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A Queer Mother for the Nation

The State and Gabriela Mistral

2001
Author:

Licia Fiol-Matta

A Queer Mother for the Nation

A forceful new view of the complex nexus of feminism and power.

A Queer Mother for the Nation weaves a nuanced understanding of how Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, cooperated with authority and fashioned herself as the figure of Motherhood in collaboration with the state.

Licia Fiol-Matta skillfully unpacks the complex strands of the persona constructed by and around Gabriela Mistral-surrogate mother of the Chilean nation, Schoolteacher of America, cosmopolitan defender of human rights, Nobel Laureate, auratic bard, melancholic, closet lesbian-a queer-normative complexity ranging across numerous private and public scales, from the remote valley of her birth to the United Nations.

George Yúdice, New York University

Chilean writer Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was a poetic idol for generations of Latin Americans who viewed her as Womanhood incarnate, the national schoolteacher-mother. How this distinctly masculine woman who never gave birth came to occupy this role, and what Mistral’s image, poetry, and life have to say about the relations-and realities-of race, gender, and sexual politics in her time, are the questions Licia Fiol-Matta pursues in this book, recreating the story of a woman whose misrepresentation is at least as intriguing, and as instructive, as her fame.

A Queer Mother for the Nation weaves a nuanced understanding of how Mistral cooperated with authority and fashioned herself as the figure of Motherhood in collaboration with the state. Drawing on Mistral’s little-known political and social essays, her correspondence and photographs, Fiol-Matta reconstructs Mistral’s relationship to state politics. Her work questions the notion of queer bodies as outlaws, and insists on the many ways in which queer subjects have participated in and sustained the normative discourses they seem to rebel against.


A Queer Mother for the Nation

Licia Fiol-Matta is assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Latin American Cultures at Barnard College.

A Queer Mother for the Nation

Licia Fiol-Matta skillfully unpacks the complex strands of the persona constructed by and around Gabriela Mistral-surrogate mother of the Chilean nation, Schoolteacher of America, cosmopolitan defender of human rights, Nobel Laureate, auratic bard, melancholic, closet lesbian-a queer-normative complexity ranging across numerous private and public scales, from the remote valley of her birth to the United Nations.

George Yúdice, New York University

A Queer Mother for the Nation is intellectually ambitious, forcefully argued, gracefully written, imaginative and impressive. Fiol-Matta is on the forward edge of a new wave of scholarship, she places race and gender at the constitutive heart of the nexus of nationalism and sexuality. This book looks at the uses of queerness for hegemonic nationalisms, particularly at the uses of female, multiracial subjects for the construction of Latin American nationalism through the maternal body at the turn of the century.

Lisa Duggan, author of Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence ,and American Modernity

A stunning contribution to a range of related fields between literary performance and statecraft. Without A Queer Mother, the blindspot of foundational fictions might have remained invisible. Here, the role of homosexuality takes center-stage in national history, indeed in regional history, since Mistral translated easily from chile to Mexico and from there to an international 'teacher.’ She suggests unanticipated parallels with Evita Peron, another physically barren mother who was claimed by a country of her affective children. And more parallels with an unspoken Catholic tradition of celibate fatherhood that makes more sense of affectionate authoritarianism than most readers care to acknowledge. Fiol-Matta is a fearless reader, with enough admiration and humor to appreciate the human dimensions of Mistral's creativity and self-creation.

Doris Sommer, Professor of Harvard University

The author goes beyond the traditional biography by combining an innovative reading of Mistral’s aesthetics and political thinking as reflected in her many essays and in her copious correspondence with key figures of the time. A good resource for multidisciplinary Latin Americanists and for those interested in gay and lesbian studies.

Choice

Reverberates in many timely ways the growing and problematic association between queer rights and state reproduction throughout the Western countries, and the history of strange bedfellowing between nationalism and queers. Fiol-Matta’s stunning book is a necessary rendezvous for all queers to whom politics and sexuality matter.

Lesbian and Gay Studies Newsletter

This study is an engaging and thought-provoking analysis of the myth and person of Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean poet who in 1945 became the first Latin American awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. As a biography, this is a skillful piece of scholarship, one that resists casting Mistral as heroine, villian, or victim. Fiol-Matta paints a more complex picture of a male-identified intellectual who maintained a series of long and important relationships with women and whose writings did not always conform to the heteronormative, “separate sphere” prescriptions often attributed to her.

Journal of the History of Sexuality

A Queer Mother for the Nation

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction:The Schoolteacher ofAmerica

PART I A Gay Hagiography?

ONE Race Woman
TWO Schooling and Sexuality
THREE Citizen Mother
FOUR Intimate Nationalism

PART II Queering the State

FIVE Image Is Everything
SIX Pedagogy,Humanities,Social Unrest
SEVEN Education and Loss

Epilogue:The “National Minority Stereotype”
Notes

Index