Freeing the Voices: Issues of Canon and Representation in American Literature Regarding the Spanish Civil War

Spain, 1930s

Spain, 1930s

Awarded Best Graduate Research Proposal Abstract, Marymount University, 2013

This paper was presented at Marymount University’s Graduate Research Conference on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Video of presentation available below.

I wrote this essay last winter, and it stemmed from my 1930s American Literature class. Because I associate the Spanish Civil War with the 1930s as a result of my Spanish heritage, I was curious to see what other Americans besides Hemingway had to say about the incidents that occurred in Spain and led up to America’s involvement in WWII. Surprisingly, I encountered one of those rare gaps that is almost as telling in its absence than any information I could have found might be. I discovered that, ostensibly, there were no other literary voices from this time. Of course, this was not true, so I set about discovering poets and authors who did choose to write about the Spanish Civil War, and the list of writers I uncovered was staggering. However, none of those authors have persevered in the literary canon; we simply do not study them. Setting out to prove that we did not study these authors because of the (often political, and often dissenting) content of their work would be unmanageable as a new scholar. Therefore, I had to find a new way into this dilemma that would still allow me to shine the light on this gap in representation. I decided to focus upon authors who are remembered by the literary canon, but whose war writings we do not study. I draw the connection between the three authors–Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, and Dorothy Parker–as being both politically antagonistic in their writings about the war, but also as going against the gender and racial conventions for authors of this time. Thus, I can still make the argument that keeping out Spanish Civil War writing from the American literary tradition is politically motivated, and still encourage readers to investigate this lack of representation.


This project dually examines the issue of the literary canon—who is read and why—and reclaiming those voices neglected by the canon; so often in literature, female and other minority writing is discounted, despite the important historical and literary implications of their perspectives. This essay examines the writings produced by American authors in the 1930s regarding the Spanish Civil War. It questions why only the writing of white male authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, remain in the canon, while several other authors are not represented. This study focuses on Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, and Elizabeth Bishop, and the aspects of their work that have not been canonized—specifically, their work surrounding the Spanish Civil War. The literary world remembers these writers only through the roles created for minority writers at that time—“witty” Dorothy Parker, “jazz poet” Langston Hughes, and “aesthetic” Elizabeth Bishop. Once these writers attempted to deviate from these niche roles, the literary world rejected that aspect of their work from the canon. This essay seeks to highlight the marginalization of “othered” perspectives in American Literature, illuminate the merit of their contributions to the literary world, and add their voices to the American historical and literary perspective. The only way we can possess a truly representative shared history and celebrate the multiplicity of the American experience is to free these voices and include them in the American narrative.

Watch presentation:


About alycemsustko

Reader, writer, catmom extraordinaire
This entry was posted in Research Essay, Scholarly Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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