Authors: Luisa Valenzuela

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Argentine novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Hay que sonreír, 1966 (Clara, 1976)

El gato eficaz, 1972

Como en la guerra, 1977 (He Who Searches, 1979)

Libro que no muerde, 1980

Cola de lagartija, 1983 (The Lizard’s Tail, 1983)

Novela Negra con Argentinos, 1990 (Black Novel with Argentines, 1992)

Realidad nacional desde la cama, 1990 (Bedside Manners, 1995)

La travesía, 2001

Short Fiction:

Los heréticos, 1967 (The Heretics: Thirteen Short Stories, 1976)

Aquí pasan cosas raras, 1975 (Strange Things Happen Here: Twenty-six Short Stories and a Novel, 1979)

Cambio de armas, 1982 (Other Weapons, 1985)

Donde viven las águilas, 1983 (Up Among the Eagles, 1988)

Open Door: Stories, 1988

Simetrías, 1993 (Symmetries, 1998)

Cuentos completos, y uno más, 1998


Peligrosas palabras, 2001 (essays)


Luisa Valenzuela (vah-lehn-ZWAY-lah), Argentine novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and scriptwriter, is one of Argentina’s most significant authors to emerge since the boom in Latin American literature during the 1960’s. As the daughter of Luisa Mercedes Levinson, a prominent Argentine writer, Valenzuela was initiated at an early age into the world of the written word. Her father, Pablo Francisco Valenzuela, was a doctor. She was reared in Belgrano and received her early education from a German governess and an English tutor. In 1945, she attended Belgrano Girls’ School and then an English high school. She began writing for the magazine Quince Abriles in 1953 and completed her studies at the National Preparatory School Vicente López in 1955. Subsequently she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Buenos Aires. She wrote for the Buenos Aires magazines Atlántida, El Hogar, and Esto Es and worked with Jorge Luis Borges in the National Library of Argentina. She also wrote for the Belgrano Radio and was a tour guide in 1957. It was during this time that her first short stories were published, in the magazine Ficción.{$I[AN]9810000746}{$I[A]Valenzuela, Luisa}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Valenzuela, Luisa}{$I[geo]ARGENTINA;Valenzuela, Luisa}{$I[tim]1938;Valenzuela, Luisa}

In 1958, when she was twenty years old, Valenzuela left Buenos Aires to become the Paris correspondent for the Argentine daily newspaper El Mundo. There she wrote programs for Radio Télévision Française and participated in the intellectual life of the then-famous Tel Quel group of literary theorists and structuralists. She married French merchant marine Theodore Marjak, resided in Normandy, and gave birth to a daughter, Anna-Lisa, in 1958. Three years later she returned to Buenos Aires and joined Argentina’s foremost newspaper, La Nación, where she became assistant editor. After she was divorced from her husband in 1965, she went to the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop on a Fulbright grant in 1969. In 1972, she received a scholarship to study pop culture and literature in New York. She then became an avid traveler, living in Spain, Mexico, New York, and Buenos Aires; participating in conferences; continuing her journalism; and cultivating her fiction.

Her first novel, Clara, presents the story of a naïve country girl turned prostitute in Buenos Aires; the girl’s picaresque adventures in a male world alternate between the humorous and the sinister. As the novel progresses, the antiheroine’s forthrightness slowly changes into a pathos under the constant attack of the city’s anonymity, alienation, and male brutality. Valenzuela won the Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía Award in 1973 for the script “Hay que sonreír,” based on her first novel. Her New York-Greenwich Village experience resulted in El gato eficaz (the efficient cat), an experimental novel sustained largely by the innovative use of language and an imaginative plot. In 1975, she returned to Buenos Aires and joined the staff of the journal Crisis. After participating in more workshops and conferences, she left Buenos Aires and settled in New York in 1978, where she conducted creative writing workshops and taught Latin American literature at Columbia University, as well as at other universities in the United States.

Although she has lived much of her life outside Argentina, Valenzuela, like other Argentine women writers, could not escape her involvement with an Argentine society torn by violence, class struggle, dictatorship, and dehumanization. Thus, much of her fiction, though written and published outside her native country, where it was banned, treats such themes as violence, political repression, and cultural repression, especially as they relate to women. Yet, as critics point out, her work continually undermines social and political myths while (unlike that of so many political writers) refusing to replace old mythic structures with new but equally arbitrary and authoritative ones.

BibliographyBach, Caleb. “Metaphors and Magic Unmask the Soul.” Americas 47 (January/February, 1995): 22-28. Notes that Valenzuela is distressed by the cultural banality common the world over. Says that her prose involves the reader by posing questions rather than suggesting simplistic solutions; claims her books are not for the lazy reader.Hoeppner, Edward H. “The Hand That Mirrors Us: Luisa Valenzuela’s Re-Writing of Lacan’s Theory of Identity.” Latin American Literary Review 20 (January-June, 1992): 9-17. Provides a thoughtful study of Valenzuela’s works in the light of psychoanalytic theory.Logan, Joy. “Southern Discomfort in Argentina: Postmodernism, Feminism, and Luisa Valenzuela’s Simetrías.” Latin American Literary Review 24 (July-December, 1996): 5-17. Argues that in the fairy-tale section of Symmetries, Valenzuela’s critique of Western patriarchal practices is most clear. Claims that the collection is a textual performance of the interplay between postmodernism and feminism.McNab, Pamela J. “Sexual Silence and Equine Imagery in Valenzuela and Cortazar.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 76 (April, 1999): 263-279. Compares the way in which both Valenzuela and Julio Cortazar use horse imagery to fill the gap between language and silence in their short stories.Magnarelli, Sharon. “Simetrías: ‘Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. …’” World Literature Today 69 (Autumn, 1995): 717-726. Argues that the collection Symmetries is organized around motifs of language and power. Analyzes “Tango,” “Transfigurations,” and the title story “Symmetries” in terms of the motif of parallel situations and responses.Marting, Diane. “Female Sexuality in Selected Short Stories by Luisa Valenzuela: Toward an Ontology of Her Work.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 6 (Fall, 1986): 48-54. Discusses how three stories from Strange Things Happen Here treat female sexuality in terms of figurative and mimetic modes of narration.Marting, Diane. “Gender and Metaphoricity in Luisa Valenzuela’s ‘I’m Your Horse in the Night.’” World Literature Today 69 (Fall, 1995): 702-708. A survey and critique of previous interpretations of the story, accompanied by a close reading in which Marting argues that the story criticizes the man for his retrograde treatment of the woman who loves him.Morello-Frosch, Maria. “‘Other Weapons’: When Metaphors Become Real.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 6 (Fall, 1986): 82-87. Discusses the story “Other Weapons” as one in which the protagonist creates her own vision of the world in opposition to the political establishment. Says the story presents sexual and political repression in terms of communication with one’s past.Rubio, Patricia. “Fragmentation in Luisa Valenzuela’s Narrative.” Salmagundi, nos. 82/83 (Spring/Summer, 1989): 287-296. Argues that the objective of Valenzuela’s writing is not the mimetic representation of reality, but the creation of a fictive world that witnesses its own mutation. Discusses Valenzuela’s use of the fragment and the various acts of fragmentation in her fiction.Tomlinson, Emily. “Rewriting Fictions of Power: The Texts of Luisa Valenzuela and Marta Traba.” Modern Language Review 93 (July, 1998): 695-709. Discusses the feminist exploration of themes of power in the writings of the two authors.Valenzuela, Luisa. Interview by Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier. In Interviews with Latin American Writers. Elmwood Park, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 1989. In this composite interview, Valenzuela discusses rebellion and freedom in her work, the effect of censorship, writers who have influenced her, the relationship between fantasy and reality in her fiction, and her interest in magic. Valenzuela says she prefers the short story over the novel.
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