Renaissance Woman of the “New World”: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Powell_ANSWERThe 17-century colonial Mexican poet, playwright and intellectual, Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz is renowned for her writings. She also remains famous, and at times controversial, for challenging the social, cultural and religious mores that kept women physically and mentally confined. Sor Juana, as she is familiarly known in her homeland, appears today in nun’s habit on the Mexican 200-peso note and on banners, posters, cartoons and street graffiti. An icon of Mexican culture, she elicits pride and fascination for people at all levels of society. She is also becoming known in other parts of the world to those seeking brilliant, accomplished women in earlier times who successfully challenged their own exclusion from learning and from participation in public life. Sor Juana spoke out on these issues. From her cell in the convent, she also composed popular verse dramas on both secular and religious themes, wrote passionate love poetry—addressed to women and to men—and conducted a lively correspondence with leading intellectuals and public figures of her day. In her final years, Sor Juana was the most widely published and bestselling literary writer of Spain and its far-flung empire. The elegance and pointed humor of her works and the example of her life still provide a model of excellence and achievement today.

Presenter Profile: Amanda Powell, Senior Instructor, Romance Languages

Amanda Powell is a senior instructor in the University of Oregon’s Department of Romance Languages, where she teaches courses in literary translation, Spanish and Latin American literature (with an emphasis on women poets), and advanced writing in Spanish, among many others. In her own research, Amanda explores such topics as 16th- and 17th-century Spanish and Latin American women writers, convent writings and secular poetry, as well as literary translation. She is coeditor with Electa Arenal of the strong defense of women’s right to education, The Answer/La Respuesta, by 17th-century Mexican nun, intellectual, and poet Juana Inés de la Cruz (New York: Feminist Press, 1994); and ?coauthor with Kathleen A. Myers of A Wild Country Out in the Garden: The ?Spiritual Journals of a Colonial Mexican Nun by a very different, visionary and mystical writer of the same period (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). Amanda’s translations include Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Works, edited by Electa Arenal and Stacey Schlau (University of New Mexico Press, 1989), and the 16th-century Spanish defense of women’s modes of prayer and learning by María de San José Salazar, Book for the Hour of Recreation, edited and with an introduction by Alison Weber (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). Her articles include (with Dianne Dugaw) “A Feminist Road Not Taken: Baroque Sapphic Poetry.” Amanda is also a poet, published in numerous anthologies and literary journals.