Skip to main content Skip to navigation

HP324 Life-Writing in the Hispanic World

Module Code: HP324
Module Name: Life-Writing in the Hispanic World
Module Coordinator: Professor Chris Harris
Term 2 Time: TBC
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

In a new twenty-first century age of repeated selfies and self-portrayal on social media, just when questions of identity and otherness are being reframed, this course looks analytically at life-writing in the Hispanic world. There are four life stories to follow: one each from twentieth-century Spain, Cuba and Chile, plus one more from the contemporary Hispanic USA where Daisy Hernández grows up in a Cuban-Colombian family and first encounters English in cartoons as 'the language of Mighty Mouse'.

These four life stories from the Hispanic world are told in different ways, with the strategic use of different genres and discourses to narrate events for diverse audiences, but all powerfully captivate the mind and imagination. What was it like, for example, for Esther Tusquets to grow up within a wealthy pro-Francoist family in Barcelona only to realise that as a young radical, the everyday parental and family values of dictatorial Spain seemed increasingly alien? Or for Reinaldo Arenas to face homophobic abuse in Castro's Cuba? Issues of sexuality and sexual identity form just one of the many intriguing and complex intersections between life-writing and human experience that these four case studies from the Hispanic world make visible. To cite a further intersection, all four stories raise questions about ideological beliefs, dissidence, and the formation and significance of political identity. None more so than the case of Violeta Parra in Chile, a founding figure of the socially-committed Nueva Canción Chilena movement. Her best known song is perhaps 'Gracias a la Vida', a tragically ironic 1966 composition that foreshadowed her death by sucide one year later. Life-writing on this course proves fertile terrain for focused intellectual enquiry about the countries and cultures of the Hispanic world from the twentieth century to the present day. Biography, memoir and autobiography, various different forms of written self-fashioning, together with the issues they raise about the formation and expression of subjectivities and identities in different historical contexts, form the basis for study and discussion.


1,000-1,500-word audio podcast (25%); 3,000-3,500 word essay (75%).

Primary Reading

One text was originally written in English* but translations of all four are available into either Spanish or English. There is also a film version of Antes que anochezca called Before Night Falls (2000) and a biopic of Violeta Parra: Violeta Went to Heaven (2011).

Arenas, Reinaldo, Antes que anochezca (Barcelona: Tusquets, 1992)

Hernández, Daisy, A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir* (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015)

Herrero Aguayo, Víctor, Depués de vivir un siglo: Violeta Parra, una biografía (Barcelona: Lumen, 2018)

Tusquets, Esther, Habíamos ganado la guerra (Barcelona: Bruguera, 2007)