Kansas State University


Modern Languages

Faculty Publication Spotlight: Dr. Laura Kanost

laura-smDr. Laura Kanost’s book, Latin American Women and the Literature of Madness: Narratives at the Crossroads of Gender, Politics and the Mind, co-written with Dr. Elvira Sánchez-Blake, was published in 2015 by McFarland & Company. Find out more about the book, the author and the writing process!

Synopsis: “At the turn of the millennium, narrative works by Latin American women writers have represented madness within contexts of sociopolitical strife and gender inequality.  This book explores prominent women authors, including Cristina Peri Rossi (Uruguay), Lya Luft (Brazil), Diamela Eltit (Chile), Cristina Rivera Garza (Mexico), Laura Restrepo (Colombia) and Irene Vilar (Puerto Rico).  Close readings of these works reveal a pattern of literary techniques—a ‘poetics of madness’—employed by the writers to represent conditions that defy language, make sociopolitical crises tangible and register cultural perceptions of mental illness through literature.”

How did you decide to co-author a book on this topic?

Dr. Kanost: Elvira Sánchez-Blake and I met at the Latin American Studies Association conference, and she invited me to collaborate with her on the project. We had a great rapport from the very beginning. Our approaches complement one another, since Dr. Sánchez-Blake tends to focus more on how mental illness reflects societal ills, while I tend to focus on what literary representations of mental illness reveal about sociocultural views of mental illness and how that relates to broader social issues. Also, I read Latin American literature from an outsider’s perspective, while Elvira notices different things because she is from Colombia and she is a literary writer.

What were the biggest challenges and greatest rewards in writing this book?

Dr. Kanost: Writing collaboratively was a new experience for me. It was interesting trying to meld our voices. Track Changes and Comments were very helpful tools. We both challenged one another to sharpen our analyses and develop connections between each work studied and the book as a whole. Having a co-author was like having the most thorough and knowledgeable peer reviewer ever.

What texts would you recommend for someone wanting to discover Latin American women writers for the first time?

Dr. Kanost: I think short stories would be a good way to get started. In English, there is a very good anthology called Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real. In Spanish, Voces femeninas de Hispanoamérica has a nice selection. I especially enjoy Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré, who writes in Spanish and also self-translates into English.

How did Kansas State University support this project?

Dr. Kanost: Without the conference travel funding that enabled me to attend the LASA conference where I met Elvira, the collaboration would probably never have happened. At that conference I also gave a presentation on Diamela Eltit and Paz Errázuriz’s book El infarto del alma that later became a chapter in the book, and the feedback from that LASA panel on cultural representations of mental illness was very helpful.

How was the cover art for the book selected?

Dr. Kanost: Elvira and I made some suggestions to the publisher based on recurring motifs we identified in narratives of mental illness by contemporary Latin American women writers: mirrors, ships, mazes, puzzles, fragments. The designers made other suggestions based on the publisher’s experience with successful cover art. Finally, they came up with this image that fit everyone’s criteria.

By: Kathleen Antonioli and Laura Kanost

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