VIDA’s list of Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading

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Portrait of Papusza, the mother of Romani poetry

I’m so delighted to share my Twenty Gypsy Women You Should be Reading with everyone In honor of Roma and Traveller History Month,. Gypsy culture is vastly misunderstood and underrepresented, and literature is a beautiful way to discover it. You may not have heard of many of these writers before but they will astound you with their talent. Happy reading!

“And while I spend a lot of time on my soap box bellowing that Roma and Travellers are just human, as a storyteller and a poet, I will say that some of the most beautiful, dark, and hauntingly fantastic stories I’ve ever heard or read have been from Gypsies. It’s a MathildeVonThieleworld-view that outsiders would never be able to reach on their own, and I feel this poignantly as a not-quite-white looking girl who grew up knowing that, way back, her Gypsy ancestors sailed up and down the Danube from Germany to Hungary, working as dancers and fortune tellers in the riparian towns before the war tore everything to shreds. Their lives were not idyllic, but the stories my grandmother told were beautiful. I would hold them close to my chest when I was stoned at school, or given detention for “witchcraft and the evil eye” in a town where there were no Gypsies, where my mother and grandmother routinely referred to the Gypsy community (some abstract thing I imagined) as “they” instead of “we.” I worried about my “percentage of Gypsy” and whether or not it was enough to claim. The few practices my grandmother kept and passed down to me didn’t make sense until I began to research my own people when I was a teenager and realized that alienation is also inheritance. I found Papusza, the Mother of Romani poetry and an omen of exile and connection. I stepped into the river-mouth of my blood.”

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My great-great grandmother Mathilde as a young dancer

Blog 7: Romani Literature

For this week, I’d like you to select a poem (one of the assigned poems for this week, preferably) from Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, Rajko Djuric, and do a little research and analysis. Find out about the poet, the time it was written, and give an analysis of the poem. Remember that we can’t assume that the author is the “speaker” in the poem, unless it’s noted that the work is autobiographical. For your analysis, notice the metaphors and similes the writer uses, the patterns in the work, the rhythm, the images… and give your interpretation, supported by your evidence. 300 words minimum, due Friday 3/22. Remember to comment on a peer’s blog by Sunday night. Think of the comments as an opportunity to have an intellectual/artistic discussion with your classmates.

The interesting thing about this anthology is that it is anthologized by culture, and also by theme. These are all poems about Romani culture and history. So there are a lot of Romani writers who write about other things, but I wanted to use this anthology to teach because 1.) It’s a brilliant anthology, 2.) almost all the writers in the anthology are living writers, and 3.) art is a connection between people of all cultures, and a wonderful way to learn about the human experience–the things we share and the things we can discover about each other. Doesn’t that just melt your heart?

You can by the book through Herts or Amazon, for the readers who aren’t in the class 😉

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Papusza, the mother of Romani literature ❤