Solares finds purpose amidst themes of chaos in Cuban women writers

During four trips to Cuba, Spanish professor Mariana Solares has met with and gathered literary information from a number of Cuban women writers. Last fall, she presented her research on two female novelists at an international women’s literary and linguistics conference held in Havana.

Solares said presenting her paper on chaos and insanity in “Delirium” by Colombian author Laura Restrepo and “From the White Asylums” by Cuban author Margarita Mateo Palmer during a Nov. 10-14 international conference in Havana, Cuba, was exciting and important for her professionally.

Spanish professor Mariana Solares presented literary research in Havana, Cuba, on contemporary female writers, which will be published by the University of Barcelona. Photo by Theresa San Luis.

“Although I have been to Cuba four times, this was my first professional presentation at a conference there,” Solares said.

The conference was held by the Institute for Literature and Linguistics, and sponsored by the International Association of Feminine Literature and Culture. Solares’ travel was funded by SIUE’s CAS, the Graduate School and the department of foreign languages and literature.

Solares first visited Cuba in 2007 upon invitation by two faculty members in SIUE ‘s department of theater and dance—Calvin Jarrell and Otis Sweezey. She accompanied them to observe theatrical aspects of carnival parades.

“While I was there I decided to do my own research and met two Cuban poets,” Solares said.

Then, in 2008 during her sabbatical, she returned to Cuba for three weeks to meet other women writers.

Solares said with relative ease she was able to meet and spend time with these writers in their homes.

She noted that working with contemporary women writers in Cuba was different. Once, she flew to Havana to meet a poet and was told to meet a woman who lived two blocks from her. After calling in the evening Solares knocked on her door; this is how she first met Margarita Mateo Palmer, the author of “From the White Asylums” (“Desde los blancos manicomios”) one of the novels presented at the November conference.

“They welcomed me in,” Solares said.

In her paper, Solares delves into how women dealt with insanity and chaos in Cuba, as well as in the world of drug trafficking in Colombia.

According to Solares, when Cuba lost its support from the Soviet Union during the 1990s, the people were left with nothing.

“People were actually suffering from hunger,” Solares said. “The level of uncertainty and actual chaos with roofs falling down on people’s homes actually did lead to a certain level of insanity for a number of years.”

Solares said her research examines how women have dealt with adversity, insanity and chaos in the country to this day.

“Things are not as difficult now as they were, but people still struggle in Cuba,” Solares said.

Solares added that in her presentation she discussed chaos theory, which is a pattern or mathematical formula that identically replicates itself.

She said she adapted chaos theory to show how in the lives of the women characters in the two novels such repetitions reflected the chaos of mental illness and a response to difficult circumstances.

Solares uses some of the Cuban literature she’s come across in her advanced literature courses.  In reading literature, she urges students to use their imaginations and to think in ways that are more conceptual than literal.

“My goal is to help students think creatively, imaginatively and a little more broadly about what certain kinds of language can mean; and it certainly may not be obvious,” she said.

Her paper will be published in an online public access journal by the University of Barcelona.

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