Name: Dora Alonso
Lived: 1910 – 2001
Among the most prominent voices in 20th Century Cuban literature, Dora Alonso was all sorts of talented. A print and radio journalist, playwright, novelist, short story writer, poet, and even children’s book author, Alonso was awarded the the Casa de las Americas prize twice and consistently received awards for her work throughout her career. A passionate activist, Alonso’s focus was political: she wrote about characters oppressed by the alienation and poverty caused by a corrupt society.
After her time as a war correspondent at Playa Girón, one of two landing sites in the giant American-backed failure that was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Alonso wrote El aho 61 (The Year 1961) about her experiences. It remains a grand mystery why the U.S. wouldn’t care to translate a chronicle of such an important, unforgettable moment in history that maybe we should just forget about you know? Yep no need to translate that one. Best to shove a Spanish copy under one of the White House carpets. In fact, let’s just forget about that whole embargo thing altogether. I mean what’s 50 years, really?
If El aho 61 doesn’t pique your curiosity, wait until you hear about Alonso’s short stories.
I apologize for the question mark followed by a colon that is about to happen, but in A Place in the Sun?: Women Writers in Twentieth-Century Cuba Catherine Davies writes of Alonso:
“…how to approach stories in which a frightened old mare, about to be slaughtered for zoo meat, gives birth to a foal; a caring rat feeds her young on merchandise denied by a profiteer to a hungry human mother and her baby; a cat sees her recently-born kittens carried off by her trusted owner to their death; a pampered bitch escapes to find sexual pleasure with a flea-bitten dog, only to be caught and killed by the dog-catcher at the height of her ecstasy; a woman who hates and kills cockroaches dies of shock when one crawls out of the woodwork while she is in her steam bath, stares her in the eye and makes for her neck?”
I’ll tell you how to approach them, you approach them with ready eyes, willing fingers, and a reading lamp. Like seriously Juega la dama (The Lady Plays) which she almost named “Check Mate” or “Death to the King” because it is a collection of stories that all contain a female protagonist, either human or animal, is not published in English? What the fuck. I love prosopopoeia and allegory and I think we all know how I feel about female protagonists. I am so angry that an anthology exclusive to Alonso’s work does not exist in English. I’m pretty sure I would be a total nerd about Dora Alonso. I’m pretty sure I already am. Luckily, various anthologies have translated some of her stories piecemeal, including the gorgeous Cage Number One.
While the world of literature may be discriminatory against women in general, women are especially unwelcome in certain genres (philosophy, politics, history, etc.). In a larger body of women’s writing Dora Alonso’s allegories stand out as fairly unique for her time. While I wasn’t able to find too much biographical information about her, Dora Alonso lived a long life full of creation, died at the age of 90, and her work continues to be remembered throughout Latin America. (Though based on what limited reading was available, besides being untranslated into English she seems to be underrated by male critics.) I hope I get to see The Lady Plays or as I will call it Death to the King anthologized for English readers someday.
A monkey tries to escape its concrete zoo cell.
Anthologized in A Secret Weavers Anthology: Selections from the White Pine Press Secret Weavers Series: Writing by Latin American Women (1998)
Anthologized in Green Cane and Juicy Flotsam: Short Stories by Caribbean Women (1991)
A virginal octogenarian gets it on with an angel before her death.
Anthologized in Short Stories by Latin American Women: the Magic and the Real (1990)
There are apparently two Alonso stories in this anthology, but I’m not sure which ones.
Fragment from a Lost Diary & Other Stories : Women of Asia, Africa & Latin America (1975)