Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It's only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Alegria's loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn't have been surprised.
Alegria came into my consciousness by way of me teaching ENC1102, the Intro to Lit class taught in colleges and universities across the land. I used the book edited by Michael Meyer, The Bedford Intro to Lit book, back when Bedford was a stand-alone publisher (or more of one than it is now).
I was determined to give my students exposure to a wider variety of writers than I had had. Meyer does a great job of giving every option. There was a section on Emily Dickinson and one on Langston Hughes--deep, in-depth exploration. There was a collection of world lit for each section. And that's where I found Alegria's "I am Mirror."
In the 1990's I taught that poem to classes that included very few Hispanic students. Then I moved to South Florida and taught that poem to people who had fled the Central American civil wars that Alegria wrote about. The poem worked well across a wide variety of boundaries.
When I went to San Francisco, my parents knew I needed to go to City Lights bookstore, and I bought every volume of Alegria that they had. I plan to read them this week--well, the English poems. I'll read the Spanish too, since they're included in the volumes. It will be interesting to see if I notice anything different. I want to believe that I've been practicing a bit of immersion language acquisition by living down here, but I know that I haven't.
I did a search to find out more about Alegria's death, but it's missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy--so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she's taught enough that there's a term paper industry about her work.
I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria's work.
One of my friends asked me yesterday if I missed teaching. I don't miss grading. But I do miss the opportunity to have the discussions about poets and poetry and the wider world. I don't have the same kinds of opportunities on such a regular basis in my administrator life.