In the 1970s, Professor Williams began publishing some of the early studies
on modern women writers in Colombia. His interview with Albalucia Angel
and Fanny Buitrago (LATIN AMERICAN LITERARY REVIEW,Spring,
1976), served as an introduction to these writers to many readers and critics
outside of Colombia. Studies on Angel, Buitrago, the nineteenth century
pioneer Soledad Acosta de Samper and other women writers appear in
his books UNA DECADA DE LA NOVELA COLOMBIANA, THE
COLOMBIAN NOVELS, and other venues. The following is an introduction
to the work of three women writers of the 1980s, originally published in the
volume THE NOVEL IN THE AMERICAS
Latin American Women Writers: Yesterday and
Latin American Literary Review, 1977.
An Interview with Women Writers in Colombia
By Raymond L. Williams
University of Kansas
The International Women's Year was precisely thet, the year of the woman, in
reference to recent Colombian fiction. The young Colombian novelist Albalucía
Angel gained national attention in the land of García Márquez
and Mejía Vallejo by winning the award sponsored by the magazine Vivencias
fot rhe best Colombian novel in 1975 with Estaba la pájara pinta sentada
en el verde limón. The title is based on a well known nursery rhyme,
translated into English as The Colored Bird Was Sitting on the Green Lemon Tree.
On the other hand, her young compatiot Fanny Buitrago had just won the national
contest for short story sponsored by El Tiempo.
These t wo writers from part of a new generation of young writers that follows García Márquez, which includes Gustavo Alvarez Gardeazabal, Héctor Sánchez, Benhur Sánchez, Oscar Collazos and Marco Tulio Aguilera Garramuño, among others. Fanny Buitrago was the most precocious of all, having published at the age of eighteen a novel about the youth of her generation El hostigante verano de los dioses [The Harrasing Summer of the Gods] in 1963, which scandalized a conservative readaing public in Colombia with its decadence and sexual candidness. Her second novel, Cola de zorro [The Fox's tail]. 1970, was a finalist for the Seix Barral Prize in 1968, and in it she exercices a now mature manipulation of narrative technique in a study of a family from various tempo-spatial levels. Albalucia Angel's fiction is also characterized by a progressive maturity from her first experiment. Los girasoles en invierno [Sunflowers in Winter]. 1970, to the more acomplished Dos veces Alicia [Alice Twice Over]. 1972, a game at several levels -with narrative technique, with distinct planes of reality, with the reader himself. Her most recent prize-winning novel is a study of the period of "the Violence" in Colombia which features the innovation that typifies this young generation of novelists.
Here the two foremost women writers in Colombia discuss their fiction, their "demons" as Mario Vargas Llosa calles them, and their situation in Colombia- problems like the "myth" of García Márquez in their country, and the fact that they are now influential intellectuals in a country where men have always dominated.
RLW: Why don't we start with this common interest in Lewis Carroll? I've noticed you both quote Carroll in your novels.
Angel: Lewis Carroll is an unforgettable childhood fantasy because Alice in Wonderland is one of the most fascinating aspects of childhood. When talking with people of my generation they have told me they were even afraid of Alice in Wonderland. I certainly wasn't afraid of it, but was fascinated, and when I went to England it happened to be the centennial of the publication of Alice Through the Looking Glass so I relived this English world of Lewis Carroll. They did a lot of publications and presented a beautiful special on T.V. with an extraordinary version of Alice and I was writing a novel at the time, so I included her as an element, once again; it was something fascinating, newly discovered.
Buitrago: I've always been a great reader of children stories, not only when I was young, but they still entertain me a lot. There are certain books I always turn to when I'm bored; one of them is Alice in Wonderland which I always have at hand. I really like it because it's a model to get away from the daily routine of writing.
RLW: But couldn't all this be considered a matter of simple escapism?
Angel: Lewis Carroll was a master of logic, and the escapism of Alice to the world of the illogical, the world of the mirror, was a totally real reflection for me. I didn't consider it escapism, but rather a "real invention" as Mario Vargas Llosa would say. It was my childhood truth; a reality. As Fanny says, it has served as a model and example for me, within this children's literature. Alice in Wonderland (or The Little Prince, also one of the first-rate books) just wasn't an escape from reality. I considered it very serious. That;s why I consider my novel Alice Twice Over a very serious game, emulating Caroll's system quite openly. I'm not so sure it's strictly for children.
Buitrago: Well, I do consider it a little escapist because Alice in Wonderland confronts me with my own childhood. I lied a lot as a child because, of course, I had a lot of imagination. I lived in a boarding school in a boring world, surroinded by boring people whom I didn't like, so most of the time I really lived in a fabricated world in which I liked to think I was Alice, living more in Wonderland than in the real world.
RLW: Would you call the youth in The Fox's Tail escapists?
Buitrago: The youth in The Fox's Tail are more than anything young Colombians. They live with one foot in reality and the other in escapism. They are in general a very tortured and very solitary youth.
RLW: Considering more of there "demons" of the past -we just can discuss "demons" in Colombia without necessarily bringing up the subject of García Márquez. Everyone here talks a great deal about the "big shadow" he has left for the young writers who are attempting to write in the country after the overwhelming popularity and success of One Hundred Years of Solitude. How do you confront this supposed problem?
Angel: It's indisputable that the world of Gabriel García Márquez, be clearly Colombian (and as Fannu says, this escape from reality that Colombia lives, with one foot in one part and the other in another) makes it amost impossible for a writer in this country to avoid being behind this fantastic universe. But it is reality too. I think a lot of writers have suffered Gabo's impact, not only in Colombia, but the rest of the world. Gabo's themes both hallucinating and hallucinative. For us, the hallucinated, it all see more normal. All of these stories are the ones we call "ol'ladies'stories." That are fabulously transcribed with Gabo's technique. The intereseting part is the literary procedure with which Gabo armed this unreality that is so much ours. Inevitably each of us has a part of this history that is quite similar. In my own case, the history of Pereira (Colombia) and the founding of my town could classified a Macondian saga. Each of us must translate this saga, each in our own language and his own style, which is difficult too, since each of us vulnerable to those "demons." First is the problem of the history, which ours and we all have in common, and second, the problem of copying the style and this irrefutable mastery with which Gabo was able to arm his story. And of writers don't make it, but I think that by starting from this base, the style of García Márquez, we can fabricate stories that are also Colombian, but with other styles and in other ways we'll start finding new outlooks. It's difficult because a master is a master, and I consider the influence of Gabo very benificiar, although many of us have had to work hard to go beyond it.
Buitrago: I think this "shadow" of Gabo, as Ray says, isn't so ominous except as seen by the critics and pseudocritics here in Colombia that before reading a book, start with the prejudice that the writer must necessarily be domesticated beforehand by the style of García Márquez. So what happens is that before a new writer even has time to get off the ground they immediately pigeonhole him as copying García Marquez's style, which in the majority of the cases is foolish because all of us in Colombia and America have the same roots, the same ancestors, the same history, and besides that, the same "demons." Gabo's technique is very Gabo, but nevertheless, one can apreciate the beginnings of this type of writing in writers like Fuenmayor and Rojas Herazo. It might be more valid to use the enviroment as a point of departure, not García Márquez. In my personal case these pseudocritics have done me great harm now I don't dare read García Márquez. I rrevocably no longer read him because I'm scared to death tomorrow or the day after I'll mix in some paragraph from García Márquez. So it upsets me terribly because I like reading him a lot.
RLW: I suppose that being women and at the same time beign intellectuals in this country- and successful intellectuals- you have confronted problems. Have you had, might we say, any reaction?
Angel: Yes, I've had a personal reaction of fear because the title here becomes quite grandiose and grandiose titles probably don't fit me very well. I would prefer being a writer, nothing more. That is, an intellectual to the extent that one is conscious of truly having a broad knowledge of history, life, and the profession- a broad knowledge that might help others.
Buitrago: Yes, I've confronted violent reactions, not only against my books, but against myself as a person. Everyone expects extraordinary things of a writer. They expect you to know about philosophy, about new literary tendencies, about gymnastics, economics, didacticism. All of this is completely absurd. Besides, in this case, one sees the tendency to think the writer has to be a kind of walking library, and in this country no one has been able to distinguish literature from reality. So they think you must necessarily have experienced what you write. If I write a violent love scene in a book, it is assummed I've experienced all this, and it happens I just haven't had time yet. What can we do? I haven't lived all these experiences- if I'm writing about an assassination, then supposedly I must have seen who knows how many assassinations. So everybody demands explanations. Everyone feels superior: a complete stranger on the street will harrass you, or insult you, or perhaps become overly friendly to you. Well, in the final analysis it's a little unpleasant being a woman writer in this country. It's best to go out only from time to time because otherwise they'll eat you alive.
RLW: Have you been particularly interested in women criters? Who are your feminine "demons"?
Angel: A lot. As far as the great demons of women's literature, the first and foremost one that has affected me is Virginia Woolf. After that come Natalie Sarraute, Christiane Rochefort and Ana María Matute. When I cas young the stories of Ana María Matute and Carmen Laforet impressed me a lot. I follow them: I follow them a lot. Also Susan Hill and Doris Lessing in England, and Elena Poniatowska and Silvina Bullrich. Yes, I have great feminine demons and I've always been interested in following this literature. I think it has a great strength. Is is called feminine literature, that is, written by women, but it doesn't have sex. Virginia Woolf, for example, demonstrated this great duality in her masterpice Orlando.
Buitrago: Well, Albalucia's answer has left me stunned because although am acquainted with most of those names, the only ones I really read are Virgina Woolf and Silvina Bullrich. I suppose I just haven't run across the other because my favorite writers are men.
RLW: Why haven't there been any women writers in the "boom"?
Angel: There haven't been any women writers in the boom because it hasn't occurred yet to any editor: they just haven't hit upon the idea.
Buitrago: I think it's a problem of a mafia. Among the writers there is a kind of very tight cord, not only abroad, but also in Colombia. These solid groups are formed that are always willing to support each other, but they don't consider it necessary to include women because of their machismo because they still operate on the basis that women are still just a little inferior. However, among other curiosities, Albalucia Angel, sitting there, and Fanny Buitrago, sitting here, dispelled this myth in Colombia because the two most important recen literary prizes were won by women: last year I won the short story prize and now Albalucia has won the novel, defying all those who call themselves writers in this country. So I think we can begin to fight the myth now. We just have to start breaking it down, just as we broke down the idea that masculine writers had to win the literary prizes because they were the only ones that knew about literature, because they were the big names, because they were "heavy", without realizing that the writers doesn't have a sex.
RLW: Is Colombia machista?
Angel: I think so.
RLW: How is it expressed?
Angel: On numerous levels. Colombia is machista, but in the last few years I've been surprised to see the women occupying key posts in several areas. She can now be a minister, a governor, or a director of a museum. I've seen a great advance in the last ten years. So despite the fact that men continue being machista, and despite the fact that they continue laughing at all these ols ladies who should be knitting socks instead of trying to work in literature (as one critic said recently), well, the old ladies continue. The Colombian woman has an admirable strength and stubborness. And besides that, and this is very essential, they are very intellingent. We have La Tertulia organized by women in Cali, we have Gloria Zea managing Colcultura: there are many women in politics, doing thing in manipulating things. Now we even have a woman as a minister of the Department of Labor, a post that was apparently strictly for men, and at first they retaliated. The man said "no," these old ladies just think they have the power, what do ther know about politics? But our actions have proven us to be capable. The machismo continues, as do the attacks, and the criticism is always at the personal level, always aimed at the feminine part of the personality. But women just haven't given up. Nevertheless, men continue being machista in many respects- even from the way they handle marriage, this pairing that should be so balanced. At all social levels the man is the head, the man dominates. And today in Western European civilization, the man isn't the ine who dominates. The woman is equal and a value in the home and at the same time enjoys a balanced responsibility at work. Yes, it is definitly very machista here. And all Latin America is very machista.
Buitrago: Albalucia has given a fairly complete explanation, so I'm going to give a little more detail concerning machismo in Colombia. I think men here are machista more because of their education than from pure conviction. Mothers here inculcate machismo- it's strange, the mothers themselves- in their sons from when they are very young. Usually a boy is served by his sisters so he is practicallu a useless little beauty for whom absolutely everything is done; from choosing his socks and clothes to having his meals hot at the time he happens to come home. So our men are raised with the idea that women are objects to serve them and praise them, only to find out later that the women in their homes are not only capable of thinking, but are also fromt time to time as intelligent as they are. So the breakdown between this education and the reality that has come upon them recently, as Albalucia has explained, was a rude awakening, but is something ther have accepted with courage, although of course, fighting all the way. But we're fighting too. Their defense is always the same: women are made to have children; women are made to cook; women are made to show off. But in the end, they always prefer an intelligent woman at their side.
RLW: Is there a feminist movement in Colombia?
Buitrago: I would say there is more an uneasiness, a feeling of the necessity to move forward. Colombian women have shown they can move ahead in may fields so there's no use repeating what we've already said. But there isn't a feminist's feminist movement because Colombian women are very self indulgent- perhaps the most self-indulgent women in Latin America. And the Colombian woman, despite her screaming and shouting that isn't true, is fascinated not only having a man at her side, but also in having that all important prestogious last name her husband will give her. And especially within the middle class ther love to have a man who will maintain them with the very best of everything. This is so much the case that quite often marriage which women with a career background forget their career the moment they marry. They simply contract a man to work for them. So we return to the story of machismo- they nourish machismo, but they live beautifully from it.
Angel: I agree with Fanny. Although I haven't lived in Colombia the last few years, I see things the same, and just wanted to add that I hope there isn't ever a feminist movement in Colombia, with all this screaming, but simply a study of vindication for the woman, and then to continue in a balances way. Man is really the complement, man is the friend, the antipode, the antagonist. So how are we going to live him? I don't think we can make an Amazon society. Never! May God save us from that, as my grandmother always said.