write about humanity

“When a woman writes a novel starring a woman, everyone thinks she is talking about women, while when a man writes a novel starring a man, everyone thinks he is talking about the human race.”

I remembered this phrase by the Spanish writer Rosa Montero, included in chapter thirteen of her book La loca de la casa, while reading the reactions to the work of this year’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature, the French Annie Ernaux.

The reactions I read insisted on highlighting her feminine sensitivity, her stories about being a woman and her feminism, despite the fact that the Swedish Academy that awards the prize indicated that she was awarded the prize “for the courage and clinical acumen with which she discovers the roots, estrangements and collective restrictions of personal memory”. Other reactions cataloged her writing as autofiction, despite the fact that many of her books (especially after 1984, when she published El lugar) began to focus on her personal experiences and are considered autobiographical works.

To build the corpus of his work, Ernaux has taken the most significant events of his life, fragmenting them into specific themes, as a kind of dissection of his own experience, complemented by the material of his numerous diaries and diaries, which he began to write from very young. Thus, his books talk about childhood, adultery, marriage, abortion and family relationships, intersecting with other topics such as social classes, memory and education, among many others.

Despite the fact that Ernaux herself declares herself a feminist, those of us who have read her work have found a much broader, richer and more complex narrative, which is not limited to what is called “women’s writing”. The reconstruction of the different stages of her life, especially when she narrates her life in Yvetot, the small town in Normandy, in the north of France, where she spent her childhood and adolescence, transcends what is merely local and cultural.

The careful examination of the relationships between the different people who populate his world, the smells, the longings, the doubts and other approaches in Ernaux’s books, force the reader to remember or reflect on their own reality. The author places multiple triggers in her narrative that arouse personal evocations in those who read it. For this reason, it is possible to identify with the content of her books, regardless of the nationality, age or gender of the person she reads. Transcending those details is precisely what makes a writing universal and appeals to humanity as a whole.

Saying that women writers write women’s stories generates a limitation both in the appreciation of their content and in the approach to their reading, since it ends up believing that they are stories that only other women would be interested in reading. Those who think this way should read little or ignore the fact that since women have written books, they have ventured into various literary genres and have written masterpieces in science fiction (Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler), the historical novel (Hilary Mantel ), psychological thriller (Patricia Highsmith), horror (Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice) and many other genres.

In recent years, the impulse of feminist struggles has allowed a greater interest in publishing and reading authors from different countries. This has made it possible to meet new writers who are publishing very original proposals. It has also allowed the rescue of others that had been relegated to a plane of silence within the publishing world and whose contents (I insist) transcend the merely feminine, launching questions and reflections on our relationship with life and with other human beings. Delphine de Vigan, Ariana Harwicz, Fernanda Melchor, Samantha Schweblin, Natalia Ginzburg, Lucía Berlin and Diamela Eltit, among many others, are a clear example of all this.

Although it is true that biology imposes a type of exclusively female experience (such as menstruation and pregnancy), one of the demands of the literary exercise is the use of imagination as a narrative tool. One of the great challenges for any writer, being a man or a woman, is portraying characters of all kinds, including those of the opposite sex. The classic example of this is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. But let us also think of Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, where the author reconstructs the life and death of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Although we live in an editorial moment in which the work of many women is getting better exposure, there are still many spaces that must be balanced (such as access to publications, scholarships, creative grants and literary prizes), not because of quotas genre, but for an undeniable matter of literary quality. The Nobel Prize itself is an example of this.

In 121 years of existence, the Nobel Prize for Literature has only been awarded to 17 women, of which there is only one Latin American (Gabriela Mistral), one African American (Toni Morrison) and one South African (Nadine Gordimer, who was the daughter of white European parents ). Among those 17 winners there is, so far, no Asian writer.

To think that when a woman writes she does so only to address other women and that the only thing she does is explore issues concerning the feminine is to continue perpetuating prejudices about her writing. Assuming that concept impoverishes its reading and limits the richness of its contents or other aesthetic values ​​(such as the use of language or the narrative structure) that her works may have.

According to data from the United Nations, currently 49.5% of the world population is made up of women. That proportion should be more than enough to accept that when a woman writes a book, she is writing about humanity and to completely discard the facile prejudice that our writing or our themes are something minor or of little relevance to history. of literature and humanity as a whole.


  • annie ernaux
  • humanity
  • woman
  • imagination
  • Nobel Prize

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write about humanity