Day 17: Words that knock down tyrants

On Sunday, a woman literally leapt over hurdles to make history. Today, I invite you to meet a group of artists who blazed their trail on the page. This year, they created an anthology written, edited and illustrated by women working in concert to tackle a single theme, the first anthology of its kind in Costa Rica. The result was “Mi desamor es una dulzura invaluable” (a title that actually started out in English as “My Sweet Unlove Remembered Such Wealth Brings,” inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29).

I got to hear some of the women behind this project talk about their book – which united rising stars in playwriting, poetry, fiction and journalism, along with illustrator Alejandra Montero Agüero – at a Librería Internacional over the weekend. As I listened, I felt myself filling with questions: how is it possible that this was the first all-female project of its kind in Costa Rica? Why on earth is it still so unusual for women to take up artistic space like this? What should we do about the enduring gap? When award-winning journalist Natalia Díaz Zeledón, the editor of the anthology, read her preface to close out the activity, she echoed some of those same thoughts. Here’s just a taste, with apologies for any errors in my translation:

Words are marvelous… in the correct order, they can dispel confusion, heal wounds and reveal new worlds.

…Knowledge, or so we’ve been told, defeats despots. Women who produce knowledge break down the walls that hold back the rest of us. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Gabriela Mistral, Clarice Lispector, Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Giaconda Belli, Ana Istarú, Valeria Luiselli… many western women have use their words to create openings to new worlds. Still, there are not enough of us: we can see this in bookstores, in the guests at literary festivals, and on the shelves of libraries.

…The #MeToo social movements and the testimonies of women don’t spring up from a sudden outpouring of dissent. It’s clear that those crimes have been hidden beneath a population that is unequal, that is educated to be that way… There is suffering that we still do not put into words because those who could use those words have not done so. That’s what true equality is about, in which gender ceases to be an obstacle to communication.

-Natalia Díaz Zeledón

As she finished her reading, I realized the answer to my questions had been sitting right in front of me all along. The answer is for individual women to raise their voices, and for more of us to do this in groups so that we can bring others along. What’s more, all of us have the power to help women reshape the shelves of our bookstores: by buying their books, by reading and sharing their creations. Every time we do this, we cast another vote for this kind of work. We pull up another seat at the table these writers shared on Saturday.

If you read Spanish, I highly recommend you check out this slender volume that covers so much ground and is beautifully illustrated by Alejandro Montero Agüero. Here’s to words that heal and words that reveal new worlds, all in the hands of brilliant new talents.

Who are your favorite women writers? I’d love to know.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter).  



16 thoughts on “Day 17: Words that knock down tyrants

  1. I’d like to support this literary project by buying the anthology. I checked Amazon and it’s not availlable there. Ideas of how/where to find it here in the states?
    I’m enjoying reading your daily blog Katherine.


    1. Hi Stephen – I have been told that it is NOT available currently online/outside of Costa Rica, but that comments such as yours are extremely helpful because the publishing house has been considering a digital edition and these comments might help get the ball rolling! So unfortunately it can’t be purchased outside of Costa Rican bookstores at the moment but your request has made a difference!


  2. Just off the top of my head, Kate Atkinson (Scottish crime and wartime suspense), Tana French (Irish crime fiction), and Emma Bull (fantasy/sci-fi). Thinking about authors I’ve gone to see when they made public appearances, I’ve also enjoyed the persona and vibe of Caitlin Moran, the columns and commentary of Laurie Penny, and the cartoons and children’s books of Kate Beaton.


      1. This article as part of NYMag’s theme week about mysteries may finally tip you over the edge on French. I started with The Likeness, which I had been instructed I needed to read before I could read The Secret Place (for reasons now eclipsed by time), while I have the unfounded impression that most people seem to have gravitated toward her debut In The Woods.

        Atkinson’s most clever and respected is Life After Life, but I prefer the first few Jackson Brodie mysteries (the third one being the highlight), and would definitely read them in order, therefore starting with Case Histories.


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