16 Puerto Rican Woman and Non-Binary Writers Telling New Stories

16 Puerto Rican Women and Non-Binary Writers Telling New Stories

Dr. Ivelisse Rodriguez, author of Love War Stories, on the writers who are changing the topography of Puerto Rican literature

In 1916, Bernardo Vega boards a ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico to come to New York City — this journey, this life as a Puerto Rican in the pioneer phase of migration, where on average 2,000 Puerto Ricans were migrating to the continental U.S., is chronicled in theMemoirs of Bernardo Vega.

Purchase the book

In 1993, Esmeralda Santiago published When I Was Puerto Rican, an endearing memoir about a young girl’s life in Puerto Rico and her eventual migration to the U.S. Between Vega and Santiago, there are other canonical Puerto Rican texts published — what connects them all are ideas of migration, identity, belonging, and facing racism in the continental U.S.

As of 2013, approximately 5 million Puerto Ricans reside in the mainland U.S. and these 16 non-binary and women writers are adding new narratives to the history of Puerto Rican writing. Their fiction, essays, and poetry focuses on blackness and slavery, queerness, the sexual and romantic lives of women, racial passing, and African-based religions, and so much more. These are the writers to watch to see how they change the topography of Puerto Rican literature.

15 Views of Miami by Jaquira Díaz

In the 1970s, Nicholasa Mohr captured Puerto Rican girlhood, and today the Southern Review has said “Jaquira Díaz illuminates the beauty and brutality of being a teenager.” She captures this in essays like “Girls, Monsters” about the awakening of sexual desire and the sexual threat all women experience and in “My Mother and Mercy” where Diaz recounts her estranged relationship with her mother and Mercy, her grandmother. She has also written about the Baby Lollipops murder case, belonging, and suicide. Diaz has been a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the Kenyon Review. Her work appears in Rolling StoneThe Guardian, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. Her memoir Ordinary Girlsand a novel are forthcoming from Algonquin Books.

Lo Terciario / The Tertiary by Raquel Salas Rivera

Raquel Salas Rivera, the 2018–19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, is the writer of Caneca de anhelos turbios, oropel/tinsel,and tierra intermitente, along with five chapbooksTheir latest book, lo terciario/the tertiary, utilizes a “decolonial queer critique and reconsideration of Marx” to respond to the PROMESA bill (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) regarding the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Their poem “landscape of old san juan” illustrates another of Salas Rivera’s themes: colonialism. “In the center of your chest there is a treasure / if you move the flower pots you’ll find/ your enemy curled up like a snake / he is the gravedigger / that keeps throwing dirt / in the pan.”

Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier

Dr. Amina Lolita Gautier is the winner of the 2018 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. Dr. Gautier has published over 100 stories in literary journals and has three award-winning short story collections: At-Riskand The Loss of All Lost Things. The third book, Now We Will Be Happy, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction and highlights the lives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, those born on the mainland, and those who migrate to the US. The stories in the book cross “boundaries of comfort, culture, language, race, and tradition in unexpected ways, these characters struggle valiantly and doggedly to reconcile their fantasies of happiness with the realities of their existence.”

Stay With Me by Sandra Rodriguez Barron

Sandra Rodriguez Barron is the award-winning author of The Heiress of Water, a Borders Original Voices selection. The novel is about Monica Winters Borrero, a physical therapist who was raised in El Salvador until the death of her mother. In order to aid a comatose patient, Monica returns to El Salvador in search of a therapeutic treatment her mother had been researching. There, Monica will confront the past and the difficult relationship she had with her mother. Her second novel, Stay with Me, is about the life-long relationship between five kids who were abandoned in Puerto Rico and who forged their own family.

Unfinished Portrait: Poems by Luivette Resto

Luivette Resto tackles issues of identity, womanhood, motherhood, and romance. “No sucios for me! / No sucios for me! / No sucios for me!” one of the girls in her poems implores. Resto is the author of two books of poetry, Unfinished Portrait, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Ascension. She is also a CantoMundo Fellow. While in her poetry she reaches back to connect with Puerto Rican poets like Julia de Burgos and Pedro Pietri and contends with similar themes, she approaches these timeless issues with a present-day eye so that “women find a sense of freedom to embrace all of the nuances and complexities of feminism and mujerismo.”

Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan, featuring Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman’s work “focuses on identity, social change, disrupting notions of power, and celebrating the parts of ourselves deemed unworthy.” For example, in “A queer girl’s ode to the piraguero,” she writes, “Oh, Piraguero! My first lover. / The only man I ever wanted / anything from. I sprinted half blocks for you, got off / the bus two stops early, took the long way home / just to see: your rainbow umbrella.” Her poem “Dear Straight People” went viral with over 2 million views. She is one of the “Top 20 Emerging LGBT Leaders” according to the Philadelphia Gay Newspaper. She is also a CantoMundo Fellow, a Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, and the recipient of many other accolades.

A Decent Woman by Eleanor Parker Sapia

Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning, historical novel A Decent Woman, which is set in the late 1800s in Ponce, Puerto Rico and tells the story of the life-long friendship between midwife Ana and her friend Serafina. A class and racial division opens up between Ana and Serafina when Serafina marries into the upper echelons of Ponce society, and Ana remains in their impoverished neighborhood. Ana’s livelihood is jeopardized by the changing view that women should deliver in hospitals rather than at home with a midwife. This novel captures Ponce in a time of great advancement and exposes how all these shifts affect the lives of women.

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Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay, featuring Vanessa Mártir

Vanessa Mártir is an essayist who was most recently published in the New York Times bestseller Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Cultureedited by Roxane Gay, as well as in Bitch MagazineSmokelong Quarterly, and the VONA/Voices Anthology Dismantle. Martír is the creator of the Writing Our Lives Workshop. She has written about growing up in Bushwick with two mothers in the 1980s, writers of color, motherhood, grief, and other topics. She is currently completing her memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings.

Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns

Rosalie Morales Kearns, a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, is the founder of the feminist publishing house Shade Mountain Press. Her novel Kingdom of Women is about Averil Parnell, a female Roman Catholic priest who has to decide what advice she is going to offer to a group of vigilante women who go after murderers, rapists, and child abusers. Virgins and Tricksters is Morales Kearns’ magic-realist short story collection. The Small Press Book Review raved:“It’s not that the stories are comfortable — these worlds of virgins, tricksters, wives, daughters — are fraught with complication and searching. Nor do they lack surprise: by blending precise realism with wild magic, Kearns subverts our expectations in subtle yet astounding ways.”

Scar on/Scar Off by Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a 2018 National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship winner and an Academy of American Poets Award recipient. Her first book is Scar On/Scar Off, a cross-genre poetry and prose text. The theme of scarring runs through the book — the scarring from being a woman, from having dual ethnic identities, and from dealing with racism. She is the Contest Editor at The Missouri Review. Her work has been selected as a “Short Story of the Day” by The Seattle Review of Books and a “Poem of the Week” by Split this Rock. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles ReviewPuerto del SolThe Feminist Wire, among other outlets. She has finished a historical novel set during the Reconstruction era.

Fish Out of Agua: My Life On Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks by Michele Carlo

Michele Carlo’s Fish Out Of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks is a memoir about growing up as a redheaded, freckle-faced Puerto Rican in the Bronx during the 1970s. Throughout her youth, Carlo had to contend with being seen as white and not Puerto Rican. The memoir also chronicle’s her mother’s mental illness, the secrets that her family keeps, and how she comes into her own and becomes the artist she had always wanted to be. Carlo is also a performer who has appeared across the US, including The Moth’s GrandSlam and MainStage storytelling shows in NYC. Her current project is a radio show on Radio Free Brooklyn, where she interviews artists, activists, and educators.

The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho by Anjanette Delgado

Anjanette Delgado is an award-winning novelist, speaker, and journalist who has written or produced for media outlets, such as NBC, CNN, NPR, Univision, HBO, Telemundo, and Vogue Magazine’s LatAm and Mexico divisions, among others. Her award-winning romance novel The Heartbreak Pill is about scientist Erika Luna who sets out to create a pill to undo heartbreak. Her latest novel, The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho, is about Mariela Estevez whose clairvoyance kicks in when her lover is found murdered. Delgado is “fascinated with heartbreak, the different ways in which it occurs, and the consequences it brings.”

Homenaje a las guerreras/Homage to the Warrior Women by Peggy Robles-Alvarado

Peggy Robles-Alvarado is a writer and editor of several projects. She is the author of Conversations With My Skin, which is about the transformation of a pregnant and abused 15-year old who learns to define herself, and Homenaje a las guerreras/Homage to the Warrior Women, which pays tribute to women who “carry several lifetimes and dimensions within one frame and [who] learn how to properly balance them.” She is also the editor of The Abuela Stories Project, an anthology of writing and photography by women that is meant to challenge the notion of abuelas and their stories as inconsequential. Her latest book Mujeres, The Magic, The Movement and The Muse is an anthology “inspired by Taino, Lukumi and Palo traditions where women make connections to their muses through body and spirit.”

Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa’s debut novel is Daughters of the Stone. Author Cristina Garcia enthuses, “Rejoice! Here is a novel you’ve never read before: the story of a long line of extraordinary Afro-Puerto Rican women silenced by history…Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa rescues them from oblivion.” Llanos-Figueroa’s novel follows the lives of five generation of women starting from Africa, moving to Puerto Rico, and ending in New York City. The novel was shortlisted for the 2010 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Daughters of the Stone is the first novel in a series of five, and Llanos-Figueroa has completed her second novel, A Woman of Endurance, and is now working on her third novel.

Outside the Bones by Lyn Di Lorio

Dr. Lyn Di Lorio is a professor and was a consultant on Puerto Rican cultural matters for Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved WorldIn her book, Outside the Bones, protagonist Fina Mata unwittingly unleashes a powerful Palo spirit when she attempts to make her neighbor Chico fall in love with her. Outside the Bones is the first English language novel about Palo Monte, an Afro-Caribbean religion that stems from the Bantu-speaking people and their Caribbean descendants.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

For decades, young readers of color did not find themselves in the literature they read. But now, representation of Latinxs in young adult literature is on the rise. A recent book to fill this niche is Lilliam Rivera’s The Education of Margot Sanchez, which tells the story of Margot who is caught between her Puerto Rican world and the world of her prep school. Rivera was named a “2017 Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times.

Her next book, Dealing in Dreams, is forthcoming in March 2019; it’s a futuristic story about girl gangs and the leader’s desire to get off the streets and move up in the world.

About the Author

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez earned a PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MFA from Emerson College. She has published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, the Boston Review, the Bilingual Review, and others. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli, a Kimbilio fellow, and a VONA/Voices alum.

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Thoughts on Writing Novels in the Trump Era

In the summer of 2015, after the publication of my debut novel, A Decent Woman, a comment on a writing blog got my attention. It encouraged writers to focus on writing and marketing their books and refrain from sharing strong opinions and political views on social media platforms. The reasoning? So as to not alienate readers and potential readers; in essence, to limit their opinions and dialogue to discussions with friends and family. Good to know, I thought. The advice made sense to me at the time–nothing can turn a lovely dinner party into a school food fight quicker than heated debates about religion, politics, or other family members–but what about that business of writers potentially courting disaster with future book sales and alienating readers by speaking out on public forums? Was there any truth to that? I tucked that nugget away.

I kept my focus on learning the ropes of marketing a book. Little did I know marketing my novel would turn into an intense year of written interviews, podcast interviews, writing blog posts, participating in book fairs, and encouraging readers to post book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. That same year, I set up an author page on Facebook, opened a Goodreads author page and set up a Twitter account–lots of moving parts in addition to keeping up with a writing blog, interviewing fellow authors, and paying attention to my author website! And of course, I was thinking about writing a second book. A brief text exchange with my friend Wayne sparked an idea and I ran with it.

In early 2016, I began the preliminary research for my second book, as yet untitled. On June 16, 2016, Donald Trump officially announced his plan to seek the presidency. I started writing The Laments of Sister Maria Immaculada, now titled, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. From June to November October 2016, I watched the presidential campaign/sideshow on my laptop (I haven’t had cable TV since 2011). I kept writing and diligently researching the lives of nuns in 1927 Puerto Rico, the history of Old San Juan, and the little known (to me) islet of Isla de Cabras, five miles off the coast of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the ruins of a Spanish-built leprosarium remain. I kept writing and became increasingly distracted by politics. How could anyone possibly avoid it? I began to think about a writing retreat, away from home where I was buying the Washington Post on a daily basis and New York Times, when I could find a copy in my adopted West Virginia town.

In January 2017, I licked my wounds along with millions of Americans and participated in the now-historic Women’s March in Washington, DC. The political attacks and distractions from the White House began immediately and were unrelenting. I kept up with Rachel Maddow’s informative and timely blog posts for political analysis and information and watched MSNBC videos on Youtube. I learned a lot from Maddow, and for the first time in my life, I knew the names of all the key players in Washington, DC and their positions. I was paying attention. It also occurred to me how much my antagonist reminded me of Trump. A light bulb moment. What a strange and interesting twist. I zoomed in on Trump’s behavior and mannerisms, the way he speaks, and what his base sees in him.

I kept up with Twitter, Facebook, and I wrote a blog post about my experience at the Women’s March, always thinking about the advice to writers I’d read the year before: keep your opinions off social media. But how? I mused that might have been a popular opinion before the last Presidential election campaign. Before Trump became President. Before the march in Charlottesville. Before the brutal attacks on the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island of my birth, and Trump callously threw paper towel rolls at Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Before 20 shootings took place on American school campuses. Before Trump brought us to the brink of nuclear war by antagonizing Kim Jong-un. Before Trump ordered the barbaric directive to separate children from their asylum-seeking parents at US borders. Before our planet was threatened by Trump directives and decisions. Before, before, before. I’ve left out dozens and dozens of events, I know. My apologies, this is what immediately comes to mind as I write this blog post. Fill in the blanks, please.

The attacks from the Trump White House seemed endless, unrelenting, and more cruel with each passing day. Then I remembered–our country, Americans, have suffered and endured cruel directives that go back to the founding fathers. Our history is full of racism, white privilege, misogyny, bad decisions, and crazy makers. Had we learned anything? Apparently not. I was reminded of the old French saying, “The more things changes, the more they stay the same.” But I was changing–as a woman, as a proud Puerto Rican, and as an American who’d lived overseas for over 25 years. As a novelist, I was wide awake. History was repeating itself before my very eyes and I was outraged.

You see, before January 2017, I’d never marched in protest, never held a placard, and had never called my elected officials. I had voted, of course, and in my previous jobs as a refugee caseworker, Spanish language Family Support Worker, and as a counselor working in Brussels, Belgium, I’d worked with and tried my best to assist and support those less fortunate in my community. To walk hand in hand with those who were hurting and needed help—that came easily to me. I was a mom. But to be a vocal activist? To be outraged and shocked enough to say what I felt in a public forum, on social media? That didn’t come easy. I was raised to be polite, fair, and to be diplomatic, whenever possible. But I found it increasingly difficult to remain silent. I kept writing and in my continuing research, I kept digging deeper into the dark corners of religion, faith, and humanity. World events were certainly changing my work in progress. How could the story not be affected? How could I remain unchanged? As I saw it, it was imperative to remain informed, but to also strike a balance–I needed to turn away from the news in the evening and force myself to remain in my writing chair. I was losing discipline and valuable time, but with each new event in the US and abroad, I gleaned valuable research material. I felt like a literary vampire.

What I came to understand was that in many ways, art and the making of art and literature is a political act.

Among the early reviews of my first published novel, A Decent Woman, two respected writer friends called my first novel a political statement, a feminist novel. After my initial surprise and feeling so grateful for their generous book reviews, I realized the two men were absolutely correct. In the early stages of writing A Decent Woman, (and in my newbie writing mind), I’d simply set about to tell a story about the lives of women in 1900 Puerto Rico. Then I remembered. Just before the manuscript went in for the final edits, I came across documents and a book about the rounding up of prostitutes in Ponce, Puerto Rico (the setting of the novel) and about the forced sterilization of thousands of Puerto Rican women by the US government. The book had to change. I had to change. It was necessary to grow a thicker skin in the public arena and speak my truths, instead of opting to remain in the shallow end of the pool. So I wrote that book.

Interestingly enough, the same thing is happening with my second book, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, which explores faith, religion, and the Catholic Church in 1927 Puerto Rico, with all its’ ugliness and scandals, community works and good intentions. Once again, I’ve had to dig deep, record history, and speak my truths as I discover them in my research and from my memory. I’m still reading several online newspapers and calling my elected officials. I buy newspapers and still watch Rachel Maddow during the day. I write at night like I always did, with less fear than before. The balancing act of being ‘woke’ and finishing this book is easier these days; I’m not as reactive to the news. I use it all.

In the telling of a story, writers stand, exposed and raw, for all to see. So be it.

Will President Trump and this White House stop the unrelenting attacks on Americans, on the poor and the marginalized, on our democracy? Will Trump be impeached? All that remains to be seen. We have no choice but to soldier on, persist, and resist when the need arises. And as writers, we must keep writing. Lord knows there’s a plethora of material out there for novelists these days.

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

Update From The Writing Life Blog

Greetings from The Writing Life Blog!

In January 2018, I shared a super interview with writer, Ivelisse Rodriguez, about my first book,  A Decent Woman, that includes a brief excerpt of my work-in-progress, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. Yesterday, my jaw dropped when I saw the date of my last blog post on this blog– it was October 21, 2017. Has it been that long since I last shared a blog post? As I look back on the events of the last two years, no, it’s not hard to believe!

Despite a crazy blur of a year, I’m back to blogging and setting up author interviews with new and old writer friends. I’m happy, healthy, and currently working on my second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico. I hope you’ll enjoy the story as much as I do. During writing breaks, I work in my small, urban garden and enjoy the fruits of my labor as I dream of my next trip (or think about a new plot twist), and as always, I love and cheer on my beloved children from afar. They’ve been super busy with travel and work, as well. I don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like, but such is life with adult children. They are happy, which is what matters most. That’s what I tell myself when I’m not throwing a motherly pity party. 🙂

On the blog front, I’m excited to share two new author interviews:

On June 25, I welcome Mickey Brent, a long-time friend from my Brussels days, and on July 10, Ivelisse Rodriguez will join me. Ivelisse’s collection of short stories, Love War Stories, debuts the day of the interview.

I hope you’ll check back for those two fantastic interviews.

Be well and happy writing.

Eleanor

The Mess of Knots: Ponce, Patriarchy, and La Mujer Mala: An Interview with Eleanor Parker Sapia

The Mess of Knots: Ponce, Patriarchy, and La Mujer Mala: An Interview with Eleanor Parker Sapia

Ivelisse Rodriguez, PhD

Editor’s note: This interview is the sixth in a series that will focus on contemporary Puerto Rican authors. Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico, and a collection of poems.


Ivelisse Rodriguez: Ponce, La Perla del Sur or La Ciudad Señorial, is considered the second city in Puerto Rico. In your novel, A Decent Woman, you note how Ponce used to be the capital of Puerto Rico; you detail the high-society life in Ponce and its mores. These particulars help bring the city to life. How does the city itself function as a character in your novel?

Eleanor Parker Sapia: Puerto Rico, a new possession of the United States in 1900 when the story opens, is very much a character in my novel—a woman lured into a relationship with the United States with hope and promises of safety, protection, food on the table, and a brighter future. The reality was that the US government had a business plan. They quickly devalued and began to replace the Porto Rican peso with the American dollar, taxes were raised, farmers were evicted from their lands, English was imposed as the co-official language, and new regulations were forced on the Puerto Ricans.

I was an exhibiting painter of still life and portraiture for nearly 30 years before I decided to write a novel. I’m told my first passion shows in descriptions and attention to small detail in my first published book—portraiture of place with words. In A Decent Woman, there are stark contrasts between Ana’s world of poverty, struggle, and racism as an illiterate, black midwife, and the world of the upper class and privilege that newly-widowed Serafina learns to maneuver after her second marriage. I chose to depict three barrios of that era, Playa de Ponce, San Antón, and el pueblo de Ponce, each with its distinct voice, mood, flavor, music, architecture, and history. As such, the actions and futures of my characters were limited by external forces, at times unbeknownst to them, and determined by the confines of the socio-economic condition of where they lived and worked. It was important that the setting/place of this book evolve as the women and society evolved, or lack thereof.

IR: The title of your book, A Decent Woman, immediately begs the question of what constitutes a decent woman, and, normally, this idea of decency is tied to the sexuality of women. In your novel, you mention throughout how prostitutes are treated in Ponce, how there are these systematic programs to exile them from “decent” society, how color and class are conflated with sexuality/prostitution, and how prostitutes are marked by the passbooks they have to carry, etc. This is the way Ponce treats prostitutes, but you have a different approach. Emilia and Maria, two prostitutes in your text, are humanized; they are women who laugh, who cry, who are mistreated, yet they are rendered as whole characters. What do these two characters help say about prostitution in Ponce?

EPS: The characters Emilia and Maria came to me in the rewrite and editing phases of the manuscript, and there was no doubt they would be fully-fleshed characters since I’ve previously worked as a counselor, refugee caseworker, and a Spanish-language family support worker. I have great sympathy for women of that era, who were played against each other in a patriarchal society.

Through further research, I was reminded of how intrinsically linked ‘la otra y la mujer mala’, the prostitute, were to women’s stories—as much a part of their stories as marriage and motherhood. It was important to include a more complete portrayal of society and the situations in which women found themselves—from begging in the streets to feed their children; to widowhood; playing the hostess at charity events and society balls; and to inviting politicians, clergy, and the men of ‘high society’ into their beds to make the rent and pay bills. Each woman sought to secure male protection and security, and hopefully, to keep a man from straying—that was the tapestry I attempted to weave, while discovering the mess of knots, changes of colored threads, and disarray on the underside as meaningful and beautiful as the finished product. Looking beyond the obvious—that’s what fascinates me about a character and a story.

Later, I was saddened to learn of the treatment of prostitutes in Ponce and later, about the forced sterilization of thousands of Puerto Rican women. That spoke loudly of the great hypocrisy in Ponce at that time: the myth of la sagrada familia, born of arrogance and racism, deceit and male dominance. The men who were wagging their fingers and agreeing with their wives about the dangers of prostitution were busy playing house with other women and fathering children out of wedlock. Their wives, the women of the upper class and early feminists, many of whom truly believed they were helping out their wayward sisters, were accomplices in two campaigns to rid Ponce of prostitutes, and in doing so, added to the desperation, poverty, and abuse of women of little means. The characters Emilia and Maria helped to tell that part of history.

IR: In your novel, male doctors advocate a shift toward modernity by having women give birth in hospitals, eclipsing the midwife and painting that practice as backwards. This limits Ana’s, the main character, work as a midwife. This is one way that “modern” medicine is used against women. For Emilia and Maria, their bodies are not their own in the medical world. When they are jailed, they are subjected to pelvic exams in front of others with instruments the women feel are not sanitized. And there are other moments where the medical treatment is even more invasive. How is medicine and so-called progress used against women’s bodies in Puerto Rico?

EPS: There were many issues and themes in the early days of so-called progress in Puerto Rico—colonialism, misogyny, population control, poverty, religion, male doctors invading the birthing room and pushing midwives out of business, and experiments performed on Puerto Rican women in the advancement of modern medicine, namely forced sterilization. Women were needed in the workforce to make money for American corporations, specifically the sugarcane industry. A good example is from the 1930s when clinics performing sterilization procedures were installed inside the factories, so the women wouldn’t lose time on the factory floor.

Men were in positions of authority and in control of the lives and bodies of women and of their children. Sadly, this is still the case in many parts of the world today.

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IR: In Adrienne Rich’s seminal article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” she posits her idea about the lesbian continuum which focuses on any strong bond between women. One of them being friendship. Friendship is central to your novel, and it is the relationship that is sustained throughout the life of the two main characters, Ana and Serafina. Discuss the significance of friendship in your text.

EPS: In 1900 Puerto Rico, while emotional relationships and friendship between women were considered important, especially between women and their comadrona, only men were thought to provide real security with financial benefits as they controlled every aspect of women’s lives. Even childbirth with a midwife, which for centuries had been strictly a female-dominated experience, was in danger of extinction in the cities as hospitals and clinics were built and male doctors entered the birthing room. The strong bonds of friendship between women were constantly tested in a patriarchal society.

Ana would agree with Rich’s assertion that women can benefit more from relationships with other women than with men, as she’d suffered at the hands of one man at an early age, and though she is still struggling, she is a self-made woman. Ana, who is forty when the story opens, has little use for men for the first half of the book. The teenager Serafina has lost her mother, so they inevitably develop a strong mother-daughter bond, which is an easy, yet complicated relationship. All is well until Serafina gets caught up in her second husband’s world of privilege, where Ana has no place as a poor, black woman. Much later in the story, Serafina is a mother of four children and a woman of society. She will come to believe that she has outgrown Ana until tragedy strikes in Serafina’s life. Ana is the first person she contacts and their friendship resumes with lessons learned about loyalty and friendship.

IR: Can you tell us what you are working on next, and what your objectives are with your writing?

EPS: I’m currently working on my second book, The Laments, set in 1927 Old San Juan and on the islet of Isla de Cabras, where once stood a maritime quarantine station that was later used as a lazaretto for containing patients of many diseases, primarily leprosy. It is the story of a highly imaginative and naïve Puerto Rican novice nun, who impulsively volunteers to serve the lepers at Isla de Cabras under the protection and tutelage of a rotund, secretive Spanish friar, who moonlights as a rum runner. Into the mix will arrive a young American Protestant minister on a clandestine mission for the American government at a time when the Spanish were being forced to leave the island, and Catholicism and Protestantism were in hyper-competition for souls on Puerto Rico.

My goal in writing novels is to transport readers to exciting, new worlds and to introduce them to the complicated history, rich culture, and beautiful people of Puerto Rico. I hope my books and poetry will stimulate, provoke, expose, and challenge myself and others. Here are two of my writing mottos: ‘Write through the scary bits; that’s usually where the meat and the essence of the story are found’ and ‘This is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved.’ I hope that comes across in my books.


Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her short story collection, Love War Stories, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in summer 2018. The Belindas, a fiction chapbook, is forthcoming from Tammy in summer 2017. She is the senior fiction editor at Kweli, a Kimbilio fellow, and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel The Last Salsa Singer about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico. To learn more about Ivelisse visit: http://www.ivelisserodriguez.com.

© Ivelisse Rodriguez. Published by permission in Centro Voices 13 December 2017.

Puerto Rico: It’s Better Than Nothing?

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My two cents today:

From what I’ve read and heard, officials on the island, mayors in PR, first responders, members of the National Guard and the US military, and FEMA employees on the ground, were frustrated, anxiously waiting for word to act and mobilize, while having to follow protocol, use proper channels, wait for the perfect organizational chart, a memo, an email, a call from higher-ups in Washington, and for marching orders to trickle down.

Make no mistake, the White House, the administration, DOD, the generals, FEMA, all knew what was coming at Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean with Hurricane Maria, and what had already happened with Irma. They knew, yet inexplicably dragged their feet.

I respect and I’m grateful for everyone involved in assisting Puerto Rico and the USVI in the aftermath of this catastrophic natural disaster. Someone described Maria as an atomic bomb. I also respect those in the military in the US, who’ve been working behind the scenes in the relief effort. They know it’s important work, and I know their families are proud of the efforts their loved ones are making on behalf of Puerto Rico. My Dad, a thirty year veteran of the US Army, even my ex-husband and his brother, each 27-year Army veterans and West Point graduates, all veterans of the Vietnam War, would say, “It’s part of our job; it’s what we are paid to do.”

We cannot ignore that the preliminary relief effort in Puerto Rico was a debacle and worse yet, that Trump looked the other way. Yes, the Jones Act is waived for ten days, and that will be incredibly helpful, but ten days clearly isn’t enough time to put things right in Puerto Rico and in the USVI. You only have to look at the NASA video of the Caribbean islands to know, ten days won’t be enough time. There are still ongoing rescues, containers of supplies sitting in ports, men, women, and children are still without power, potable water, and food. Many of us still haven’t heard from our loved ones and friends in Puerto Rico.

The military is capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of soldiers, equipment, supplies, communication equipment, to the other side of the world to set up bases. I’m praying that same decisive action and extraordinary capability is now used in the Caribbean.

Many friends responded to my dismay that the Jones Act waiver is only for ten days with, “It’s better than nothing”. To that I say, I understand what you’re saying, but Puerto Rico has been hearing those words and sentiments for decades, as they were forced to put bandage upon bandage on a crumbling infrastructure and economy with little help or relief from Washington. No, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

We must strike now while the iron is hot–continue to bring relief to the islands, attention to the Caribbean, and it’s high time to abolish the Jones Act.

Yes, we can do better in every single way. Thank you.   #PRstrong#PuertoRico

 

ABOUT ELEANOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

Hurricane Maria, the Strongest Puerto Rico Landfall in 85 Years

Hurricane Maria, the Strongest Puerto Rico Landfall in 85 Years, Unleashes a Siege of Destructive Winds and Flooding

The Weather Channel

September 20, 2017, 8:15 AM EDT

here:%C2%A0https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-maria-category-5-leeward-islands-virgin-islands-puerto-rico

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane after pummeling the Virgin Islands.

This is the most intense hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico since the Great Depression.

Maria’s minimum central pressure Tuesday evening was the lowest for any Atlantic hurricane since Dean in August 2007.

Maria may then pass near the Dominican Republic Thursday, then the Turks and Caicos Friday.

Hurricane warnings have now been issued for the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.

It remains too early to determine if Maria will ever threaten the U.S. East Coast next week.

 

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, became the strongest Puerto Rico landfalling hurricane since the Great Depression and continues to lash the island and the nearby Virgin Islands with destructive winds, flooding rain and storm surge.

The eye of Maria came ashore near the town of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, around 6:15 a.m. AST Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.

The eyewall of Maria continues to carve through Puerto Rico, including the island of Vieques. In advance of the eyewall, the National Weather Service issued an “extreme wind warnings” for several eastern Puerto Rico municipalities.

Here is a sampling of peak wind gusts seen so far in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as of early Wednesday morning. Thanks to NOAA meteorologist Alex Lamers for assistance compiling these peak gusts.

  • Western St. Croix, Virgin Islands: 137 mph (sustained winds of 106 mph)
  • Isla Culebrita: 137 mph
  • Gurabo: 120 mph (WeatherFlow station)
  • Camp Santiago: 118 mph
  • El Negro: 116 mph
  • Yabucoa: 116 mph (WeatherFlow station)
  • San Juan: 110 mph (WeatherFlow station)
  • Fajardo: 100 mph
  • San Juan (Luis Muñoz Marin Int’l Airport): 91 mph (stopped reporting at 5:35 a.m. AST)
  • St. Thomas, Virgin Islands: 86 mph

A storm surge of over 5 feet was recorded by a NOAA tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, and intense south-southeast winds continue to pile water into the harbor on the east side of Maria’s circulation.

Through Wednesday morning, here are some other peak storm surge values, above the average high tide level:

  • Fajardo, Puerto Rico: About 2.3 feet
  • Christiansted Harbor, St. Croix, Virgin Islands: About 2 feet
  • Culebra, Puerto Rico: About 1.7 feet
  • San Juan Bay: About 1.5 feet
  • St. John (Lameshur Bay), Virgin Islands: About 1.5 feet

Flash flood warnings have also been issued in much of eastern Puerto Rico. Over a dozen river gauges reported levels above flood stage already, with more heavy rain moving in.

A flash flood emergency was issued for the Rio de La Plata Basin in central Puerto Rico. River levels had risen 20 feet since midnight near the town of Comerio.

The National Weather Service office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, warned of “catastrophic damage” from Maria’s winds, as well as “life-threatening rainfall flooding having possible devastating impacts” in a hurricane local statement issued Wednesday morning.

Maria was the strongest Puerto Rico landfall since a Category 4 September 1932 hurricane.

Prior to both Irma and Maria, only four other Category 4 hurricanes had tracked within 75 miles of central Puerto Rico in historical records dating to the late 19th century. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the last to do so prior to 2017, though it had weakened to a Category 3 hurricane as it clipped the northeast tip of Puerto Rico, according to the NOAA best tracks database.

Current Watches/Warnings

Hurricane warnings have now been issued for the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeast Bahamas. Hurricane warnings mean hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours.

Hurricane warnings remain in effect for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques and in the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, from west of Puerto Plata to the northern border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and from west of Cabo Engano to Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic.

Hurricane watches also include St. Maarten, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and in the Dominican Republic from Isla Saona to Cabo Engano.

Portions of the Dominican Republic, particularly near the north coast, may see hurricane-force winds develop as soon as Wednesday evening continuing into at least Thursday morning. There is still some uncertainty, as any slight jog of the eyewall north could keep the most intense winds off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

In the southeast Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, hurricane conditions are expected to arrive by late Thursday, but conditions will already begin to deteriorate, there, by Thursday morning.

A life-threatening storm surge raising water levels up to 6 to 9 feet above ground is possible in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

In the hurricane warning area of the Dominican Republic, water levels may rise by as much as 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels, with a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet possible elsewhere along the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Water levels up to 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels are expected near and north of the center of Maria in the southeast Bahamas, as well as the Turks and Caicos.

Puerto Rico may see 12 to 18 inches of rain, with locally up to 25 inches in some areas, through Friday.

The Virgin Islands are expected to receive a total of 8 to 12 inches of rain, with locally up to 16 inches.

The northern and eastern Dominican Republic, as well as the Turks and Caicos are forecast to pick up 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated 12-inch amounts.

These rainfall totals have the potential to produce widespread, life-threatening, potentially catastrophic flooding and mudslides.

For the complete article with videos, photos, and maps, click the link below:

here: https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/hurricane-maria-category-5-leeward-islands-virgin-islands-puerto-rico

Hurricane Maria: Jangled Nerves and Prayers

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My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean islands, and with Mexico. This afternoon, I’m thinking of the people of the small Caribbean islands, who are currently suffering the devastating effects from Hurricane Irma, and who face the real possibility of more devastation with Hurricane Maria. It’s unthinkable, yet a reality. I wonder if Barbuda will ever recover and if Barbudans will return to their beloved island. I worry for the people of Dominica, Tortola, the British and US Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, and Guadalupe. And of course, I am beside myself with worry for my family and friends in Puerto Rico.

I know the resiliency and courage of the people of the Caribbean, but Hurricane Maria is a beast. I’m grateful to the countries helping in the recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the islands, and I’m especially proud of my fellow Puerto Ricans for welcoming and assisting our Caribbean brothers and sisters to our island–Puerto Rico is truly a beautiful port in a storm for many. And what a storm is coming tonight and tomorrow morning.

On Monday, I spoke with my family members and friends in Puerto Rico. My aunt and cousins in Ponce and San Juan assured me their homes are physically prepared to “welcome” Maria. Well, as prepared as you can be with a Category 5 hurricane coming toward you. Emotionally? I’m not entirely sure, but I know their nerves are jangled at this time and stress is high. Our family members in the United States join me in praying and hoping against hope that Hurricane Maria goes far north of Puerto Rico and doesn’t make landfall on any Caribbean islands. That seems implausible with all the hurricane models and weather reports I’ve seen, but nonetheless, that is my prayer.

All the unknowns of a hurricane make this event very frightening. Like millions of others, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate with so much happening around the world with other hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. So, the candles are lit and I will pray–that’s what I can do today. Be present, be still, and pray for my family, my beloved island, and for mankind.

ABOUT ELEANOR:

ellie

Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered Second Place for Best Latino Focused Fiction Book, English, at the 2017 International Latino Book Award with Latino Literacy Now. The book was awarded an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English, at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now. A Decent Woman was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015, and Eleanor is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani.

A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1927 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book, A Decent Woman, available in paperback and ebook format:  http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK


Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

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