Her Story

South America- The Place of Women in the Academic Profession

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It has been observed that for women in academia, the timing of tenure decisions often coincides with the optimal childbearing years, and as such requiring women to resolve individually the conflicts between biological and career clocks.

A study by economists Donna K. Ginther and Shulamit Kahn found that women are less likely than men to pursue tenure-track positions in science but that the gender gap in such positions can be explained by fertility decisions. That is, women in science are less likely to move up the academic job ladder after their early post-doctorate years if they have children. For men, by contrast, both marriage and children increase the likelihood of advancing in an academic science career.

Bearing this in mind, it is only proper to applaud the courage of the many women around the world who have towed this academic line and made waves in their chosen career. Helena Maria Viramontes is one of those women who have proven to be the best at what they do and have served as motivation to a lot of women in Southern America and the world at large.

Helena Maria Viramontes, born February 26, 1954, is an American fiction writer and professor of English. Viramontes was born into a Mexican-American family. She graduated from Garfield High School, which was one of the high schools that participated in the 1968 Chicano Blowouts, a series of protests against unequal conditions in East Los Angeles public schools. She then worked part-time while attending Immaculate Heart College, from which she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature in 1975.

A photograph of Helena Maria Viramontes at the Santa Barbara Book and Author Festival September 30, 2006.

Viramontes attended the graduate program in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine. In 1977, her short story “Requiem for the Poor” was awarded a prize from Statement Magazine. In 1979, she won a literary prize from the Spanish department at UC Irvine. In 1981, she left the MFA program. In 1985, Arte Publico Press published The Moths, collection of short stories. During her hiatus from academia she published in many underground literary journals such as ChismeArte. In 1988, she co-edited Chicana Creativity and Criticism with María Herrera-Sobek, a volume dedicated to the literary output of Mexican-American women. She returned to UC Irvine to complete her MFA, which was awarded in 1994. As part of the program, she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a writing workshop with the Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In 1995, her first novel Under the Feet of Jesus was published to critical acclaim. Recently, Their Dogs Came with Them, a novel that took her 17 years to complete, has been published and is gaining notoriety for its tough characters and strikingly personal and realistic prose. This novel is largely inspired by her childhood in the midst of East Los Angeles, with the gang conflicts and social strife at the center of her novel.

Her short stories have been published in a variety of literary journals. The major themes of her stories are informed by her childhood experiences in East Los Angeles, and the impact of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers on the life of her family. Many of her works feature strong female characters, and child protagonists figure prominently into her work. Other works have been deemed “democratic novels”, in that no single protagonist dominates the storyline. Throughout all of her work, a love of life and of all of humanity pervades, despite poverty and the other challenges her characters face.

Viramontes is currently a professor of English at Cornell University. She has received a number of awards some of which include: Luis Leal Award, Santa Barbara Festival of Books, 2006, Outstanding Latino/ a Cultural Award in Literary Arts or Publications, 2007, United State Artists Fellowship, 2007.

Viramontes often uses her works as witness to history or as a voice for those who do not have a public platform upon which to speak. In interviews she evinces a longtime commitment to civil rights. Her commitment to rights is not abstract, since Viramontes’ own parents harvested grapes during her youth. Her novel likewise reflects Viramontes’ feminism in her creation of strong female characters.


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