Archives For Leonora Carrington

Mexico City Magic

August 3, 2016 — 2 Comments

I’m just back from three weeks in Mexico City, where I studied some Spanish, worked on a new project, visited old loves like Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, and found new loves like Lilia Carillo, the painter, and Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god.

Here’s Leonora Carrington’s Cocodrilo on Paseo de la Reforma (and my quick watercolor sketch of it):

I almost didn’t go to Frida’s Casa Azul again (here’s a link to my 2014 visit), but I’m so glad I did:


I love her amazing collection of retablos, amateur paintings made to thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for interceding at life-threatening moments:


These influenced some of her most famous paintings, and the museum juxtaposes small reproductions of her actual paintings with the retablos that inspired them:



At the Museum of Modern Art, I got to see Dos Fridas in person for the first time:


This painting was made after one of her breakups with Diego and represents two sides of herself, one as a comfort to the other. She is dressed in European attire on the left and in her classic Tehuana dress (which Diego preferred) on the right.

In all my times of viewing the painting online, I’d never noticed that the heart on the left is gray and withered:


And I discovered the beautiful abstract paintings of Lilia Carrillo:

We saw an outdoor film at the Monument of the Revolution:


about this guy, Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god:


…who was removed from his original site in Coatlinchan and relocated to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The film, La Piedra Ausente (The Absent Stone), tells the amazing story of the removal of the stone amidst the town’s protests and its celebrated/contested arrival in Mexico City.

[More Mexico City magic: The night before the film, we went to a birthday dinner for a friend and met a woman named Sandra. After we’d talked for a while, she said, “I made a film; it’s screening tomorrow night at the Monument of the Revolution. You should come!” So we did. It was awesome.]

At the Palacio Nacional, we saw the journals of the artist Francisco Toledo, which were part of an exhibit of — get this — art that Mexican artists give to the nation as payment for their taxes:

These inspired a couple of my own journal sketches:

I thought I saw a Dirty Dancing sculpture, but it was just a strange sculpture that happened to have an ad for Dirty Dancing, The Musical behind it:


Finally, I should mention that there was a tree hanging in the center of our airbnb apartment building:


I don’t make Top-5 lists. Because that always means leaving out so much awesomeness. But luckily for me, this one made itself.

I call this the International Version because none of them are from the U.S. and because that gives me a chance to do a separate Top-5 U.S. Women Writers if I want to. Only one of these women writes in English, so a huge shout out to translators everywhere!

Who are your top women writers (international)? Please share in the comments. I love to discover new authors!

In alphabetical order, then, because I cannot bear to rank these woman against each other, here they are:

1. Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington, Self Portrait

Her Words: “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse. . . . I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”

When She Lived: 1917 – 2011

Where She Lived: Fled debutante British upbringing to go to France where she was with Max Ernst until the Nazis arrived. Fled to Mexico where she thrived for over 50 years.

What She Wrote: My favorite of her stories is “The Debutante,” about a girl who doesn’t want to go to her debutante ball and sends a hyena in her place. The hyena disguises itself by using the face of the maid. In order to get the maid’s face, however, the hyena had to eat the maid. (Note the hyena in her Self Portrait above. The painting and story were written at about the same time in her life.)

More Reasons to Love Her: She was a major painter and artist, and a fiesty old lady who gives interviewers a hard time. (See video, the first few minutes tell it all.)


2. Clarice Lispector

Clarice Lispector

Her Words: “So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.” – The Hour of the Star

When She Lived: 1920-1977

Where She Lived: Born to Jewish parents in the Ukraine, taken as an infant to Brazil where she lived most of her life

What She Wrote: In the short story, “Looking for Some Dignity,” Mrs. Jorge B. Xavier gets lost in Brazil’s large football (i.e., soccer) stadium and lost in the streets to her home and all of this echoes the way she is lost in the labyrinth of her aging mind and body. The story culminates in a fantasy of a love scene with a contemporary pop star. Lispector’s novella, The Hour of the Star, is similarly heady and dreamy.


3. Herta Müller

Herta Müller

Her Words: “I’ve had to learn to live by writing, not the other way round. I wanted to live by the standards I dreamt of, it’s as simple as that. And writing was a way for me to voice what I could not actually live.”

When She Lived: 1953-present (she lives!)

Where She Lived: Born and raised in an ethnic German minority in Romania, endured rule of Ceauşescu, now lives and writes in Berlin.

What She Wrote: Her story collection Nadirs has mind-bending flash fictions that play with time and space. And the lyrical, wrenching novel, The Appointment, which I wrote about here.

More Reasons to Love Her: She won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, making her 12th woman to win in over 100 years!


4. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Her Words: “Russian literature has been a kind of religion in this country–a religion based on the moral position of writers, on their suffering. All our greatest writers have been sufferers and saints.”

When She Lived: 1938-present!

Where She Lived: Russia. Many of her relatives were rounded up during Stalin’s Great Purge.

What She Wrote: I’ve only read her collection of stories, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, and the title pretty much tells it all. These are fairy tales set in Socialist housing units.

More Reasons to Love Her: She was banned by the Soviets.

Main source: The Nation


5. Virginia Woolf

VWHer Words: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

When She Lived: 1882-1941

Where She Lived: Britain, purebred

What She Wrote: Only the best novels of the 20th century! Mrs. Dalloway! To the Lighthouse! Orlando! The Waves!

More Reasons to Love Her: Not to mention A Room of One’s Own! Her takedown of the patriarchal systems that privilege the male perspective, literary and otherwise. What if, she asks, Shakespeare had a sister? What if her name was Judith? She would have been “as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as [her super-famous brother] was. But she was not sent to school.”


Honorable Mention: Božena Němcová (1820-1862)

Božena Němcová

A Czech writer of Austrian and Bohemian parents, grew up knowing Czech and German. I’m working on a collage-biography project about her. I am as captivated by her story (her life story, full of affairs and death and disease) as for her stories (her fairy tales and famous book, The Grandmother), which are as dark as they are quaint. She’s hard to learn about without knowing Czech, so I’ve tried to learn a little. Czech, that is.

I wrote more about her here.

[Most basic source info taken from/confirmed by Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.]

It’s not an exaggeration to say that poetry probably saved my life in those early years. It really was borne out of that kind of psychological necessity.

Louise Mathias was born in 1975 in Bedford, England, and grew up in a small village in Suffolk, England, and later, Los Angeles. Her first book, Lark Apprentice, won the 2003 New Issues Poetry Prize, selected by Brenda Hillman, and was published in 2004 by New Issues Press. A chapbook, Above All Else, the Trembling Resembles a Forest, was selected by Martha Ronk for the Burnside Review Chapbook contest, and was published in 2010. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Massachusetts Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain, Epoch, Octopus, The Journal, Green Mountains Review, Slope, Verse Daily, and many others. Her second book, The Traps, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. She divides her time between Joshua Tree, California and northern Indiana.

Visit her web page:

Special Note: Louise will be the Featured Writer at the Hearthside Readers & Writers Series at Fiddler’s Hearth in downtown South Bend at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 21. This edition of How to Become a Writer is being posted a day early to spread the word!

Read more by and about Louise:

Poem: “Autumn Sequester” at Blackbird
Poem: “Agapornis Personata (Masked Love Birds)”
Poems: “According to Experts,” “Conjugal,” “Ghost Limb” at Slope
Poem: “Memento Mori” at Diagram

How Louise Mathias Became a Writer

This is the fourth installment in the new How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Louise for saying yes!

1. Why did you want to become a writer?

I always preferred living in my own head to reality, but why did I choose writing as opposed to other forms of escapism—say, LSD or acting? It sounds simplistic, but I was told by a teacher in high school that I was good at it. As a lackluster student with few extracurricular interests, it felt good to have a potential “calling”, so I gravitated towards it.

Other reasons: I certainly had something to say that wasn’t being voiced in other ways. Also–and this strikes me as funny as it probably isn’t entirely true in the era of facebook, google, etc–but when I was sixteen or so, I thought of being a writer as an endeavor in which one’s physical appearance didn’t count. It seemed to me a way of both being vocal in the world and somewhat anonymous. This was important to me at the time as I struggled for years with an eating disorder and was desperately seeking to define myself outside of the arena of my physicality—as a way of asserting the self apart from the outer shell.

Sylvia Plath

It’s not an exaggeration to say that poetry probably saved my life in those early years. It really was borne out of that kind of psychological necessity. I think we are sort of conditioned to feel that is a sub-par reason to write, and of course it can’t be the only reason. Other reasons emerged later that have more to do with being part of a literary and aesthetic conversation, but that was the genesis and I do think it’s given my work a kind of intensity.

2. How did you go about becoming a writer?

By doing it, mostly. By taking it seriously enough to be extremely hard on myself—to push myself to grow, take risks, give it my all despite the fact that there are limited external rewards. I don’t have a ton of formal education beyond a few classes as an undergraduate and a few workshops and writers conferences I attended here and there. I’m certainly not knocking graduate level work—but I do think it’s important to acknowledge there are other potential paths for growing as a writer if one is driven and self-motivated enough.

Of course I read a lot. Read things I loved, read things I hated. Tried to figure out why I loved what I loved and hated what I hated. Tried to write the poems I wanted to read but couldn’t quite find in the world.

Philip Larkin

3. Who helped you along the way, and how?

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath “helped” me as much as anyone really, but specific individuals who encouraged me at pivotal times include my 10th grade English teacher mentioned earlier, Molly Bendall, who was my teacher as an undergraduate at USC and Heather McHugh, who gave me a huge psychological boost when I studied with her briefly at Napa Valley Writers Conference, and she offered to help me put together my first book, Lark Apprentice. Her input on that manuscript was invaluable, but perhaps more important was the vote of confidence that I was ready to put a book out into the world.

In recent years, my partner, who is also a poet, helps me on an almost constant basis with the example of his utter commitment and excitement about poetry, his support, and his keen editing eye. And I’m blessed with many poet friends who help by simply being in it with me, all of us keeping going. I’m far from a “joiner”, hell, I moved out to the middle of the Mojave desert to get away from people, mostly, but I do appreciate the camaraderie of other poets whose work and spirit I admire.

4. Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

The surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington, who died recently. I saw a wonderful documentary of her in my early twenties, she was in her 80’s, living in Mexico City, utterly outspoken and completely herself, saying things about hyenas like “and they eat garbage, which strikes me as a wonderful virtue” (you have to imagine this in a clipped English accent). She more than held her own in a time when women were mostly relegated to the role of muse.

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

My answer to this is probably a good example of why I am not, and shouldn’t be a teacher. Don’t do it unless you absolutely feel you have to.  After we’ve established that: mellow out. It will be okay.