Mayaya Rising: Black Female Icons in Latin American and Caribbean Literature and Culture

Dawn Duke’s Mayaya Rising: Black Female Icons in Latin American and Caribbean Literature and Culture (Rutgers University Press, January 2023) is a new study of black women writers in the broader Hispanic Caribbean region.

Description: Who are the Black heroines of Latin America and the Caribbean? Where do we turn for models of transcendence among women of African ancestry in the region? In answer to the historical dearth of such exemplars, Mayaya Rising explores and celebrates the work of writers who intentionally center powerful female cultural archetypes. In this inventive analysis, Duke proposes three case studies and a corresponding womanist methodology through which to study and rediscover these figures. The musical Cuban-Dominican sisters and former slaves Teodora and Micaela Ginés inspired Aida Cartagena Portalatin’s epic poem Yania tierra; the Nicaraguan matriarch of the May Pole, “Miss Lizzie,” figures prominently in four anthologies from the country’s Bluefields region; and the iconic palenqueras of Cartagena, Columbia are magnified in the work of poets María Teresa Ramírez Neiva and Mirian Díaz Pérez. In elevating these figures and foregrounding these works, Duke restores and repairs the scholarly record.


Mayra Santos-Febres (La amante de Gardel) writes, “[A] carefully detailed and focused discussion of Afro-Latina/Caribbean women writers from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Duke discusses strategies of resistance, recuperation of memory, and rewritings of history, centering her reading of Afro-diasporic women’s literature transversally within Hispanic Caribbean and Latin American Literature Studies. It is a much-needed repositioning . . . ‘Enhorabuena,’ Dawn Duke. As an Afro-Boricua writer, I celebrate Mayaya Rising. Latin American and Caribbean Literary Studies need more books like this.”

Silvio Torres-Saillant (coauthor of The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat) says, “Dawn Duke’s study of black women writers in the Hispanic Caribbean—its continental components included—breaks important new ground. Its intersectional stress on race and gender illuminates the path of authors who draw strength from feminist and anti-racist legacies owed to iconic ancestresses. The cultural and linguistic diversity of this literary corpus pulverizes homogenizing assumptions about ‘Spanish American’ literature.”

DAWN DUKE is a professor of Spanish and Portuguese and chair of Portuguese at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is the author of Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment: Toward a Legacy of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian Women Writers (Bucknell), editor of A Escritora Afro-Brasileira: Ativismo e Arte Literária, and coeditor of Celluloid Chains: Slavery in the Americas through Film. She has published more than twenty-two articles and chapters.

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