See why CENTRO spotlights Puerto Rican author Giannina Braschi as “one of the most innovative writers of our time”. Read this book review by Carmen Haydée Rivera in CENTRO, VOL. XXXIV, NO. 1, SPRING 2022
Poets Philosophers Lovers: On the Writings of Giannina Braschi
Edited by Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer
Foreword by Ilan Stavans
Pittsburgh University Press, 2020
CENTRO reviews anthology of essays about Puerto Rican author Giannina Braschi
Giannina Braschi is one of the most multifaceted and innovative diasporic Puerto Rican writers of the past decades. Her literary works, published in English, Spanish, and Spanglish, and translated into various languages have revolutionized Puerto Rican Literature, both on and off the island. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Braschi’s creative and intellectual world extends far beyond geographic, linguistic, historical, and cultural boundaries to embrace another dimension of the tangible and the imagined in her efforts to form part of a literary tradition that she constantly renews and reinvents.
Braschi’s literary production begins with verse in Spanish, reflecting her humanistic erudition and vast knowledge of literature, art, philosophy, and world history that feeds into her poetic imagery. Her poetry collection, El imperio de los sueños, published in 1988 coalesces previous collections (Asalto al tiempo, La comedia profana, and El imperio de los sueños). In 1994, the work was translated into English by Tess O’Dwyer. The University of Puerto Rico Press released a new edition in 2000, with an introduction by UPR professor and philosopher Francisco José Ramos.
Braschi moved on to hybrid narrative experimentation, developed through the juxtaposition of genres (fiction, poetry, drama) and languages (Spanish and English) that defy and problematize narratological categorization in her work titled Yo-Yo Boing!, published by Latin American Literary Review in 1998. She later followed up with a publication full of multiple narrative voices and characters that traverse historical eras and literary movements in an attempt to unravel life’s significance within a transnational lens and postmodern perspective in United States of Banana (2011). In the same year of this publication, Amazon Crossing for World Literature also issued a collected works version of Braschi’s writing that included Empire of Dreams, Yo-Yo Boing! and United States of Banana. In 2021, a version of United States of Banana appeared as a graphic novel, illustrated by Joakim Lindengren and published by The Ohio State University Press.
Apart from her publications, Braschi has taught creative writing at various universities, including Rutgers University—New Brunswick, CUNY, and Colgate University. She has also participated in translation and writing seminars in France and Sweden, in addition to her engagement as writer-in-residence in the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators. Her prestigious awards and recognitions have come from varied sources: the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Ford Foundation, PEN American Center, Peter S. Reed Foundation/InterAmericas, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, among others.
It comes as no surprise that critical-theoretical approaches to Braschi’s work thus must follow. One of the most recent is the collection titled Poets, Philosophers, Lovers: On the Writing of Giannina Braschi, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (2020), under the Latinx and Latin American Profiles series. To date, this is one of the most comprehensive and critically engaging publications that covers the breadth and scope of Braschi’s literary production. A very brief preface by writer and critic Ilan Stavans opens the collection with a reflective rendition of one of his favorite quotes by Braschi, an “ode to ambiguity,” that Stavans renders through his own use of strategic bilingual interplay. Aldama’s concise and critically informative Introduction follows, situating Braschi’s work within a comparative literary framework vis-à-vis other American, Latin American, and European writers with whom he sees Braschi conversing, while highlighting innovative approaches to the main thematic concerns in her major works. In addition to including brief summaries of the essays contained in the collection, Aldama also provides suggested further readings to contextualize Braschi’s literary production.
The volume is then subdivided into three parts, with four to five critical articles included in each part. “Vanguard Forms and Latinx Sensibilities” leads the discussion in Part I, with authors such as Madelena Gonzalez, John Rio Riofrio, Anne Ashbaugh, Francisco Moreno Fernández, and Maritza Stanchich commenting on varied topics that focus on Braschi’s narratives, identities, and worldviews. The authors in this section critically assess Braschi’s works and propose innovative interpretations of her writing that highlight topics such as poetry as resistance to cultural commodification, bilingual and translingual practices, breaking aesthetic schemas, dialogues with ancient prophets in the articulation of autonomy and freedom, translanguaging deployments, hemispheric American Latinx experiences, and new literary traditions as “global poetics of dissent.”
Part II, “Persuasive Art of Dramatic Voices,” displays critical discussions by Cristina Garrigós, Laura R. Loustau Anias, Elizabeth Lowry, and Daniela Daniele on the polyphony of voices, rhetoric, identification, and symbolic representation that Braschi uses to move her audiences with cognitive reasoning, but also with emotion, that often produce a conflation between author and narrative voice, creating a type of “poet/artist, poet/reader dyad” within a cross-genre aesthetic that defies literary classifications and conventions. The post-traumatic, 9/11 global scene; subalternities, invisibilities, and the silencing of Puerto Rico, and Latinos, in general; the avant-guard art making tradition; and the brutalities of US imperialism are also topics explored and confronted in these essays.
Part III, “Intermedial Poetics and Radical Thinking,” rounds up the last section of this volume and brings together the critical analyses of Dorian Lugo Beltrán, Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús, Francisco José Ramos, and an interview by Rolando Pérez. Topics deployed in this section include how Braschi’s use of hybridized genres allows for other artistic representations of her works, such as graphic novel adaptations and slam poetry performances, among others, that create inter- and intra-textual references that move beyond the notions of in-betweenness. Other focuses include Braschi’s common ground and worldviews with European philosophers (such as Jacques Derrida); politics and political satire; the sovereign self; the society of the spectacle; capitalism and its neoliberalist tenets, and how, according to Francisco José Ramos, Braschi takes literature to “the limits of its possibilities.” This section ends with Rolando Pérez’s poignant and incisive, yet ultimately emotional interview that allows Braschi to soar through her kaleidoscopic literary development and career while showcasing her aesthetics and deep convictions.
Carmen Haydée Rivera
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus
Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Read More Essays on Puerto Rican Literature, Culture, and Politics
INTRODUCTION: Back to the future: The Implications of Balzac One Hundred Years Later – Charles R. Venator-Santiago and José Javier Colón Morera
The Sword of Libel: Jesús María Balsac and The Quest for Equality – Francisco Ortiz Santini
The ‘New’ Insular Cases and the Territorial Clause: From Temporary Incorporation to Permanent Un-incorporation – Jorge M. Farinacci Fernós
Balzac v. People of Porto Rico and the Problem of the Liberal Narrative of Citizenship, Why Puerto Ricans are Not Second-Class Citizens Today – Charles R. Venator-Santiago
Balzac, US Citizenship and Territorial Incorporation in Puerto Rico – Edgardo Meléndez
Balzac v. Porto Rico: Dead Letter after Ramos v. Louisiana? – Joel A. Cosme Morales
The Undying Dead: Why a Century after Balzac v. Porto Rico the Insular Cases Are as Important as Ever – Bartholomew Sparrow
Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans/“Puerto Ricans without Puerto Rico”: A Comment on Balzac versus Porto Rico, A Hundred Years Later – Madeline Román
Acquire this special issue of CENTRO @ centropr.hunter.cuny.edu
Centro spotlights Puerto Rican author
Centro spotlights Puerto Rican author