Before women wrested their pens and their liberty from society, history was viewed through a monocle.
UC Santa Cruz’s quarterly “Living Writers” lecture series kicked off on Jan. 13, aiming to tackle potential imbalances in history due to a previous male monopoly over the field. The lineup includes nine female writers devoted to showing history through a double lens.
Karen Yamashita, UCSC professor of literature, will be reading a selection from her book “Brazil Maru.” The novel contains interviews threaded together to create a work of historical fiction. These interviews were gathered when Yamashita traveled to South America to research existing communities.
“I spent a lot of time with women, because I had access to being in the kitchen with these first-generation women,” Yamashita said, discussing ways her novel represented a female perspective. “I think I had access to [female spaces] in ways that a male writer might not have had, and I had the interest in it as well.”
Lauran Quist, fourth-year creative writing major and veteran of three consecutive Living Writers series, said that the featured writers make the goal of writing well seem more attainable.
“It’s inspirational in the way it’s infectious,” Quist said. “I’ll come away and go to a coffee shop or something to work on my own writing. When I go to the Living Writers series, I take heart, because these authors labor over their work too. It’s not like an eruption of brilliance.”
Yamashita also brought up stereotypes about Asian women, whom she stated had been classified into categories such as the “tiger women” or the Lucy Lius of cinema, as well as other romanticized stories meant to appeal to wide audiences. The realities were much different, as Yamashita discovered through interviews and from her own experiences. She referenced her own grandfathers, who worked as a tailor and a grocer respectively, and were the official heads of their households.
“As time went on, they took the money they made and gambled it,” Yamashita said. “In the end they lost all their money, but the women kept working, ironing. Women who came as immigrants had a freedom, they had to work very hard, but they commanded their families, they were the real matriarchs … these histories are not represented.”
Melissa Caldwell, associate professor of anthropology, has done extensive work in post-Soviet Russia, listening to narratives of both men and women in positions of inequality. She stated that female voices have become much louder, but also recognized the need for more historical sources from a woman’s point of view.
“It would have been nice, just for a diversity of views,” Caldwell said. “In Russian history there are so many accounts of battle, I just wonder if women would have emphasized something else.”
Caldwell acknowledged that history is always going to portray the winners. But is having a historical record from the seat of the victor a problem?
“Not as long as we’re aware that it is partial,” Caldwell said. “I have colleagues who are finding women of the intelligentsia who were very powerful, whose ideas were more in vogue than men’s were. The ideas have persisted, but the credit got lost.”