Boullosa, Carmen 1954–
Boullosa, Carmen 1954–
PERSONAL: Born September 4, 1954, in Mexico City, Mexico; married Alejandro Aura (an actor, television personality, poet, and critic); children: Maria, Juan.
CAREER: Bookbinder and author. Founder and former co-owner, El Hijo del Cuervo (dinner theater); founder, with Salman Rushdie, Casa Citlaltépetl (haven for persecuted writers). Distinguished lecturer, City University of New York; visiting professor, New York University, 2002–03, Columbia University, 2003–04, Georgetown University, the Sorbonne, and San Diego State University; fellow, Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library, 2001. Boullosa's art books have been exhibited at the Museo de Arte Moderno de la Ciudad de México, the New York Public Library, and the Sala Pablo Ruiz Picasso del Museo de Arte Moderno de Madrid.
AWARDS, HONORS: Playwright of the Year, 1985; Premio Xavier Villaurrutia, 1989, for Antes, La savalje, and Papeles irresponsables; Guggenheim fellowship, 1992; Liberatur Prize, 1996; Anna Seghers Prize, 1997; Best Book of Poems Published in Mexico, Reforma, 2004, for Salto de mantaraya; Best Novel Published in Mexico, Reforma, 2005, for La otra mano de Lepanto; Play of the Year (Mexico City, Mexico), for Los totoles.
Lo propio en lo ageno, Centro de la Imagen, 1977.
Ingobernable, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 1979.
Mi versión de los hechos, Arte y Cultura Ediciones, 1987.
Mejor desaparece, Océano (Mexico City, Mexico), 1987.
La salvaja, Taller M. Pescador, 1988.
Antes, Vuelta (Mexico City, Mexico), 1989.
Papales irresponsables, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 1989.
Son vacas, somos puercos: filibusteros del mar Caribe, Era (Mexico City, Mexico), 1991, translated by Le-land H. Chambers as They're Cows, We're Pigs, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Llanto: novelas imposibles, Era (Mexico City, Mexico), 1992.
La milagrosa, Era (Mexico City, Mexico), 1993, translated by Amanda Hopkinson as The Miracle Worker, Cape (London, England), 1994.
Duerme, Alfaguara, 1994.
Quizá, Monte Avila Editores (Caracas, Mexico), 1995.
Cielos de la tierra, Alfaguara, 1997.
Solo para muchachos, Alfaguara, 1997.
La delirios, Fondo de Cultura Economica (Mexico City, Mexico), 1998.
Prosa rota, Plaza & Janés (Mexico City, Mexico), 2000.
De un salto descabalga la reina, Debate (Madrid, Spain), 2002, translated by Geoff Hargreaves as Cleopatra Dismounts, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2003.
La otra mano de Lepanto, Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico City, Mexico), 2005.
La novela perfecta, Alfaguara, 2006.
Cocinar hombres: obra de teatro intimo, Taller Tres Sirenas (Mexico), 1985.
Propusieron a Maria: dialogo imposible en un acto, Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Puebla, Mexico), 1987.
Teatro herético (contains Aura y las once mil virgenes, Cocinar hombres, and Propusieron a Maria), Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Puebla, Mexico), 1987.
Mi versión de los hechos, Arte y Cultura Ediciones (Mexico), 1997.
Also author of play Los totoles.
El hilo olvida (poems), La Máquina de Escribi (Mexico), 1979.
(With Martin Pescador) Lealtad (poems), Taller Martin Pescador (Mexico), 1981.
Abierta (poems), Delegación Venustiano Carranza (Mexico), 1983.
La midas (for children), illustrated by Fabrizio Van den Broek, CIDCLI (Mexico City, Mexico), 1986.
(With Magali Lara and Eduardo Vázquez Martin) Violenta pureza, Consejo Nacional de Recursos para la Atención de la Juventud (Mexico City, Mexico), 1988.
Papeles irresponsables, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 1989.
Soledumbre (poems), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico City, Mexico), 1992.
Envenenada: antología personal, Fondo Editorial Pequeña Venecia (Caracas, Venezuela), 1993.
Todos los amores: antología de poesía amorosa, Alfaguara, 1997.
Sólo para muchachos (short stories for children), Alfaguara, 1997.
La Delirios (poems), Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico City, Mexico), 1998.
Treinta años, Alfaguara, 1999, translated by Geoff Hargraves as Leaving Tobasco, Grove (New York, NY), 2001.
Agua (poem), illustrated by Juan Soriano, Taller M. Pescador (Mexico), 2000.
Ser el esclavo que perdió su cerpo, Voz Viva de México, 2000.
La bebida (poems), Fondo de Cultura Económica (Mexico City, Mexico), 2002.
Salto de mantarraya (poem; in Spanish and English; title means "Jump of the Manta Ray"), English translation by Psiche Hughes, illustrated by Philip Hughes, Old School Press (Bath, England), 2002.
Also author of poem Niebla: una poema, Taller M. Pescador. Contributor to Mexico: The Artist Is a Woman, edited by Regina Cortina, Brown University (Providence, NH), 1995, and Primero dios: los escritores mexicanos hablan de sus amores, odios, peleas y reconciliaciones con la dividad, by Adela Salinas, Colibri (Mexico City, Mexico), 1999. Author of introductory notes to José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and Lo propio en lo ajeno, Centro de la Imagen, 1997.
ADAPTATIONS: Duerme was adapted to audiocassette, Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Carmen Boullosa is one of Mexico's leading novelists, poets, playwrights, and children's authors. In addition to once owning the Coyoacan dinner theater El Hijo Del Cuervo, Boullosa is also a bookbinder who frequently holds expositions of her hand-made limited art objects/book editions. Boullosa considers herself a poet before all else, yet she has been successful pursuing many different art forms. Much of her work focuses on the concepts of feminism, gender roles, and sensuality, particularly within the Latin American context. Winning several awards, her work has been translated and circulated around the world and has appeared in numerous poetry, fiction, and theater anthologies.
Roselyn Costantino wrote in Latin American Women Dramatists: Theatre, Texts, and Theories, "Boullosa is one of Mexico's most prolific and respected contemporary writers. An attempt to classify her work in terms of traditional genre or with a particular generation, style, political affiliation, or artistic movement would not only be erroneous and misleading; it would fail to provide insight into or appreciation of the complex, diverse, and eclectic body of work she has produced." She elaborated: "As a writer and a Mexican woman, Carmen Boullosa demands not only 'another way to be,' as Rosario Castellanos put it, 'but other ways to imagine and articulate all the possibilities—real, fantastic, contradictory, bizarre, not-yet-even-thought-of ways to be.' In her theater, Boullosa seeks to resensitize senses anesthetized by the mass media, by the inhumane pace of modern life, and by the rhetoric of political, historic, religious and other social institutions which demand seeing questions of existence and belief in terms of binary opposition: we/they, good/evil, real/unreal, history/myth, pain/pleasure, and … masculine/feminine."
One example of Boullosa's approach is in Teatro herético, a compilation of three short plays where she treats the subject matter of each play with parody and satire. Costantino explained: "In that light, herético not only refers to the sometimes sacrilegious and defiant manner with which Boullosa treats 'sacred' themes via self-reflective dramatic technique, but also to her vision of historical and religious authority, constituted through a variety of discourses, an absurd social reality." In the first play, Aura y las once mil virgenes, the main character, Aura, is visited by an angel and then by "El Unico," or God himself, who offers him a deal he cannot refuse. If Aura can "deflower" eleven thousand virgins before they die, he will become the most successful advertising agent in Mexico. Apparently, due to the poverty in the third world, heaven is overpopulated, and if Aura can take away these women's virginity, they will be forced to spend time in purgatory, alleviating Heaven's problem. The play continues with Aura using the sexual encounter he has with each woman, and her "defects," as the focus of the TV commercials he produces. Costantino elaborated: "One can read in these ads a variety of dissonant discourses; social and political criticism directed at the Church, at the trivialization of the body and sex in mass media, at the falseness of information geared toward the manipulation of the mass consuming public, at what is seen as the sell-out of Mexico by the political-economic power structure, at the destruction of Mexico's environment in the name of economic growth, at the imperialism of—here specifically—North American cultural imports."
The second play in Teatro herético is Cocinar hombres: obra de teatro intimo. This play is about two young girls, Ufe and Wine, who find that while they were sleeping they aged from ten to twenty-three years old. They have also been captured and initiated into witch-hood, with the purpose of flying over earth each night to tempt men, yet never satisfy them. Costantino stated: "Cocinar hombres is considered by many critics in Mexico a 'feminist' play that challenges patriarchal perceptions and manipulations of feminine sexuality. The play is a representation, albeit fantastic, of the violent encounter of two girls with the development of the female body and the social myths and realities that construct and impinge upon that very personal experience."
The final play in Teatro herético is Propusieron a Maria: dialogo imposible en un acto, which recreates the final moments between Joseph and Mary before Mary ascends to heaven after giving birth to Jesus. "The hilarity and outrageousness of the possibility of listening in on a bedroom conversation of the Virgin Mary may detract from, but do not diminish, the 'irreverence' of Boullosa's act, especially within the Mexican context," attested Costantino, who later added: "As spectators or readers, we can look forward to the emergence of more creativity and humor as we watch Boullosa, her work, and its Mexican context during what she describes as a period of cultural 'crisis.' In the generation of art, this crisis or 'perversion,' as Boullosa comments, 'makes miracles.'"
Boullousa's best-selling novel Son vacas, somos puercos: filibusteros del mar Caribe, was published in Mexico in 1991 and translated into English as They're Cows, We're Pigs in 1997. The story is narrated by the protagonist, Jean Smeeks, as he looks back on his life from the perspective of an old man. Kidnapped at age thirteen, the French-born Smeeks is brought over on a slave ship from his native Flanders to the island of Tortuga in the West Indies. He is sold into slavery, yet is apprenticed in the art of medicine by a native and later a French doctor. In exchange for the promise of freedom, Smeeks joins a raucous brotherhood of pirates, or "pigs," as their medical officer. A Publishers Weekly critic explained that the author contrasts the pigs, "who envision their life as democratic, free of women and of national and religious prejudice," with the "cattle," who are bound by law and tradition. The critic concluded that "Boullosa justifies her laurels in this rich work." Allen Lincoln added in the New York Times Book Review: "Although there is nothing strictly magical about her style, Boullosa's vivid and visceral descriptions provide hallucinatory images of the pirate's raping and pillaging, their battles in the jungle and at sea, and their post-looting orgies."
In 1993's La milagrosa, the title character is a girl who is able to perform miracles in her sleep, such as healing the sick. Although she is convinced that she can only keep her powers if she stays away from people—most importantly men—she falls in love with a man named Aurelio Jimenez, a detective who has been sent by the labor syndicate to either discredit or destroy her. Although she is now no longer celibate, her powers remain and she brings about the downfall of a corrupt candidate for president. World Literature Today contributor Kay Pritchett wrote of the novel: "More thoughtful readers will find the correspondences between its characters and Mexican realities—or unrealities—alluring." Because there is an unsolved murder in the book, Pritchett described it as an unconventional mystery: "Untypical of its genre, however, Boullosa's novel clarifies neither who did it nor exactly what was done. Readers will enjoy coming up with their own answers."
Written in 1995, Duerme is about a French woman named Claire, the daughter of a prostitute. Having also been a prostitute, Claire wants to escape her situation. She arrives in New Spain dressed like a man. According to Salvador Oropesa in The Other Mirror: Women's Narrative in Mexico, 1980–1995: "The historians Rudolph M. Dekker and Lotte C. van de Pol have documented that during the sixteenth century many women traveled from Europe to the colonies dressed as men, 'In the early modern era passing oneself off as a man was a real and viable option for women who had fallen into bad times and were struggling to overcome their difficult circumstances.'" Masquerading as Monsieur Fleurcy, a French Lutheran pirate, Claire is forced to relinquish her male mask to help a prominent subject of the Spanish king escape death. She takes his place on the gallows and, according to Rafael H. Mojica in World Literature Today, she is "captured by Conde Enrique de Urquiza's servants, [and] a wound is made in her left breast that drains her blood, and the blood is replaced with water collected from the lakes around Mexico City." It turns out that the water has magical powers that allow Claire to survive the gallows; it is, as Mojica pointed out, symbolic of the necessity of invaders from the Old World to take on new identities as they establish an existence in the New World. "One thing that shines in this brief work of fiction," asserted Mojica, "is the author's craft with narrative language, her subtle blending of adventure narrative with the more complex textual components of the novel."
Mixing history with fancy in a manner reminiscent of They're Cows, We're Pigs, Boullosa's novel De un salto descabalga la reina is a magical take on the fate of Cleopatra. Translated as Cleopatra Dismounts, the premise here is that the Egyptian queen did not die from an asp's bite, as the Romans would have history believe, but rather might have pursued other possibilities before her eventual death. Her scribe Diomedes relates several options without stating which version might be true. They have Cleopatra joining a group of pirates after her lover Marc Antony's death, in one case, and in another she is taken by a magical bull on a voyage where she has many amazing adventures, including encounters with the Amazons; however, Cleopatra never reclaims her throne and is killed by a traitor. "Boullosa keeps a tight rein on her narrative, peppering it with established historical references, all the while emphasizing the deceptiveness of memory and the way each person's responses to events shapes her or his world," related Serenity Young in the Women's Review of Books. "By suggesting that Cleopatra's choices still dangle before us, she makes Cleopatra's story all women's story." For some critics, the magical aspects of Boullosa's tale work well, while for others they fall flat. For example, a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the tale compelling when the author sticks to more factual details, but felt that the "story acquires a Munchausen-like absurdity that even Garcia Marquez would find hard to stomach" in the fantasy passages. A Publishers Weekly critic similarly did not like the "minor historical and mythological figures and an abrupt, disconnected, hallucinatory narrative." On the other hand, Lisa Nussbaum, writing in Library Journal, called Cleopatra Dismounts an "enchanting" novel that is "rich, inventive, evocative, erotic, and even bawdy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Latin American Women Dramatists: Theatre, Texts, and Theories, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1998, pp. 181-201.
The Other Mirror: Women's Narrative in Mexico, 1980–1995, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1977, pp. 99-110.
Booklist, May 1, 1997, Nancy Pearl, review of They're Cows, We're Pigs, p. 1477; November 15, 2003, Nancy Pearl, review of Cleopatra Dismounts, p. 579.
Entertainment Weekly, June 13, 1997, Margot Mifflin, review of They're Cows, We're Pigs, p. 61.
Inti: Revista de Literature Hispanica, autumn, 1995, "The Actualization of a Distant Past: Carmen Boullosa's Historiographic Metafiction," pp. 301-314.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2003, review of Cleopatra Dismounts, p. 1140.
Latin American Theatre Review, spring, 1995, Roselyn Costantino, "Postmodernism and Feminism in Mexican Theatre: Aura y las once mil virgenes by Carmen Boullosa," pp. 55-72.
Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Mary Margaret Benson, review of They're Cows, We're Pigs, p. 116; November 1, 2003, Lisa Nussbaum, review of Cleopatra Dismounts, p. 121.
New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1997, Allen Lincoln, review of They're Cows, We're Pigs, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997, review of They're Cows, We're Pigs, p. 71; October 20, 2003, review of Cleopatra Dismounts, p. 34.
Romantic Languages Annual, Volume 9, 1997, Barbara R. Fick, "La Milagrosa: Novela Feminista-Postmoderna de Carmen Boullosa," pp. 474-477.
Torre: Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, April-June, 1996, "Carmen Boullosa: La Textualidad de lo Imaginario," pp. 167-181.
Women's Review of Books, May, 2004, Serenity Young, "Beyond Elizabeth Taylor," review of Cleopatra Dismounts, p. 21.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1992, George R. McMurray, review of Son vacas, somos puercos: filibusteros del mar Caribe, p. 690; autumn, 1993, Cynthia Tompkins, review of Llanto: novelas imposibles, p. 780; autumn, 1994, Kay Pritchett, review of La milagrosa, p. 788; summer, 1995, Rafael H. Mojica, review of Duerme, p. 556.
Bomb Magazine, http://www.bombsite.com/boullosa/boullosa.html (October 6, 2006), Rubén Gallo, interview with Carmen Boullosa.
Carmen Boullosa Home Page, http://www.carmenboullosa.net (October 6, 2006).