Sunday, February 11, 2007

I'm at the end of a very engaging weekend of readings and questions. I had a really great time with folks this weekend, so thank you for that!

Now, I wanted to spend some time referring to some of the questions that struck me from the past week. Here's a list of some that struck and stuck:
  • Why the title Erzulie's Skirt?
  • What makes this novel different from other Latina novels?
  • How do I define freedom for myself as a writer and in the context of the novel?
  • Why is there such a specific spiritual context?
So, I will say a little bit about my answers to these questions because I've been thinking about them.

Why the title Erzulie's Skirt?

Because it's pretty to me. Erzulie is pronounced (for English speakers): Her-Zoo-Lee/(for Spanish speakers): er-su-li - accent on the li.

Erzulie is also known as Erzuli Freda/Erzuli Danto/Anaisa/Metre Silie/La Sirene/La Sirena/La Metresa within Haitian & Dominican vudu. The name represents the forces of water - both sweet and salty, tender and wild. It is the water at the ocean's surface, mermaids dancing beneath, the delta, the river, the waterfalls...a combination thereof. In Yoruba/Lucumi practices, Erzulie is similar to Yemanya/Iemanja. Erzulie is the force of motherhood and childbirth, of female sexuality and all encompassing love. I imagine Her skirt wrapping us up as we cross the waters. In an embrace tight as the weight of water, gentle as lapping waves on the shore.

What makes this novel different from other Latina novels?

To get an answer to this, a real answer, I'm going to wait for the theorists and critics to tell me. What I can say is what a couple of folks shared with me - one about how the novel situates Latina bodies in the context of the African diaspora; two about kreyol and Haitian Dominican bodies become part of the Latina landscape and explicit experience.

I know that other Latina authors are definite points of reference for me in my own writing (though not exclusively by any means). Here are a few that I've read over the years:

Sandra Cisneros
Cherie Moraga
Gloria Anzaldua
Angie Cruz
Nelly Rosario
Julia Alvarez
Achy Obejas
Cristina Garcia
Rosario Ferre
Ana Castillo
Isabel Allende
Esmeralda Santiago
Loida Maritza Perez

There are pieces of their writing that I've held onto as points of connection. And, simultaneously, I've experienced gaps in Latina literature that I have wanted to see and am working on creating.

How do I define freedom for myself as a writer and in the context of the novel?

Without giving too much away about how I do this in the novel, I'll say the following. One, I had to ask myself in the writing process about what it means to define freedom for two black Caribbean women. What does freedom look like? It couldn't be as simple as arriving to the United States, and it also couldn't be as simple as death. So, I instead explored how women create relationships across generations as well as a few other things.

For myself, I'm constantly trying to understand what freedom means and how to negotiate that in this world and context. It's something I struggle to identify in concrete terms, but I know when I don't feel free. And I know I have the strength of character to fight for my freedom.

But that's all I know. Today. Right now.

Why is there such a specific spiritual context?

In Erzulie's Skirt, vudu/magic/healing is part of the characters' landscape and reality. It is my experience that in the Dominican Republic there is a thinner veil between the worlds and that many people in general believe in spirits (of the dead, etc), in dreams and their meanings, and in the power of prayer and magic. These beliefs manifest in different forms depending on individual and communal world views. The characters in Erzulie's Skirt navigate and negotiate their beliefs in various forms.

So, these are some thoughts. More will follow, these will develop as I receive new questions, insights and perspectives.


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