Report on Postgraduate Travel Grants 2017: Leona Blair (Queen’s University, Belfast)

By Maria Montt Strabucchi • blog • 24 Nov 2017

WISPS POSTGRADUATE TRAVEL GRANTS

REPORT BY LEONA BLAIR

November 2017

 

My name is Leona Blair and I am a PhD student in Modern Languages at Queen’s University, Belfast.

I am currently in the process of writing up my thesis which analyses the fictional and theoretical writings of Chicana author, Ana Castillo, who is widely celebrated as a leading figure within Chicana literature. Today, Castillo is best known for her novels, with So Far from God (1993) and The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986) being her most popular works in terms of both scholarly and commercial attention. Her main contribution to scholarship, however, is her collection of critical essays, Massacre of the Dreamers (1994), in which she coined the term “Xicanisma” to describe her own brand of Chicana feminism.

In November 2017 I had the opportunity to share my research at the WISPS annual conference at Leeds University. It was both my first time attending WISPS and my first visit to Leeds, and I took part in a panel which focused on strategies of resistance in literature by Spanish and Latin American women writers. My paper explored the power of the erotic in Ana Castillo’s poetry chapbook, The Invitation (1979), a work which celebrated women’s sexualities and sensualities. I argued that reading Castillo’s chapbook through the lens of her later theoretical ideas on Xicanisma permits us to gain a fuller understanding of the political power of her poetry. I hence proposed that we should view The Invitation to be a foundational text in terms of Castillo’s thinking on sexuality, as although it precedes the critical essays by fifteen years, the poetry foreshadows her theoretical vision of moving towards an ‘erotic whole self’.

Given that the field of Chicana/o Studies is largely under-represented in academia in the U.K. and Ireland, I have often found it challenging to navigate a space for my research between the disciplines of Latin American/Hispanic Studies and American Studies. Prior to WISPS, my conference participation had been limited to the Anglo-dominant field of American Studies. As a result, I was very keen to attend WISPS as it seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage more fully with the Hispanophone side of my research and meet fellow scholars outside of an Anglo-American context. From the outset of the conference the environment was friendly and relaxed, and it was wonderful to have the chance to finally put faces to the names I’d been communicating with over email in the previous months. All in all, I am deeply grateful to WISPS for awarding me their generous travel grant. The conference was a valuable opportunity to be part of a women-centred space in which to exchange supportive scholarly dialogue and I look forward to doing it all again in 2018.

If you would like more information on my research, see my academia profile (https://qub.academia.edu/LeonaBlair) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/LeonaBlair_).

For more on Ana Castillo, see her personal website: www.anacastillo.com

 

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