scenery, heavy symbolism, stylized movements) into his own drama. The Abbey Theater and Yeats’s poetry made important contributions to the Irish Revival, a resurgence of Irish drama, poetry and prose from the Victorian period to the 1920s.

Politics and Marriage

Though frustrated by the Dublin reaction to Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Yeats’s attitude to Ireland changed again in 1916. The Easter Rising of 1916, when roughly 700 Irish volunteers took over parts of Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic, inspired in Yeats a new nationalism. His elegy for those executed by the British, “Easter 1916,” eulogizes the dead while retaining an ambivalent attitude toward violent resistance. In 1917, Yeats married Englishwoman Georgie Hyde-Lees. Yeats believed that his wife was capable of acting as a spirit medium, and based much of his mystical work, A Vision (1925), on her automatic script. The couple had a son and daughter and lived in a Norman castle, Thoor Ballylee. From 1922 to 1928, Yeats served as a Senator for the Irish Free State, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in1923. Yeats died in the South of France in 1939, and was buried in1940 in Sligo.

The Critics on Yeats and Postcolonialism

This section will provide abstracts of a selection of the major critical contributions to the question of Yeats and postcolonialism, arranged chronologically.  For more information on these texts and suggestions for further reading, please see the bibliography.

On Seamus Deane’s Celtic Revivals (1985)

Seamus Deane’s essays debate Yeats’s position as postcolonial writer. At times Deane finds in Yeats a strong cultural nationalist, but just as often he accuses Yeats of writing out of reductive visions of Ireland. He interrogates Yeats’s position in two essays in this volume, “Yeats and the Idea of Revolution” and “O’Casey and Yeats: Exemplary Dramatists.” The first essay implicates Yeats in “inventing an Ireland amenable to his imagination” (38). Deane reads the connections between death and sex in Yeats’s play A Full Moon in March:  “Sex and violence produce poetry. Aristocrat and peasant produce, out of a violent fusion, art” (47). At the same time, Deane sees in Yeats’s attitude towards Ireland and England a conflict that he compares to V. S. Naipaul’s position on India and England: “the English left behind in their twentieth century colonies one of their most enduring inventions — a concept of Englishness.. . The whole Irish Revival is a reaction against this attitude, a movement towards the colony and a way from the mother country, a replacement of ‘Englishness’ by ‘Irishness’” (48). Though Deane has problems with some of Yeats’s “colonialist” dramatizations of Ireland, he investigates this issue in postcolonial terms. Deane’s second essay on Yeats and O’Casey finds in Yeats “a more profoundly political dramatist than O’Casey, that it is in his plays that we find a search for the new form of feeling which would renovate our national consciousness” (122). Deane’s writings explore the question of Yeats as postcolonial writer.

On Edward Said’s “Yeats and Decolonization,” from Culture and Imperialism (1993)

After acknowledging Yeats’s position as a canonical European, modernist poet, Said introduces the notion of Yeats as an “indisputably great national poet who during a period of anti-imperialist resistance articulates the experiences, the restorative vision of a people suffering under the domination of an offshore power” (220).  Said goes on to place Ireland in the context of colonialism, and defines nationalism as the “mobilizing force that coalesced into resistance against an alien and occupying empire on the parts of people possessing a common history, religion, and language” (223).  The essay moves towards Yeats as a postcolonial poet as Said discusses the connection between geography, place names, and the decolonization of both land and language. Grouping Yeats with other English-speaking African and Caribbean authors, Said describes an “overlapping” between Yeats’s “Irish nationalism with his English cultural heritage” (227). After questioning nativism in terms of Yeats’s writing, Said argues that “Yeats’s slide into incoherence and mysticism during the 1920s” relates to a limited nativist perspective (231). Yeats’s preoccupations with an “ideal community” and with history as “the wrong turns, the overlap, the . . .occasionally glorious moment,” Said argues, place him in the company of “all the poets and men of letters of decolonization” (232).  Said ends by placing Yeats somewhere along the way to full postcolonialism:  “True, he stopped short of imagining full political  liberation, but he gave us a major international achievement in cultural decolonization nonetheless” (239).

On David Lloyd’s “The Poetics of Politics: Yeats and the Founding of the State” from Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post Colonial Moment (1993)

Emphasizing the important political “discomfort” that Yeats’s poems still cause, Lloyd explores the relationships between Yeats’s poetry and Irish nationalism. Applying later Yeats to the poet’s earlier work, Lloyd detects Yeats’s discomfort with the nationalist force of his own drama and poetry. The famous early Yeats play, Cathleen Ni Houlihan inspired such fervent nationalism that in later life Yeats would ask: “Did that play of mine send out certain men to the English shot?” In Lloyd’s view, this concern is “by no means an overweening assessment of the extraordinary part his writings played in the forging in Ireland of a mode of subjectivity apt to find its political and ethical realization in sacrifice to the nation yet to be” (59).  Lloyd addresses the paradoxical emphasis on foundation and demise in Yeats’s poetry (68).  At the end of the essay, Lloyd turns to Yeats’s female characters, and raises questions about “the antagonism between certain feminisms and the nationalism of the state” (81).

On Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland (1995)

Kiberd spends his first chapter, “Childhood and Ireland,” on Yeats, discussing the effect of the poet’s Sligo childhood on both his writing and his vision of Ireland.  He questions the ways that Yeats’s early work, like other Revival texts, “which so nourished the national feeling, were often British in origin, and open to the charge of founding themselves on the imperial strategy of infantilizing the native culture” (102). Kiberd weighs in with other critics on the strong connection between Yeats’s writing and place: “In emphasizing locality, Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory were deliberately aligning themselves with the Gaelic bardic tradition of dinn-sheanchas (knowledge of the lore of places)” (107).  Kiberd offers a reading of the differences between Irish and British definitions of culture: “In (Yeats’s) estimate, a true culture consisted not in acquiring opinions but in getting rid of them” (111).  “Innocence,” then, “is not inexperience, but its opposite” (112).  In the next chapter, “The National Longing for Form,” Kiberd argues that Yeats and Whitman, as postcolonial writers, both perform “a search for a national style” (116).  This chapter explores the relationship between the literature of the “cultural colonies” and the “parent country” (115). Kiberd then presents a fascinating argument for Yeats’s search for his own style as a form of “self-conquest” (120).  Connecting literature and self, Kiberd argues that for both Whitman and Yeats “the decolonization of the body was a task almost as important as the decolonization of the native culture” (127). Investigating ideas of culture, and arguing for the search for a new style as a quest for a new self and nation, Kiberd reveals connections between Yeats and Whitman as writers of decolonization.

On Jahan Ramazani’s “Is Yeats a Postcolonial Poet?” (1998)

Ramazani’s fascinating essay begins by outlining the arguments for and against Yeats’s inclusion as a postcolonial writer. Acknowledging Yeats’s “whiteness, and his affiliation with the centuries old settler community of Anglo-Irish Protestants, Ramazani argues that due to his “anticolonial resistance to British cultural domination and his effort to transform the degraded colonial present by recuperating the precolonial past,” Yeats warrants examination as an anticolonial writer. If we place Yeats “under the postcolonial microscope, the many different shapes and sizes of postcoloniality need to be distinguished.”  Ramazani then discusses postcolonialism in terms of Yeats and Ireland, arguing that the term “anticolonial” replace “postcolonial.”  With “influences on writers as diverse as Derek Walcott and Lorna Goodison, Raja Rao and A. K. Ramanujan, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka,” Yeats belongs to the postcolonial tradition of hybridization.  Ramazani continues to position Yeats with postcolonial,or anticolonial writers: “When Yeats, speaking at a political gathering in 1898, declared that the English empire ‘has been built on the rapine of the world,’ he anticipated Frantz Fanon‘s claim” (81). In terms of Irish cultural history, Ramazani claims that through their “Revival, the poets have turned a corpse like Ireland into a living, vibrant, even awe-inspiring ‘imagined community.’” Finally, Ramazani interrogates Yeats’s use of Indian symbols and characters as neither completely Orientalist nor affiliating, but sees his attraction to India because it “represents the Unity of Culture he wished for Ireland.” Ramzani concludes that as a nation-maker and a writer of hybridization Yeats should be considered an anticolonial writer.

For more Irish entries see:

1. Field Day Theatre

2. Brian Friel

3. Roddy Doyle

4. Eavan Boland


  • Ashcroft, Bill, Griffith, Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. New York: Routledge, 1989.
  • —. (eds.) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Brown, Malcom. The Politics of Irish Literature from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle: U Washington P, 1972.
  • Cairns, David and Richards, Shaun. (eds.) Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1988.
  • Deane, Seamus. Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880-1980. Winston Salem: Wake Forest UP, 1985.
  • —. “Yeats: the Creation of an Audience.” Tradition and Influence in Anglo- Irish Poetry. Terence Brown and Nicholas Grene. (eds.) Totwa: Barnes and Noble, 1989. pp. 31-46.
  • Eagleton, Terry, Jameson, Fredric, and Said, Edward. (eds.) Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature. Minneapolis: U Minnesota Press, 1990.
  • Eagelton, Terry. “Yeats and Poetic Form.” Crazy John and the Bishop and Other Essays on Irish Culture. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1998.
  • Ellmann, Richard. The Identity of William Butler Yeats. New York: Oxford UP, 1964.
  • Foster, John Wilson. “Yeats and the Easter Rising.” Colonial Consequences:Essays in Irish Literature and Culture. Dublin: Lilliput, 1991. pp.133-148.
  • Foster, R. F. Paddy and Mr. Punch: Connections in Irish and English History. London: Penguin, 1993.
  • —. W. B. Yeats, A Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.
  • Frazier, Adrian. Behind the Scenes: Yeats, Horniman, and the Struggle for the Abbey Theater. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U California P, 1990.
  • Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.
  • Lloyd, David. “The Poetics of Politics: Yeats and the Founding of the State”. Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post Colonial Moment. Dublin: Lilliput, 1993. pp. 59-87.
  • Llyons, F. S. L. Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939: From the Fall of Parnell to the Death of Yeats. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979.
  • Ramazani, Jahan. “Is Yeats a Postcolonial Poet?.” Raritan vol.17 no. 3 (Winter 1998): pp. 64-89.
  • Said, Edward. “Yeats and Decolonization.” Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993. pp. 220-239.
  • Watson, G. J. Irish Identity and the Literary Revival: Synge, Yeats, Joyce and O’Casey. Washington: Catholic U of American P, 1979.
  • Yeats, William Butler. Autobiographies. New York: Scribner, 1999.
  • —. The Yeats Reader. Richard J. Finneran (ed.). New York: Scribner, 1997.
  • —. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Richard J. Finneran (ed.). New York: Scribner, 1997.

Related Sites

The Atlantic Monthly: All Ireland’s Bard.  Seamus Heaney reviews R. F. Foster’s biography, Yeats, A Life.
The Atlantic Monthly’s Reading of “Easter 1916″ by Peter Davidson, Philip Levine,and Richard Wilbur. Article on “Easter 1916.”
The Atlantic Monthly: William Butler Yeats by Louise Brogan. A 1938 article on Yeats as an older poet with an overview of his life.
Bartelby.com’s index to Yeats’s Responsibilities and Other Poems, The Wind Among the Reeds, and The Wild Swans at Coole.
Emory’s Special Collections Yeats Page

Author: Elizabeth Brewer, Spring 2000
Last edited: April 2012

Huidobro, Vicente

“Make a poem the way nature makes a tree” -Vicente Huidobro, “Creationism”


Photo of Huidobro

Image by Dcoetzee/Public Domain

Vicente García Huidobro Fernándezwas born to a distinguished aristocrat family in Santiago, Chile in 1893. In his teenage and early adult years, the works of modernist Chilean writer and poet Rubén Darío inspired him. He praised Darío as “a renovator of poetry” (Camurati 29) and as homage to him, he began to publish his own work through the pages of Azula magazine which he founded in 1913. Three years later; Huidobro parted for Europe; in Paris where he met other minds of the vanguard such as Pablo Picasso, Guillame Apollinaire, and Pierre Reverdy. Huidobro’s poems written in both French and Spanish began to the build upon the Cubist poetry of Apollonaire and Reverdy.

He ushered in a new style or school of writing which he termed as creacionismo (‘creationism’) which fused many of the contemporary vanguard movements of the early 20th century along with other ideals of Neo-platonism and the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1925, he returned to Chile to become a newspaper editor during which time he also ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Chile. Throughout he continued to write works of prose and poetry building upon his ideas of creacionsimo. In 1931, he published Altazor, which most consider to be his definitive poetic work. In 1948, he died in Cartagena, Chile at the age of 56.

Vanguard Movement

Following the modernist movement, the world of art and literature entered a phase termed as the ‘Vanguard’, or ‘avant-garde’ movement (Good). This complex movement attempted to step away from the literary and aesthetic norms of the past and to chart new horizons of expression for the artist. It is believed that Italian writer Fillippo Tomaso Marinetti initiated the movement through the manifesto of ‘Futurism’.  In this essay he declares:

“To admire an old picture is to pour our sensitivity
into a funeral urn, instead of casting it forward in
violent gushes of creation and action”
Marinetti, “Foundation Manifesto of Futurism”, 1909  (qtd. inRye 9).

The twilight of this global artistic movement is considered to have arrived with the advent of the Surrealist movement of the  1930′s. Within the span of those decades, many sub-movements were spawned including Expressionism, Dadaism, Cubism, and Ultraism. All of these Vanguard sub-movements had similar motivation to create new artistic bounds, through either exploiting the institutions of the past or creating whole new ones.


Creacionismo was  the apotheosis for Huidobro, a space where the poet could assume a role as the divine. In his poem “Arte poética” (Poetic Art), the final verse reads:  “El poeta es un pequeño Dios” ‘The poet is a small God’ (Huidobro 69). This verse was the epitaph for his movement. Creacionismo licensed the poet to become the Creator within their poetic space, where the world of subjectivity was merged into the reality that the poet created. Huidobro maintained that the rise of Creacionismo was solely attributed to him, free of any direct influence. He describes his poetry as not singularly influenced, “but only by the universe of poetry that has been studied and felt” (Perdigó 42). It is argued that aside from his contemporaries, Huidobro’s greatest influences are the Neo-Platonists of the 16th century and the ideas of American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.

According to the Neo-Platonists, the conception of God is as follows:

“God was Beauty and the source of Beauty.
God’s image is Man.
Therefore, the ideally beautiful Man is the
closest approximation of God on this Earth”
(Summary of Renaissance).

This conception was a precedent that Man’s ability could be equal to God’s, the created had been endowed with the powers of the Creator. Huidobro aimed for the idea of understanding the world at its most essential parts, in order to invigorate his own world of poetic subjectivity. In his manifesto “Creacionismo”, Huidobro describes:  “A living thought, like the spirit of an animal or a plant, has its own architecture, and embellishes nature with something new” (Huidobro 41).  Emerson also echoed the idea of a mortal Creator, he stated that “man has access to the entire mind of the creator, is himself the creator in the finite” (Perdigó89). Huidobro perpetuated this idea that “where the artist from being a craftsman become a creator; and the poet, of all men, compared to God” (Peridgó 189).  One of his poetic innovations was the calligram, or “painted poems” (Kahnweiler 75). Apollinaire initially popularized this style of verse somewhat similar to Japanese haiku. However, Huidobro added an element of “geometrization and stylization of form” (Ogden 46). In particular, his poem’s, “Paisaje” [Landscape], first and last verses create a separation of consciousnesses where in between a realm of subjectivity words convert into visual images. The poem actually seems to take the shape of a mosaic in its own “new and autonomous world” (Bary54).

Though the evidence is debated, the certainty remains that “Creacionsimo is exclusively applied to Huidobro’s work” (Perdigó 21).



Poetic Art

Verse is like a key
That opens a thousand doors
A page turns, something takes flight
How many believing eyes look
And the hearing soul remains trembling

Invent new worlds and care for their word
The adjective, when it does not give life, kills
We are in a cycle of nerves
The muscle cluster,
Like I remember, in the museums;
No more do but we have less force;
The true vigor
Resides in the mind

Why do you the rose, oh poets!
It will flourish in the poem

Only for us
Live all things under the sun

The poet is a small god.


In darkness we pass through parallel routes
The moon is where you see it
The tree is taller than the mountain
But the mountain is so wide that it exceeds the extremes of the land
The river runs but carries no fish
Careful at play in the grass recently painted
A song that drives sheep to the sheepfold

Works Cited

  • Apollinaire, Guillame. Selected Writings. Trans. Roger Shattuck. Paris:  New Directions, 1971.
  • Bary, David.  Huidobro o la vocación poética. Granada:  Universidad de Granada, 1963.
  • Camurati, Mireya.  Poesía y poética de Vicente Huidobro. Buneos Aires:  García Cambeiro, 1980.
  • Dawes, Greg. Poetas ante la modernidad: las ideas esteticas y politicas de Vallero, Huidobro, Neruda y Paz. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 2009.
  • Good, Carl.  “Huidobro, Altazor y las vanguaradias”. Atlanta: Emory University, March 19, 2001.
  • Huidobro, Vicente. Manifestos Manifest.  Trans. Gilbert Alter-Gilbert. Los Angeles:  Green Integer, 1999.
  • Huidobro, Vicente. Obra selecta. Ed. Luis Navarrete Orta. Caracas: Biblioteca ayacucho, 1991.
  • Kahnweiler, Daniel-Henry. The Rise of Cubism.  Trans. Aronson, New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1949.
  • Ogden, Estrella Busto. El creacionismo de Vicente Huidobroen sus relaciones con la estética cubista. Madrid: Editorial playor, 1983.
  • Perdigó, Luisa Marina. The Origins of Vicente Huidobro’s”Creacionismo” and its Evolution. New York: Mellen University Press, 1994.
  • Reyes, Alfonso and Carlos Garcia. Correspondencia: Alfonso Reyes, Vicente Huidobro, 1914-1928. Mexico D.F.: El Colegio National, 2005.
  • Rye, Jane. “Summary of the Renaissance: “Neo Platonism.”” Futurism. London:  Studio Vista,1972. <http://courses.washington.edu/ah361/resources/summary.html>
  • Schopf, Federico. El desorden de las imagenes: Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra. Santiago: JH Fondo Juvenal Hernandez Jaque: Editorial Unversitaria, 2010.
  • Sema, Mercedes. Del modernismo y la vanguardia: Jose Marti, Julio Herrera y Riessig, Vicente Huidobro, Nicanor Parra. Lima: Ediciones El Santo Oficio, 2002.
  • Willis, Bruce Dean. Aesthetics of equilibrium: the vanguard poetics of Vicente Huidobro and Mario de Andrade. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2006.

Selected Bibliography

  • Huidobro, Vicente.  Altazor or A Voyage in A Parachute. Trans.  Eliot Weinberger.  St. Paul:  Graywolf Press, 1988.
  • Reverdy, Pierre.  Selected Poems.  Trans. John Ashberry. Winston-Salem:  Wake Forest University Press, 1991.

Author: Adam Dunshee, Fall 2001
Last edited: June 2012

Gooneratne, Yasmine


Novelist, Poet, and critic Yasmine Gooneratne, a graduate of Bishop’s college, went on to graduate from the University of Ceylon in 1959 and also received a PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University in 1962. Gooneratne became a resident of Australia in 1972. In 1981, she received the first higher doctoral degree of Doctor of Letters at Macquarie University. She now holds a Personal Chair in English Literature at Macquarie University, which is located in New South Wales. From 1989-1993 she was the Foundation Director of her University’s Postcolonial Literatures and Languages Research Center. In 1990, Gooneratne became an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to literature and education and in that same year she was also invited to become the Patron of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. Gooneratne also had a place on a committee appointed by the Federal Government to review the Australian system of Honors and Awards from 1994-1995. Since 1995, she has had positions on both the Australia Abroad Council and the Visiting Committee of the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. In 1998, she became a member of Asialink. She has been a visiting professor or specialist at many different places around the world including the following: Edith Cowan University (Western Australia), University of Michigan (USA), Jawarharlal Nehru University (India), and the University of the South Pacific (Fiji). More recently she has won the Samvad India Foundation’s 2001 Raja Rao Award, and the 2008 Sahithya Ratna Lifetime Achievement Award.  She sits as a Trustee of the Pemberley International Study Centre, a foundation her husband set up in Sri Lanka, and is a Patron of the Galle Literary Festival. Finally she is the director of The Guardian Angels, which is an editing service geared toward new writers in Sri Lanka and Australia.

Yasmine Gooneratne is married to Dr. Brendan Gooneratne who is a physician, environmentalist, and historian. They married in 1962 and now have two children, a son and a daughter, and currently live in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Achievements and Awards

Gooneratne has around 20 published books that include critical studies of Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, and contemporary novelist and screen writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She has also written volumes of literary essays as well as poems, short stories, a family memoir, and two novels. In 1991, she was awarded a Writer’s Fellowship at Varuna Writer’s Center where she edited the final draft of one of her novels, A Change of Skies. This novel later won the Marjorie Barnard Literary Award for Fiction in 1992 and was shortlisted for the 1991 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her second novel, Pleasures of Conquest, was shortlisted for the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize. She has also contributed various articles, poetry, short stories, and other writings to many different anthologies and journals. Her work has been presented on television, radio, and at public readings around Australia and many other parts of the world. Her achievements are recorded in Who’s Who of Australia 1997 and in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature.


Book cover of A Change of Skies, 1991.

A Change of Skies, 1991

Gooneratne’s writing engages with various themes. One theme that continually appears in her works is a reflection upon how the past effects the future. She relays many of her own experiences to make her points more personal and more real to the reader. Relative Merits, which is a personal memoir that is based on interviews with her family members and on her own memories of her family’s life, provides a perfect example. She takes her family’s personal past and ties in how her well-known family has affected Sri Lanka’s history. Another theme includes aspects of immigration and adjustment to new lands. This theme is exemplified in A Change of Skies, which deals with a Sri Lanka family moving to Australia. This novel focuses on the experiences of Asian immigrants and how they adjust to living in their new environment. Changes in history are also themes of her works. Gooneratne’s second novel, The Pleasures of Conquest, deals with relationships between Europe and Asia as Ceylon undergoes a transformation from a British colony to the independent nation, Sri Lanka.

Gooneratne’s poetry also has many different themes. One major question raised by her poetry is: what is poetry? Her work engages directly with the question of aesthetic.  She refers to different parts of poetry, like verses and lines, in many of her poems.”The Scribble” describes how a young girl sees that as she gets older “that words grow sedate, / long may she find / verse in the wind, / rhyme run in the rivers, / words hum and quiver.” “6,000 Ft. Death Dive” explains how a woman dies and at the same time compares the power and freedom of death to writing. As Gooneratne writes, “from poetry to plummet till we splash / down in a terse, laconic paragraph.”  In “The Cave,” she writes, “Build on, poets, / out of ourselves, our pain / and our delight, / we build our own support.” In this poem she is encouraging poets to express themselves and know that someday they will “tremble on / the blazing summit of our own creation.”

Her poetry engages with the different aspects of immigration. In “Newsletter,” she mentions Australia and “the island-shaped wastes common to immigrant hearts,” indicating the love the immigrants have for their new land. She explores both perspectives of foreigners in other lands. In “Business People,” she describes how tourists love the beauty of the land, but do not care to know the terrors of its past. She writes, “They scan the catalogue, write out a cheque and for the price fixed-thirty dollars- /buy my poor country.” As “bits and pieces” of her land are carried away by the newcomers she says “our children / have become a nation of beggars.”

Email Quotations from Gooneratne

“Each book or article I have written engages with a particular idea or set of ideas that gripped my imagination at the time that I was writing it. A few examples include the following: Relative Merits (1986) seeks to preserve for posterity my memories of my family, and to give the reader some sense of that family’s special qualities and its place in Sri Lanka’s cultural history; A Change of Skies (1991) focuses on the experiences of Asian visitors/immigrants in Australia; and The Pleasures of Conquest (1995) is centered on historical and contemporary relationships between East and West. If I were to ask myself whether there has been some single idea I (must have) wanted to convey to an audience through these different works, I would say that it is a belief in the worth of human beings as individuals, irrespective of all attempts to stereotype or categorize them in terms of class, race, caste, color, intellectual ability, gender, or religious belief.”

“The biggest influence on my writing as regards to subject matter has inevitably been the fact that I had the good fortune to have been born in Sri Lanka, and to grow up and be educated there at a “golden” period in the island’s cultural life. The biggest influence on my writing regarding style is probably a lifelong admiration for the writings of certain English authors of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Alexander Pope, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Jane Austen.”

“There are several authors I deeply admire. Among them are V.S. Naipaul, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, R.K. Narayan, and the authors I have previously mentioned. My favorite author is Jane Austen, partly because her ideas about love and life (as expressed in her novels and letters) have shaped my own, and partly because her disciplined and ironic style provides an exemplary model for any writer who feels (as she did) deeply about the conditions under which life must be lived.”

“My favorite among my own books is Relative Merits. Why? Partly because I am most myself in it; and partly because recreating in it my memories and impressions of family members whom I knew well opened the way for me to create fictional characters of my own later on in novels and stories.”

“Biggest accomplishment:  My teaching. At the age of 15, I had the good fortune to attract the interest and friendship of two wonderful teachers: Pauline Swan and her husband C.R. Hensman. Without their interest and encouragement I would probably not have gone into academic life. I would like to believe that I, too, have been in influence for good in the intellectual lives of students in Sri Lanka (where I taught for 11 years) and in Australia (where I have taught for 26 years). I hope, above all, that I have been successful (like the Hensmans) in passing on to students and readers my own love of literature and my commitment to it.”

Selected Bibliography

Works By Gooneratne

  • Gooneratne, Yasmine. A Change of Skies. Chippendale: Picador, 1991.
  • —. Alexander Pope. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  • —. Diverse Inheritance: A Personal Perspective on Commonwealth Literature. Adelaide, South Australia: Centre for Research in the New Literatures of English, 1980.
  • —. “In the East My Pleasure: A Postcolonial Love Story.”  SPAN 34-35 (1992-1993): 269-279.
  • —. Jane Austin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
  • —. Brendan Gooneratne and Yasmine Gooneratne. The Inscrutable Englishman:  Sir John D’Oyly, Baronet.  Cassell Academic, UK. 1999.
  • —.Masterpiece and Other Stories. New Dehli: Indialog Publications, 2002.
  • —. Mount Lavinia, the Governor’s Palace. Colombo: Paradise Isle Publication, 2006.
  • —. The Lizard’s Cry and Other Poems. Kandy: self published, 1972.
  • —. The Pleasures of Conquest. Milsons Point: Vintage, 1996.
  • —. “Navaranjini Takes Note of Signs and Visions.” Wilder Shores: Women’s Travel Stories of Australia and Beyond. Ed. Robin Lucas and Clare Foster. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1992. 36-41.
  • —. New Ceylon Writing (1973) — journal edited by Gooneratne
  • —. Poems from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, & Singapore.  Hong Kong: Heinemann Asia, 1979.
  • —. Relative Merits: A personal memoir of the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst & Co, 1986-1987.
  • —. Silence, Exile and Cunning: The Fiction Ruther Prawer Jhabvala. New Dehli: Orient Longman, 1983.
  • —. The Sweet and Simple Kind. Colombo: Perera Hussein Publishing House, 2006.
  • —. Stories from Sri Lanka.  Hong Kong: Heinemann Asia, 1979.
  • —. Word, Bird, Motif: Poems. Kandy: T.B.S. Godamunne and Sons, 1971.
  • —. 6,000 Ft. Death Dive. Colombo: Swadeshi Printers, 1981.

Selected Criticism and Autobiography by Gooneratne

  • —.Gooneratne, Yasmine. Relative Merits: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst, 1986.
  • —. “Flowering, Finally in Alien Soil.” Weekend Australian Magazine 22-23 October 1988: 9.
  • —. “Why I Write.” Kunapipi 16.1 (1994): 166-167.
  • –. “Constructing the Characters of Women in A Change of Skies.” Australian Women’s Book Review 4.3 (1992): 13-15.
  • —. “Asian Culture and Asian Identity.” Hecate 22.2 (1996): 49-55.
  • —. “A Lady of the Enlightenment: Dona Isabella Cornelia Perumal of Sri Lanka.” Symbolism: An International Journal of Critical Aesthetics. 1 (2000) 121-43.
  • —. “First Encounter.”  CRNLE Journal, 2000. 42-48.
  • —. “Leonard Woolf in Ceylon, 1904-1911.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 39:3 (Sept 2004), 1-3.
  • —. “Truth’ and ‘Fiction’ in South Asian Literature”. The Wider Scope of English. ed. Grabes, Herbert and Viereck, Wolfgang.  Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang; 2006. pp. 1-16
  • —. “Lone Woolf”. Virginia Woolf Miscellany. 72 (Fall-Winter 2007) 19-20.

Selected Criticism about Gooneratne

  • Gooneratne, Yasmine. Bramston, Dorothy. “A Sri Lanka Writer in Australia:  Yasmine Gooneratne’s A Change of Skies.” New Literatures Review 31 (1996): 19-32.
  • —. de Kretser, Michelle. “The Shock of the New.”  Australian Women’s Book Review 3.4 (1991): 10-11. [A Change of Skies]
  • —. Gunew, Sneja. “Resident Aliens: Diasporic Women’s Writing.” Contemporary Women’s Writing.  3: 1 (June 2009) 28-46.
  • —. Khan, Adib. “Shadows of Imperfection”. Meanjin 55.2 (1996): 358-361. [Pleasures of Conquest]
  • —.Perera, Walter. “The Phases and Guises of the Twentieth-Century Sri Lankan Expatriate Novel.” CRNLE Journal. 2000, 52-60.
  • —. Moore, Susan. “A Sri Lankan Memoir”. Quadrant 30.11 (1986): 117-119.
  • —. Wijewardene, Sherma. “A Private Vision: The Inward Space of Women’s Creativity in Yasmine Gooneratne’s Writing.” Wasafiri: The Transnational Journal of International Writing, 41 ( Spring 2004), 54-57.


Related Sites

Author: Shelly Kaushal, Fall 1998
Last edited: June 2012

Harris, Wilson


A Guyanese of Amerindian, African, European, and possibly Asian descent (Harris 1999: 237), Wilson Harris was born in New Amsterdam, Guyana (then and up until 1966 British Guiana) on March 24th, 1921. Having been educated at Queen’s College in the nation’s capital of Georgetown, he went on to become a government surveyor employed in mapping the country’s interior, specifically along their major rivers (see map below this text).

Harris emigrated to England in 1959. His academic career has since taken him to various corners of the globe. He has held positions teaching creative writing at the University of Texas in Austin, the University of California in Santa Cruz, as well as in Australia. He has been honored with numerous awards including the most recent 2010 knighting by Queen Elizabeth II.


The Guyana Quartet, 1985.

The Guyana Quartet, 1985

Harris started his writing career as a poet, publishing two volumes of verse before his departure to London, Fetish (1951) and Eternity to Season (1954), as well as numerous poems published separately in Guyana’s literary journal Kyk-over-al, among them “The Sun: Fourteen Poems in a Cycle” (1955). His novels, the genre in which Harris has been most prolific, can roughly be divided into five main phases (James 1999). His experience as a surveyor, although present in nearly all his writing, was to show most prominently in the first of these phases, which comprises his novels Palace of the Peacock (1960), The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962), and The Secret Ladder (1963) — collectively referred to as The Guyana Quartet. Using the landscape of Guyana as a backdrop (which is nevertheless intricately interwoven with the narrative), these works draw on the country’s multiethnic heritage as a reservoir for reconciliation and achieving an awareness of the interconnected fates of everyone affected by colonialism. Often introducing characters symbolic of a particular segment of society, the novels thrust these characters into situations of heightened physical and spiritual danger, during which they are made to realize their common plight. Working metaphorically by juxtaposing the country’s exterior (the coast) to its interior (the hinterland, the rainforest), Harris stages a “voyage in” which emphasizes the role of the unconscious in overcoming the legacies of colonialism.

Following Heartland (1964), which reevaluates some of the themes and characters of the Quartet, Harris published a number of novels which take his use of imagination as a tool for liberation one step further. Beginning with The Eye of the Scarecrow (1965), Harris started to depict psychological impairments, such as the loss of memory or nervous breakdowns, induced by accidents symbolically linked to colonialism, as creating a void which can (and must) be filled by the imagination (The Waiting Room (1967), Tumatumari (1968), and Ascent to Omai (1970), all fall into this loose category). This step places a visionary view of the world on an equal level with a “factual” appraisal of “reality,” thus questioning the ordering principles imposed by that reality. In a place as severely affected by colonialism as the Caribbean, such a stance is of particular importance, as it stresses the role of the writer in healing the impacts of colonialism.

Black Marsden (1972) initiates a set of novels that shift the setting to places outside of Guyana and adopt a comparative perspective which helps Harris to generalize some of his observations about the conflicts he had explored in his earlier fiction. Set in Scotland, Black Marsden (which is subtitled A Tabula Rasa Comedy, hinting at the author’s more playful way of addressing some of his issues) integrates the arts of theater (in the plot) and painting (in the theme ? there are bleak physical as well as psychological landscapes through which the characters are made to wander) into the novel form. Companions of the Day and Night (1975) continues Marsden, concentrating on a different main character. Another two-volume set of novels in this phase is DaSilva daSilva’s Cultivated Wilderness (1977) and The Tree of the Sun (1978), in which the character DaSilva makes a return as a painter from Harris’s first novel, Palace of the Peacock.

The last of the somewhat unified cycles of fiction by Wilson Harris is represented by his Carnival Trilogy, comprised of the novels Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990). Playing on carnival’s subversive potential in reenacting received traditions, these novels are rewritings, respectively,of Dante’s Paradiso, Goethe’s Faust, and Homer’s Odyssey. Apart from alluding to these three representative pieces of the Western literary canon, the trilogy also addresses the role of science. In passages reminiscent (in effect, if not in style) of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Harris shows how in an age of rapidly shifting analytical paradigms in the realm of science, this realm has moved ever closer qualitatively to the realm of traditional storytelling and one of its major protagonists, the Anancy trickster figure.

Harris’s most recent works, Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993) and Jonestown (1996) are again invoking the Guyanese landscape as a metaphor of the seemingly impenetrable psyche of its protagonists. As in the Guyana Quartet, however, there is a “voyage in” which does engage with the overwhelming sense of alienation created by the jungle (and, implicitly,by colonial rule) in a very creative manner. These two works are more global in outlook than the Quartet, however, in that they address manifestations of hierarchical systems which are epitomized by, but not endemic to, colonialism. Resurrection at Sorrow Hill counters the structuring mechanisms of surveillance instituted by the prison system (as described by Foucault 1979) as well as by the mental asylum (see Foucault 1973) by ascribing a regenerative quality to the “madness” of its main protagonist (adequately named “Hope”) which in turn is needed to overcome the madness of the “real world.” Another form of “madness,” namely religious fanaticism, is addressed in Jonestown.

The Cross-Cultural Imagination

Wilson Harris’s work stands out among Caribbean writers as arguably the most radically inclusive body of writing produced in the region. As any writer from a colonized country writing in the postcolonial era, Wilson Harris has had to address the effects of colonization on the society which provided the source for his creative project. Harris has been interested in showing that the process of colonization affects both sides of the colonial divide,a point made very clearly by his Barbadian colleague Edward Brathwaite with regard to the working of language (Brathwaite 1971). It is important to note, however, that Brathwaite, in analyzing Creole Society in Jamaica, erected a division of Afro – vs. Euro-Creole, thus disavowing the influence of other ethnic groups on the development of the culture; Harris’s efforts at integrating all groups which make up Caribbean, and Guyanese society in particular, into his writings stand out among Caribbean writers, especially in so far as he explicitly makes reference to the Amerindian heritage of the region.

Harris uses the coincidence of mythical figures of both the African and the Amerindian oral traditions, such as Anancy the spider, to propose his concept of a “cross-cultural imagination.” The link between African and Amerindian myth is seen by Harris as a consequence of the Middle Passage, creating a “limbo gateway” (“History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas,” 152-166 in Harris 1999) through which a new imagination can emerge. By invoking the limbo dance as a metaphor, Harris insists that this new imagination only comes about as the result of a painful, yet fruitful, interaction between not only the African and Amerindian, but also the European cultures. The imagination, in the Caribbean setting, is seen to progress in a singular fashion, from cramp to growth.

Harris also relies on Amerindian mythical representations of nature as carriers of his central messages. This reliance is grounded in a belief that “one cannot […] colonize the unconscious” (Rowell 1995: 192) – Frantz Fanon would of course vehemently disagree).

A professed devotee of Carl Gustav Jung, Wilson Harris has expressed his admiration for the philosopher’s concept of a collective unconscious. However, it has been his aim to expand this idea so that it may include the forces of nature as well as the inanimate world. Harris’s alternative term for this phenomenon is the “universal unconscious” (Kutzinski 1995:20). This has been a central ingredient in his challenging of colonial rule by way of enabling the imagination to effect liberation from confining epistemological boundaries which neatly separate human consciousness from its surroundings.

In keeping with this approach, Harris has also repeatedly rejected realism as a mode of artistic expression. Asserting that “[t]here’s a sense in which realism weds us to Death,” (Rowell 1995: 194) Harris valorizes the unconscious as providing of a gateway that enables a reinsciption of reality as preconceived by colonial discourse.

Aesthetic Concerns

One of the most prolific writers of our time, Wilson Harris has not only consistently worked in different genres, but has likewise brought them into conversation with one another and thus blurred the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Hence, many of his essays display an uncompromisingly poetic style, while his novels are interspersed with passages which could easily pass for pieces of literary and cultural criticism. This convergence is so complete that, in fact, Harris explicitly quotes himself in his writings in key passages.

The rejection of dichotomies in the aesthetic realm is symbolic of his rejection of the same dichotomies in the political sphere, pertaining to colonialism. While indicting the colonial project and its repercussions (on the psyche in particular), Harris nevertheless takes great care in emphasizing the effects of this process on both colonizer and colonized,which makes it possible for him to gesture towards an inclusive vision of reconciliation that transcends “the cult of revenge” (Resurrection at Sorrow Hill, 107).

Works by Wilson Harris

This bibliography is restricted to Harris’s major works of fiction and criticism. An extensive listing of primary and secondary sources (including all of Harris’s early writing) is available at http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/harris/

  • Harris, Wilson. The Age of the Rainmakers. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.
  • —. The Angel at the Gate. London: Faber and Faber, 1982.
  • —. Ascent to Omai. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.
  • —. Black Marsden. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.
  • —. Carnival. London: Faber and Faber, 1985.
  • —. The Carnival Trilogy. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.
  • —. Companions of the Day and Night. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.
  • —. DaSilva daSilva’s Cultivated Wilderness and Genesis of the Clowns. London: Faber and Faber, 1977.
  • —. The Eye of the Scarecrow. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.
  • —. The Far Journey of Oudin. London: Faber and Faber, 1961.
  • —. The Four Banks of the River of Space. London: Faber and Faber,1990.
  • —. The Guyana Quartet. London: Faber and Faber, 1985.
  • —. Heartland. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.
  • —. The Infinite Rehearsal. London: Faber and Faber, 1987.
  • —. Jonestown. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.
  • —. Palace of the Peacock. London: Faber and Faber, 1960.
  • —. Resurrection at Sorrow Hill. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.
  • —. The Secret Ladder. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
  • —. The Sleepers of Roraima: A Carib Trilogy. London: Faber andFaber, 1970.
  • —. The Tree of the Sun. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.
  • —. Tumatumari. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
  • —. The Waiting Room. London: Faber and Faber, 1967.
  • —. The Whole Armour. London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

Critical Writings

  • Harris, Wilson. Explorations: A Selection of Talks and Articles, 1966-1981.ed. by Hena Maes-Jelinek. Mundelstrup: Dangaroo Press, 1981.
  • —. Fossil and Psyche. Austin: African and Afro-American Studies and Research Center, University of Texas, 1974.
  • —. Tradition, the Writer, and Society: Critical Essays. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1967.
  • —. History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and the Guianas (Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures). Georgetown: National —. History and Arts Council,  1970; rev. and updated ed. Wellesley: Calaloux, 1995.
  • —. Selected Essays of Wilson Harris: The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination. Ed. by A.J.M. Bundy. New York: Routledge,1999.
  • —. The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination. London:  Greenwood Press, 1983.


  • Harris, Wilson. Eternity to Season. Georgetown: published privately, 1954; rpt. London: New Beacon  Books, 1978.
  • —. Fetish. Guyana: Miniature Poets Series, 1951.
  • —. “The Muse on the Trail,” New World (Guyana Independence Issue, 1966),45.
  • —. “The Winter Christ,” Three Poems, Temenos Academy Review, 2 (Spring 1999), 46-49.

Selected Bibliography

  • Drake, Sandra F. (1986). Wilson Harris and the Modern Tradition: A New Architecture  of the World. New York: Greenwood Press.
  • Durrant, Sam. Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J. M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison.  Albany, NY: State U of New York P; 2003.
  • Maes-Jelinek, Hena (1991). “’Numinous Proportions’: Wilson Harris’s Alternative to All  Posts’.” Adam, Ian and Tiffin, Heken (eds.). Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post- Colonialism and Post-Modernism. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 47-64.
  • McDougall, Russell (1998). “Walter Roth, Wilson Harris, and a Caribbean/Postcolonial Theory of Modernism.” University of Toronto Quarterly 67(2): 567-591.
  • Gilkes, Michael (ed.) (1989). The Literate Imagination: Essays on the Novels of Wilson  Harris. London: Macmillan.
  • Webb, Barbara J. (1992). Myth and History in Caribbean Fiction: Alejo Carpentier,  Wilson Harris, and Edouard Glissant. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Special Issues

  • Callaloo 18:1 (1995)
  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction 17:2 (1997).

Author: Christian Wolff, Spring 2000
Last edited: June 2012

Damas, Léon


Pigments, 1937.

Pigments, 1937

Léon-Gontran Damas was born in Cayenne, French Guiana in 1912 to a middle-class family. His father was of European and African descent and there was Amerindian and African ancestry on his mother’s side of the family. Young Damas received his primary education in Cayenne, but he later moved to Martinique and attended Lycée Schoelcher there. At Lycée (French secondary school financed by the government) he shared philosophy classes with young Aimé Césaire and the two started what would become a lifelong friendship.

From Martinque, Damas moved on to France where he sought higher education. As a young college student he pursued studies in law to please his parents, but he also satisfied his own interests by taking courses in anthropology and developing a keen fascination in radical politics.  Once his parents heard of his new interests and activities, they cut him off financially and Damas was forced to take on a variety of odd jobs in order to support himself. He eventually acquired a scholarship to finance his studies.

While a student in Paris he teamed up with Cesaire and Sengalese Leopold Senghor to create the foundations for what is now known as the Negritude Movement. The trio created the literary review L’etudiant noir (The Black Student), which was the forerunner of the movement, and Damas was the first of the triumvirate to publish a volume of poetry, Pigments.

Damas served briefly in the French Army in the Second World War, and like his comrades Cesaire and Senghor, he also held political office. He served in the French assembly (1945-1951) as deputy from Guiana, but was not elected for a second term. After his stint in politics he joined the French Overseas Radio Service. Damas also worked for UNESCO, traveling and lecturing widely in Africa, the USA, Haiti and Brazil. Additionally, he served as contributing editor of Prèsence Africaine, one of the most respected journals of Black studies, and as senior adviser to the Society of African Culture.

In 1970 Damas and his wife Mrs. Marietta Campos Damas, a Brazilian, moved to Washington DC. He accepted a summer teaching position at Georgetown University and also taught at Federal City College. Damas later became a professor at Howard University and was named the Acting Director of the university’s African Studies and Research Program. Damas remained at that prestigious institution and was Professor of African Literature at Howard University at the time of his death. He died in January of 1978 and was interred in his home country, French Guiana.

Damas and the Negritude Movement

In 1934 Cesaire, Senghor and Damas founded L’etudiant noir (The Black Student), a publication that aimed to break down the nationalistic barriers that had existed among Black students in France. Damas himself called L’etudiant noir “a fighting and unifying body” (Warner 13).  It was greatly influenced by a previous journal called Légitime Défense, which was published in 1932 by a group of Martinican students and quickly suppressed because of the politics it espoused. L’etudiant noir picked up where this previous publication left off and expanded the focus from politics to culture. Many critics consider the creation of L’etudiant noir as the beginning of the Negritude movement.

Damas was the first of the 3 founders of the Negritude to publish his own book of poems. This volume, Pigments, has been termed the “manifesto of the movement” (Warner 25), and every work of Negritude published thereafter is said to have been influenced by it. The word “negritude” was actually coined by Cesaire and it was first published in his “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” in 1938. The demise of L’etudiant noir in 1940 marked the first phase of the Negritude Movement.


Damas’ poetry is said to differ greatly from that of the other two forerunners of the Negritude Movement. Once source declares that Damas’ “cryptic style is quite different from the ‘rich drapery’ of Senghor’s verse, or the extended explosions of Césaire’s” (Kennedy 43). His style has also been described as blunt and cryptic. It is marked by staccato rhythms, plain language, and vivid images. Some of the stylistic devices often employed in his poetry include alliteration, repetition and enumeration. An example of Damas’s writing which illustrates some of these characteristics is the following excerpt from “They Came That Night”:

How many of ME ME ME
Have died
Since they came that night when the
To rhythm
The frenzy
Of eyes
The frenzy
Of hands
The frenzy
Of statue feet

Damas’s work is significantly influenced by the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, the ideas of French surrealism, and the rhythms and tunes of African American blues and jazz. Damas himself has also commented that in his poems one can “find rhythm” (Warner 24), that his poems “can be danced and they can be sung” (24). One critic also contends that Damas’ poetry contains many elements of Caribbean calypso such as the call/response technique, “the relating of personal experience, the ironic twists, the refrain, the tongue-in-cheek ending” (149).  These features are particularly evident in one of Damas’ more popular works, “Hoquet”/ “Hicupps”. Themes that have spanned Damas’s writing include the divided self, exile and return, racial identification and solidarity, and to some extent, love.

Works by Léon-Gontran Damas

  • Damas, Léon. Pigments. Paris: Guy Lévis Mano, 1937.
  • —. Retour de Guyane.  Paris: José Corti, 1938.
  • —. Poèmes nègres sur des airs Africains. Paris: Guy Lévis Mano, 1948.
  • —. Graffiti. Paris: Seghers, 1952.
  • —. Black-Label. Paris: Gallimard, 1956.
  • —. Nèvralgies. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1966.
  • —. Veillès noires. Ottowa: Leméac, 1972.

Works Cited

  • Finn, Julio.  Voices of Negritude.  London: Quartet Books, 1988.
  • Kennedy, Ellen Conroy, ed.  The Negritude Poets: An Anthology of Translations from the French.  New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1989.
  • Shapiro, Norman, ed. and trans.  Négritude: Black Poetry from Africa and the Caribbean.  New York: October House Inc, 1970.
  • Warner, Keith Q, ed. Critical Perspectives on Leon Gontran Damas.  Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1988.

Author: Rochelle M. Smith, Fall 2001
Last edited: May 2012


Boland, Eavan


Image of Eavan Boland

Image by Copynoir/CC Licensed

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin in 1944 and lived in Ireland until she was six years old. At the age of six, she and her family moved to London, where Boland had her first experiences of anti-Irish sentiment. Dealing with this hostility strengthened Boland’s identification with her Irish heritage. She speaks of this time in her poem “An Irish Childhood in England: 1951.”

I came to in nineteen fifty-one:
barely-gelled, a freckled six-year-old,
overdressed and sick on the plane,
when all of England to an Irish child
was nothing more than what you’d lost and how:
was the teacher in the London convent who,
when I pronounced “I amn’t” in the classroom
turned and said– “you’re not in Ireland now.” (Outside History 107)

She later returned to Dublin to attend school and self-published a pamphlet of poetry (23 Poems) after her graduation. Boland received her BA from Trinity College, Dublin in 1966. Since that time she has held numerous teaching positions and published poetry, books, and journal articles. Boland married in 1969 and has two children. Her experiences as a wife and mother have influenced her to write about the beauty and importance of the common: “I was there with two small children in a house and I could see what was potent and splendid and powerful happening every day in front of me and I wanted to express that.” (Contemporary Authors 1997)

The Works

Through her writing of things common, Boland attempts to give value to experiences which many women share. She believes that the poetic tradition’s disregard for these experiences, which are valued by women, leads to a devaluation of women themselves (Reizbaum 473). She writes from the standpoint of someone who is doubly oppressed, by her gender and by her nationality, and yet her work embraces these identities (Reizbaum 475). Reading her poetry requires an understanding of the history of Ireland and its relationship to England. In addition, she refers to the primarily male poetic tradition of Ireland and her attempts to make a place for herself within the tradition. Another key to understanding Boland’s writing is knowledge of the myths which she incorporates, primarily the myths of Daphne and Ceres.

Works by Eavan Boland

Book cover of An Origin Like Water, 1997.

An Origin Like Water, 1997

  • Boland, Eavan. 23 Poems. Dublin: Gallagher, 1962.
  • —. In Her Own Image. Dublin: Arlen House, 1980.
  • —. Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980-1990. New York: Norton, 1990.
  • —. In a Time of Violence. New York: Norton, 1994.
  • —. An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems, 1967-1987. New York: Norton, 1996.
  • —. The Lost Land. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1998.
  • —. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Ed. Eavan Boland and Mark Strand. New York: Norton, 2000.
  • —. Against Love Poetry. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • —. Code. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2001.
  • —. Three Irish Poets: An Anthology: Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Mary O’Malley. Ed. Eavan Boland. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2003.
  • —. After Every War: Twentieth-Century Women Poets. Trans. Eavan Boland. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • —. New Collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2005.
  • —. Domestic Violence. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2007.
  • —. Irish Writers on Writing. Ed. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2007.
  • —. Selected Poems by Charlotte Mew. Ed. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2008.
  • —. New Collected Poems. New York: Norton, 2008.
  • —. The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology. Ed. with Edward Hirsch. New York: Norton, 2008.
  • —. A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming A Woman Poet. (prose essays) Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011.


  • Boland, Eavan and Michael MacLiammoir. W.B. Yeats and His World. London: Thames, 1971.
  • Boland, Eavan. Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. New York: Norton, 1995.


  • Boland, Eavan. “Writing the Political Poem in Ireland.” The Southern Review 31.3 (1995): 485-98.
  • —. “The Woman, the Place, the Poet.” The Georgia Review 44.1-2(1990): 97-109.

About Eavan Boland

  • Brown, Susan. “A Victorian Sappho: Agency, Identity and the Politics of Poetics.” English Studies in Canada 20.2 (1994): 205-25.
  • “Boland, Eavan (Aisling).” Contemporary Authors. Gale Research.  2 November 1997 <http://galenet.gale.com>.
  • Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle. “Eavan Boland.” Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996. 59-90.
  • Raschke, Debrah. “Eavan Boland’s Outside History and In a Time of Violence: Rescuing Women, the Concrete, and Other Things Physical from the Dung Heap.” Colby Quarterly 32.2 (1996): 135-42.
  • Reizbaum, Marilyn. “An Interview with Eavan Boland.” Contemporary Literature 30.4 (1989): 471-79.

Related Sites

W. B. Yeats and Postcolonialism

Author: Leslie Crow, Fall 1997
Last edited: April 2012

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni picture

Image by Dying Fall/CC Licensed

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, and her writing has been included in over 30 anthologies.

She was born in India in 1956 and lived there until 1976, when, at age nineteen,  she left Calcutta and came to the United States. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall, slicing Jell-O and removing dishes from the dishwasher. She briefly lived in Chicago and Ohio before she settled in Sunnydale, California in 1979. She currently lives in Houston, Texas and teaches at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Since 1991, she has been the president of MAITRI, a helpline for South Asian women that particularly helps victims of domestic violence and other abusive situations. She is also involved with Pratham, a non-profit that seeks to improve literacy among disadvantaged Indian children. She has said that the one word which would describe her is “enthusiastic” and she that she is motivated to be excellent in her field and to create literary art of lasting value (qtd in “Profiles”). She sees herself as “a listener, a facilitator, a connector to people,” and, “to me, the art of dissolving boundaries is what living is all about” (“Dissolving” 2).

Major Themes

Arranged Marriage book cover

Arranged Marriage, 1996

Much of Divakaruni’s work is partially autobiographical. Most of her stories are set in the Bay Area of California. She is is invested in writing about the immigrant experience, which continues to have resonance in today’s world. Her book, Arranged Marriage, is a collection of short stories about women from India caught between two worlds. In The Mistress of Spices, the character Tilo provides spices, not only for cooking, but also for the feelings of homesickness and alienation that the Indian immigrants in her shop experience (Softky 1997). She writes to unite people by destroying myths and stereotypes. As she breaks down these myths and stereotypes, she dissolves boundaries between people of different backgrounds, communities, ages, and even different worlds.  She says, “Women in particular respond to my work because I’m writing about them, women in love, in difficulties, women in relationships. I want people to relate to my characters, to feel their joy and pain, because it will be harder to [be] prejudiced when they meet them in real life” (qtd. in Softky). Divakaruni’s interest in women began after she left India, at which point she reevaluated the treatment of women there. At Berkeley, she volunteered at a women’s center and became interested in helping battered women. She then started MAITRI with a group of friends, which eventually led her to write Arranged Marriage.

Arranged Marriage and her novel, The Mistress of Spices, are both highly acclaimed works. In Arranged Marriage, Divakaruni beautifully tells stories about immigrant brides who are “both liberated and trapped by cultural changes” and who are struggling to carve out an identity of their own (Holt 1).  In one story, “Doors,” the character Preeti, after moving to the United States, has come to love the Western idea of privacy. She faces a dilemma when her husband’s cousin wants to come live with them. She expresses her discontent with the situation and thus demonstrates her new found decisiveness and resistance to her husband’s view of a traditional Indian wife. In another story, “Clothes,” the husband of the narrator, Sumita, dies and she is faced with the decision of staying in America or going back to India to live with her in-laws. Sumita calls widows who are serving their in-laws in India “doves with cutoff wings.” Divakaruni deals with a variety of issues in the book, including racism, interracial relationships, economic disparity, abortion, and divorce. She says that the stories are inspired by her imagination and the experiences of others (Mehta 4).

Mistress of Spices book cover

Mistress of Spices, 1998

The Mistress of Spices is unique in that it is written with a blend of prose and poetry. The book has a very mystical quality to it, and, as Divakaruni puts it, “I wrote in a spirit of play, collapsing the divisions between the realistic world of twentieth century America and the timeless one of myth and magic in my attempt to create a modern fable.” (“Dissolving” 2). The novel follows Tilo, a magical figure who runs a grocery store and uses spices to help the customers overcome difficulties. In the process, she develops dilemmas of her own when she falls in love with a non-Indian. This creates great conflicts, as she has to choose whether to serve her people or to follow the path leading to her own happiness. Tilo has to decide which parts of her heritage she will keep and which parts she will chose to abandon. The novel was later made into a movie of the same name in 2005.

Divakaruni’s novel, Sister of My Heart is about the lives of two women and how they change marriage as one woman comes to California, and the other stays behind in India.  The Vine of Desire (2002) continues the story of the two friends.  The Unknown Errors of Our Lives is a collection of stories “about family, culture, and the seduction of memory” (book jacket).

Chitra Divakaruni is the editor of Multitudes, an anthology she uses in her own classroom. She states about the book, “I didn’t want to sacrifice quality, and [the stories] focus on problem solving, not just how terrible things are” (qtd. in Softky). The anthology includes stories about communication styles across cultures, expectations of friendships, the Los Angeles riots, and prejudice against gay people. The book contains works by a variety of authors, and some are even by her own students.

Before she began her career in fiction-writing, Divakaruni was an acclaimed poet. She writes poems encompassing a wide variety of themes, and she once again directs much focus to the immigrant experience and to South Asian women. She shows the experiences and struggles involved in women trying to find their own identities. Divakaruni’s latest collection, Leaving Yuba City, is unique because it includes series of poems based on and inspired by various art forms, including paintings by Francesco Clemente, photographs by Raghubir Singh, and specific Indian films, such as “Salaam Bombay”. With these poems, Divakaruni once again shows how boundaries can be destroyed. Her verse illustrates how different art forms are not independent entities, but how they can, in fact, influence each other. The following is a poem from Black Candle, which contains poems about women from the India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The Arranged Marriage

The night is airless-still, as
before a storm. Behind the wedding drums,
cries of jackals from the burning grounds.
The canopy gleams, color
of long life, many children.
Color of bride-blood. At the entrance
the women have painted a sign
of Laxmi, goddess of wealth, have put up
a blackened pot to ward off
the witch who lives beyond
the Sheora forest and eats
young flesh.
Guests from three villages
jostle, making marriage jokes. A long
conch blast for the groom’s party,
men in dhotis white as ice. Someone runs to them
with water of rose, silvered betal leaves,
piled garlands from which rise
the acrid smell of marigolds.
The priests confer, arrange wood and incense
for the wedding fire. The chants begin.
Through smoke, the stars
are red pinpricks, the women’s voices
almost a wailing. Uncles and brothers
carry in the bride, her face hidden
under an edge of scarlet silk, her trembling
under the wedding jewels.
The groom’s father
produces his scales and in clenched silence
the dowry gold is weighed. But he smiles
and all is well again. Now it is godhuli,
the time of the auspicious seeing.
Time for you, bride of sixteen,
mother, to raise the tear-stained face
that I will learn so well,
to look for the first time into
your husband’s opaque eyes (14-15).

Major Works


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Dark Like the River (1987)
  • —. The Reason for Nasturtiums (1990)
  • —. Black Candle (1991)
  • —. Leaving Yuba City (1997)


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Arranged Marriage: Stories. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.
  • —.  The Mistress of Spices. New York. Anchor Books, 1997.
  • —. Sister of My Heart. New York: Anchor Books, 1999.
  • —. The Unknown Errors of our Lives . New York: Doubleday, 2001.
  • —. Neela: Victory Song. Middleton: Pleasant Company, 2002.
  • —. The Vine of Desire. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
  • —. The Conch Bearer. Book One of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2003.
  • —. Queen of Dreams. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
  • —. The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming: Book Two of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2005.
  • —. The Palace of Illusions: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
  • —. Shadowland: Book Three of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009.
  • —. One Amazing Thing. New York: Hyperion, 2010.


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Multitude: cross-cultural anthology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.
  • —. We Too Sing America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
  • —. California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2004.

Awards and Honors

1995: The American Book Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories
1997: The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize for poems in Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems
1997: Mistress of Spices shortlisted for The Orange Prize
1997: Los Angeles Times Best Books of 1997 for Mistress of Spices
1998: Seattle Times Best Paperbacks of 1998 for Mistress of Spices
1999: “Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter” included in Best American Short Stories
2003: “The Lives of Strangers” included in O’Henry Prize Stories
2003: Pushcart Prize for “The Lives of Strangers”
2007: Distinguished Writer Award from the South Asian Literary Association
2008: University of California at Berkeley International House Alumna of the Year Award
2009: Cultural Jewel Award from the Indian Culture Center, Houston
PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories
Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction for Arranged Marriage: Stories
2011: Light of India Jury’s Award for Journalism and Literature

Selected Bibliography

  • Albert, Janice. “How now, my metal of India?” English Journal (Sept 1997): 99-100.
  • Divakaruni, Chitra. Black Candle. Corvallis: CALYX Books,1991.
  • —.”Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.” San Francisco Chronicle (24Dec 1995):  A10.
  • —. “Dissolving Boundaries.” (1997). Web. <http://headlines.entertainmentmarket.com/boldtype.divakaruni.article$597>
  • Holt, Patricia. “Women feel tug of two cultures.” San Francisco Chronicle (1 Aug 1995):  E5.
  • Mehta, Julie. “Arranging One’s Life.” (1996). Web. <http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/10.03.96/books-9640.html>
  • “Profiles: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.” Web. <http://www.helloindia.com/profiles/profile.shtml>
  • Softky, Elizabeth. “Cross-cultural understanding spiced with the Indian Diaspora.” Black Issues in Higher Education (18 Sept 1997): 26+.

Related Sites

MAITRI homepage

Author: Nilu N. Patel, Spring 1998
Last edited: June 2012

Alvarez, Julia


Image of Julia Alvarez

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Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, her family moved to the Dominican Republic shortly after her birth, and it was there that she spent the majority of her childhood. In 1960, when Alvarez was ten years old, her family emigrated to the United States, fleeing the Dominican Republic because of Alvarez’s father’s involvement with an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. In New York, Alvarez received her education in boarding schools and realized while in high school that she wanted to pursue a career as a writer. In 1967, she began studying at Connecticut College; after two years, she transferred to Middlebury College where, in 1971, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree (summa cum laude). Alvarez also attended Syracuse University, from which she received her M.F.A. in 1975, and Bread Loaf School of English, where she took graduate courses in English and American literature.

In the years since 1975, Alvarez has held various positions. From 1975 until 1978, she served as a writer-in-residence for Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina schools. She has taught creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), University of Vermont (1981-83), and University of Illinois (1985-88). In 1984, she was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Having previously served as a professor at Middlebury College from 1988 to 1998, she is currently a writer-in-residence there.

Major Themes

Having spent the majority of her life in the United States, Alvarez considers herself an American, yet her writing bridges the realms of Latina and American culture. Her stories can often be traced to her Dominican roots, but they are flooded with insights about the human experience. She does not target her writing to a specific ethnic population; rather, she recognizes the similarities among all people and focuses her work in those commonalities. “I am a Dominican, hyphen, American,” she comments. “As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen–the place where two worlds collide or blend together” (Stavans 553). In her writing she strives to uncover the truths of human existence, truths that extend beyond any ethnic or gender barrier. In the words of Susan Miller, Alvarez “experiment[s] with the cross-fertilization of language and cultures” (77). Her works reflect the multiple identities she has assumed as a woman, a Latin American, and an American.

For Alvarez, writing serves several purposes. She says, “I write to find out what I’m thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things” (Requa 2). Her responsibility to the reader lies in the expression of herself, in the sharing of the insights she has gleaned in her life. In an interview, she quotes Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who says, “The writer’s not there to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly” (qtd. in Requa 2). Alvarez has done a tremendous job of stating the problem in her beautifully written novels. Through the captivating stories of her characters’ lives, she unveils such powerful issues as the male chauvinism characteristic of Hispanic families, the role of women under dictatorships, and the misogyny manifested in political structures (Stavans 555). Ilan Stavans describes Alvarez as daring “to turn the novel into a political artifact” (556).

Awards and Honors

Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize from Connecticut College, 1968 and 1969
Prize from Academy of American Poetry, 1974
Creative writing fellowship from Syracuse University, 1974-75
Kenan grant from Phillips Andover Academy, 1980
Poetry award from La Reina Press, 1982
Exhibition grant from Vermont Arts Council, 1984-85
Robert Frost Poetry fellowship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 1986
Third Woman Press Award, first prize in narrative, 1986
Award for younger writers from General Electric Foundation, 1986
Grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1987-88
Syndicated fiction prize from PEN, 1990
Grant from Ingram Merrill Foundation, 1990
Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland, 1991
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents selected as notable book by American Library Association, 1992
selected as notable book by the American Library Association, 1998
Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, 2002
Belpre Medal for Before We Were Free, 2004
Belpre Medal for Return to Sender, 2010

Works by Julia Alvarez

Fiction & Other Work

  • —. Before We Were Free. New York: Knopf, 2002.
  • —. A Cafecito Story. White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2001.
  • —. Finding Miracles. New York: Knopf, 2004.
  • —. Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. New York: Knopf, 2005.
  • —. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
  • —. How Tia Lola Came to visit Stay. New York: Knopf, 2001.
  • —. How Tia Lola Learned to Teach. New York: Knopf, 2010.
  • —. How Tía Lola Saved the Summer. New York: Knopf, 2011.
  • —. In the Name of Salomé, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000.
  • —. In the Time of Butterflies. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
  • —. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. New York: Penguin, 2007.
  • —. Return to Sender. New York: Knopf, 2009.
  • —. Saving the World. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006.
  • —. The Secret Footprint. New York: Knopf, 2001.
  • —. Something to Declare. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998.
  • —. Yo! Plume, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.


  • —. Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1984.
  • —. The Housekeeping Book. Burlington: CES MacDonald, 1984.
  • —. Old Age Ain’t for Sissies. Ed. Sanford: Crane’s Creek Press, 1979.
  • —. The Other Side/El Otro Lado. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.
  • —. Seven Trees. Cambridge, MA: Kat Ran Press, 1998.
  • —. The Woman I Kept to Myself. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004; 2011.

Selected Bibliography

  • Miller, Susan. “Family Spats, Urgent Prayer: Fiction: Celebrating the Strength of Latinas.” Newsweek (17 October 1994): 77.
  • Requa, Marny. “The Politics of Fiction.” Fronter Magazine (3 November 1997).
  • Stavans, Ilan. “Las Mariposas.” Nation (7 November 1994): 552-6.
  • Venegas, Margarita. “Ethnic Roots, Love of Storytelling Fill Novels of Julia Alvarez.” Creative Loafing Online (21 March 1997).

Author: Susan Walker, Fall 1997
Last edited: March 2012