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Spotlight on Catalina Rodríguez

Prof. Catalina Rodríguez on Her Book Project, Writing Like a Woman

Photo of Catalina RodriguezMy current book project, Writing Like a Woman: Gendered Pseudonyms and the Impersonation of Female Voices in 19th Century Latin America analyzes the widespread use of gendered pseudonyms, especially female names, by prominent political and cultural figures throughout Nineteenth-Century Latin America. Writers like José Martí (1853-1895), Nisia Floresta (1810-1885), Domingo Sarmiento (1811-1888), Soledad Acosta (1833-1913), and Rafael Pombo (1833-1912), among others, leveraged gendered pseudonyms across newspapers, political commentaries, short stories, novels, fashion chronicles, poetry, and translations. My book approaches the use of gendered pseudonyms in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and the United States to understand how its deployment was a transnational practice that cut across Spanish language production in the Americas.

The book builds on debates in Latin American Studies, Latina/o Studies, Literary Studies, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory to make two central propositions. First, I posit that gendered pseudonyms were fundamental tools to the construction of the category ‘female writing’ in nineteenth-century Latin America. Pseudonymous representations introduced gender norms that shaped the way women participated in public cultural production and foregrounded aesthetic and thematic expectancies. Second, I argue that gendered pseudonyms assumed both regulatory and transgressive power. Within the regulation of ‘female writing’, these pseudonyms opened spaces for transgression and the problematization of gender identities. Impersonation, for instance, allowed for the exploration of same sex desire and literary cross-dressing. Writing Like a Woman centers on the pseudonym as a textual entity that was fundamental for the deployment of gendered categories associated with artistic and literary production.

The most challenging aspect of this book project is its transnational scope. My visits to archives in Bogotá, Buenos Aires, México City and New York have shown me that the use of gendered pseudonyms in 19th century Latin America was a shared practice across different national contexts. This understanding, on the one hand, is exciting because it demonstrated the importance of the pseudonym as a gendered authorial practice at the time. On the other hand, the transnational nature of the phenomenon requires a challenging methodological approach capable of comparing and contrasting overlapping national contexts. The pseudonym has allowed me to understand nineteenth-century Latin America as a community where transnational bonds proved to be essential for the construction of a shared cultural, artistic, and literary enterprises.

The process of writing a book is typically understood as mainly a solitary endeavor; however, the community of the Romance Studies department has made it possible for me to think about the project as indebted to different exercises of collective thinking. The opportunity to teach a Graduate Seminar on the use of gendered pseudonyms has been invaluable and I am grateful for the students’ genuine interests and keen observations in every session. Writing a book while thinking with a community of passionate readers has been a great privilege!

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