United States of Braschi: A Deep New Look into a Puerto Rican Visionary
Avid fans of Latin American and Latino literature have long been following the Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi. Best known for penning the first Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing! and geopolitical tragicomedy United States of Banana, Braschi is an ardent champion of Puerto Rican independence—and of free expression. Often called revolutionary and prophetic, her high-voltage writing puts forth big ideas in highly stylized ways that put the reader’s imagination through an intense work-out.
Now, a new collection of essays by well-known scholars helps foster a deeper understanding of the innovation and relevance of her work. Co-edited by Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer, Poets, Philosophers, Lovers: On the Writings of Giannina Braschi (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020) features pieces by fifteen specialists across diverse fields, each casting light on her rollicking humor, unbridled imagination, and scathing critique of American capitalism and colonialism.
Ilan Stavans, an early champion of Braschi’s translanguaging works, opens the anthology with a foreword that reads as a love letter in Spanglish to the Puerto Rican poet-philosopher.
“I have always visto a Giannina Braschi como mi heroína. And I’m an adicto,” write Stavans, in a bilingual play on words. “There is something mágico in her juego de palabras, her exploration of tenses, her anxious, uncompromising bilingüismo que ni es de aquí ni es de aquí ni es de allá, ni tiene age ni porvenir, y ser feliz es su color, su identity. Braschi crea una lexicography that is and isn’t atrapada en el presente. ¿Could she be anything but Latinéxica?”
“Without doubt, Braschi’s books challenge the constructs of society and the expectations of readers. They ask us to work for our pleasures—and displeasures,” observes Aldama in the introduction to the anthology. “I consider her work in the 1980s and 1990s as anticipating a future ideal reader,” writes Aldama. “And we see more of these ideal readers in the flesh and blood today; they are the ones like Torsa Ghosal, like me, and like many others who relish an aesthetics of discomfort; in narrative fictions that challenge our gap-filling and puzzle-solving capacities in and across multiple languages, identities, and experiences.”
Braschi’s canon-bending works in Spanish, Spanglish, and English have created space for a growing number of experimental Latina/o poets and storytellers, such as Carmen María Machado, Elizabeth Acevedo, Raquel Salas Rivera, Salvador Plascencia, and Monica de la Torre, to name a few. Of note, her ingenuity has also sparked a myriad of cultural adaptations into theater play, chamber music, painting, short-short film, sculpture, comics, artists books, as well as kinetic design, as catalogued in a lively chapter by Dorian Lugo Betran, entitled “Leaping Off the Page”.
VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
For those who are new to Braschi, Poets, Philosophers, Lovers will illuminate her role as a pioneer in the Latina/o vanguard in literature and philosophy. For long-time admirers, this volume reminds us why we keep coming back to her radical texts with renewed vigor—for the challenges and pleasures of an intensive work-out.Claudio I. Remeseira
Hispanic New York
Author photo by Laurent Elie Badessi