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Author recognized at College

Ashley Charnley | Monday, October 1, 2007

Encouraging women to challenge a male-dominant system was a key theme in Colleen O’Brien’s lecture Friday as part of the annual Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership (CWIL) colloquium at Saint Mary’s.

Her lecture – “Race and Desire in Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda’s ‘Sab'” – discussed the writings of Cuban activist and author Avellaneda and the prominent themes in Avellaneda’s most famous works. O’Brien described Avellaneda’s life and the recurrent themes of racial and gender opposition in the author’s writings.

Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of CWIL, began the lecture describing the purpose of the series.

“The fellows and faculty present their work and research for the edification of cultural history,” she said.

O’Brien has a Ph.D. in English and women studies and currently teaches humanistic studies at the College.

“[Avellaneda] was not a woman who liked patriarchy,” O’Brien said of the 19th century poet. “She felt woman were not subservient to men and fought for freedom of equality. She was the first woman to make a bid for a chair in the Royal Academy but was denied the position because she was a woman.”

Avellaneda was a Cuban advocate for women’s rights and an abolitionist who found inspiration from romantic writers.

“[She] was influenced by Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand, which is evident in most all of her works” O’Brien said.

O’Brien noted historical influences from the conquest of Mexico and the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture.

‘Sab,’ the book which was most heavily discussed, was published in 1841. It was Avellaneda’s most controversial work.

“It was well received in Spain but immediately banned in Cuba,” O’Brien said.

Avellaneda was a revolutionary author because she used themes of interracial love and social divisions, such as slavery, O’Brien said.

‘Sab’ is the story of a slave who falls in love with his master’s daughter. Avellaneda describes how Sab, although a slave, is morally superior to the white characters in the book.

“The flow of identity comes not from the blood, but from the soul,” O’Brien said. “Human souls are capable of more than love.”

Avellaneda wrote four other novels during her lifetime.

CWIL will be hosting another lecture next Friday titled “Racing the Archive: Will the Real William Dubois Please Stand Up?” It will take place from noon to 1 p.m. in the Mother Pauline room on the second floor of Cushwa-Leighton Library.