Telling Stories in Contemporary Spain: A Survey of Women Writing Literary Journalism

By Pagone, Novia; Moliner, Empar | World Literature Today, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

Telling Stories in Contemporary Spain: A Survey of Women Writing Literary Journalism


Pagone, Novia, Moliner, Empar, World Literature Today


Of the many trends in literary journalism today, the use of humor to convey sociocultural critiques continues to be one of the major forces in work by Spanish women.

The tradition of literary journalism in Spain stretches back to at least the nineteenth century, when Mariano José de Larra regularly wielded his often-biting satire to comment on current events and customs. Since then, male writers have tended to dominate Spanish journalism, particularly in the general-interest press. With the exception of a handful of nineteenth- century trailblazers, most women writers either wrote poetry, prose fiction, or participated in such nonfiction publications as fashion and home magazines until the early twentieth century. At that time, writers like Emilia Pardo Bazán and Margarita Nelken distinguished themselves as journalists and feminist activists.

Although the early women's movement was interrupted by the civil war (1936- 39) and experienced a long, oppressive hiatus under the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco (1939-75), women's voices began to appear in magazines and to be heard on the streets in the late 1960s, and became more present in public discourse after Franco's death in November 1975. The death of the dictator, and with him the authoritarian regime that trained women to be good, Catholic wives and mothers, led to an unprecedented opening of Spanish culture and society, a quick and mostly nonviolent transition (1975-82) from authoritarian rule to a constitutional monarchy, and more rights for women. No longer subject to state censorship, print journalism played a prominent role in reflecting and shaping the changing society. It especially provided a medium through which women could participate in public discourse and begin to make their voices heard on issues as important as women's rights, abuses in prisons, or labor struggles.

Since this key moment in history for Spanish women, and for Spaniards in general, female journalists have continued to collaborate in general-interest periodicals as well as in specialized publications.1 Indeed, the first decade of the twenty-first century has seen an increase in the visibility of women journalists who contribute regularly to general-interest newspapers with regular columns, essays, special reports, in-depth interviews, and chronicles. Four of the more prominent female journalists who have been writing literary journalism throughout the last decade illustrate some important trends, while specific examples of work by two of these writers show how this genre provides a unique space for them to communicate a deeper and more nuanced sociocultural understanding of the complexities of a specific event or topic while also helping to make contemporary issues more accessible to the general public.

While many readers of literary journalism from the United States will be familiar with the long report that is often published as a monograph, in the vein of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in Spain this genre is much less common, being surpassed by the column or opinion article, the essay, and even the interview and the literary chronicle. As Albert Chillón points out, the novelized report is not as common because it has not been supported as much by the market or the journalism and publishing industries in Spain as it has been in the United States.2 There are exceptions, of course, as in the case of Montserrat Roig's acclaimed report Els catalans als camps nazis (1977; Catalans in Nazi concentration camps). Still, in terms of women, or even men, writing long-form literary journalism, the institutional support and tradition has not been strong. However, despite the fact that Spain has not produced a canon of such monographic texts, Spanish writers practice literary journalism as a matter of course in their daily or weekly essays, chronicles, articles, columns, and interviews.

Such is the case with many contemporary Spanish journalists, particularly those who also write fiction. …

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