I will write at another point about individual books that this prolific, empathic, socially engaged and generous writer and family friend has produced.
For today, though, I want to talk about her both as an author for Women’s History Month and as someone whose work could be useful to the Urban Teacher Education Program students in my Social Studies Methods classes.
A professor and former department chair of Spanish literature at Wellesley College, Agosin has shown remarkable versatility in the nearly 30 years since she earned her doctorate from Indiana University. While much of her early work took the form of traditional literary analyses-one of her first books discussed the work of fabled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda-she since has branched out to produce many different types of books.
Readers who care to can take in a collection of letters between Agosin and childhood friend Emma Sepulveda, an account of her global travels, or more historical recordings of conversations with the mothers who protested their loved ones’ murder at Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo during Argentina’s Dirty War.
Through each of these forms, and the material about which she writes, Agosin makes statements about what constitutes legitimate forms of self-expression and subjects for scholarly inquiry.
Then there is the poetry.
Above all, Agosin considers herself a poet. Despite being fluent in English and participating actively in the translation of her work, she always writes in Spanish because, she says, that is the language that is closest to her soul.
Through a profile I wrote about Agosin for Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, I learned that she has several translators with whom she works regularly and does on occasion change how she expresses something in Spanish after talking through the English translation.
A Chilean Jew whose family’s roots are in Eastern Europe, she taps deep into the many veins of her identity. At different points she writes about being Chilean, about being a woman and a mother, about being Jewish, about the experience of exile, and about her family’s origins. She repeatedly links her experience to those of past generations-one collection is focused on diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, while another pays homage to Auschwitz survivor Zezette Larsen.
Agosin collaborates actively with visual artists, so many of her books combine her work with that of painters like in the work Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez. In this book Agosin bears witness to the more than 350 women who had been murdered on this border town in Mexico and the consuming grief with which their families must live daily.
Agosin’s moral vision anchors her work. She has consistently shown her passionate commitment to human rights-a passion that has been manifested both through the anthologies she has edited and in her work with the arpilleristas she has known in Chile.
The arpilleristas are Chilean women whose sons, husbands, brothers and uncles were “disappeared” during the Pinochet era that followed the 1973 coup. Forbidden by law to speak and protest against these crimes, these women wove their experiences into heart rending tapestries.
As a young woman, Agosin smuggled many of these pieces of art and protest out of the country. She wrote about the women and their work in a number of books.
Facing History and Ourselves, where my wife Dunreith works, has published a study guide authored primarily by Dani Eshet that helps students and teachers think about how to understand the work and transfer the process to where they live.
Agosin has also shown generosity to other artists throughout her career, editing collections of emerging writers so as to give them venues for their work and publications for their resumes.
Having written close to 100 books, Agosin has given interested readers plenty of material from which to draw. I have read about a dozen of her books and recommend only that you start somewhere. The chances are high that your first book by this talented and dedicated woman will not be your last.