By: Tasslyn Magnusson
We got a new reading list in January. And that list is helping me push into some
new reading territory. I've discovered that in terms of diverse authors and books I have a huge deficit in Latino authors. Jumping into the new list, I'm on the lookout to change this deficit. I am loving it. Let's talk for a minute about Margarita Engle's The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist.Opening in 1827 ,Engle imagines the early life of Cuban poet and playwright Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda – also known as Tula, her nickname as a child. Engle crafts a beautiful verse novel about the origins of Tula's relationship with
words and her journey to the independent writer and abolitionist she became as an adult.
I am in awe of what Engle has done. She has taken a historical figure and woven an elegant set of interconnected verses that show Tula's consciousness raising regarding slavery and treatment of women as well as her growing consciousness ofher need to write. This is historical fiction at its most intimate and profound. Engle writes: "Poems. / Stories. / Plays. / All are forbidden. / Girls are not supposed to think, / but as soon as my eager mind / begins to race, free thoughts / rush in / to replace / the trapped ones" (4). Tula's societal awareness rises as her call to the words and writing emerges. The two, Engle shows, are interdependent. As Tula is silenced as a female, she needs to figure out how to take action. "I have discovered injustice, / but what good is a witness / who cannot testify? / I am silent. / Useless. / My voice / has vanished. / Will I ever learn how to sing / on paper?" (39).
This is a photographic copy of the Original Painting by Federico de Madrazo. Used under Creative Commons: Public Domain.
Reading this reminds of the journey in Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline
Woodson. Both are stories of how as this women came to understand their own
identity, their identities as writers exploded. Words and equality and identity are
inexorably intertwined. As Tula (and Engle) say: "I must be honest, writing
myself / into the story, revealing / all my secrets" (162).