The Spanish Riveter: Spanish Women to Watch by Alice Banks

In recent years, Spanish literature has seen a boom in female writers, with a new generation of women writing novels that deal with important, contemporary, worldwide issues such as capitalism, globalism, politics, or gender and sexual violence, as well as more personal issues, such as ideas of motherhood or friendship – all through the medium of excellent writing. Here are just a few of the female authors that are changing the face of contemporary Spanish literature …

Elena Medel is a poet, author and founder of La Bella Varsovia, an independent Spanish publisher of poetry. First and foremost a poet, Medel has been publishing poetry collections since 2002. Her first foray into narrative fiction, Las maravillas, came out eighteen years later with Anagrama. The novel explores feminism, family, class, and politics, and won Medel the Francisco Umbral Prize. This is particularly significant as Medel is the first female writer to have ever been awarded this prize (as of today, she continues to be the only female winner, a shocking fact when we consider the prize was founded in 2011). Las maravillas was translated by Lizzie Davies and Thomas Bunstead, and published by Pushkin Press as The Wonders in 2022.

Meyrem El Mehdati El Alami’s debut novel, Supersaurio, was published in 2022 by Blackie Books and has been extremely well received. It is now in its second edition and in almost every bookshop I walk into in Madrid Supersaurio is front and centre on the ‘bestseller’ or ‘recommended’ tables, and rightly so. In this humorous novel, El Mehdati uses precise prose to intertwine acidic humour and melancholy, and offers sharp, witty criticisms of capitalism and the trivialities of labour. If this exciting young writer’s first work is a sign of things to come, we have a lot to look forward to.

Aixa de la Cruz’s first novel was published in 2007, however, it was with Cambiar de idea, published by Caballo de Troya in 2019, that de la Cruz really began to make a name for herself as a contemporary Spanish writer. In fact, Cambiar de idea won her her first two literary prizes, the Premio Euskadi de Literatura for writing in Spanish, and the Premio Librotea Tapado. Much of de la Cruz’s work falls into the ever-contested genre of auto-fiction, as does Cambiar de idea. We follow our narrator as she comes to terms with mistakes she has made and low points she has suffered throughout her life, and how these have made her who she is today. De la Cruz creates a universal space in which readers can find connections to, and reflections of their own experiences. Sometimes there is nothing I love more than feeling invited into an author’s mind and being permitted to read their deepest thoughts. De la Cruz does exactly this, and I hope she does more! 

Irene Solà is a Catalan writer and artist. Her first poetry collection, Bèstia (Galerada, 2012), won the 2012 Amadeu Oller Prize, and her first novel Els dics (L’Altra Editorial, 2018), won the 2017 Documenta Prize. Despite these great successes, it was her second novel Canto jo i la muntanya balla (Anagrama, 2019), that really got her name out there. This mystical novel is set in a secluded mountainside village in the Catalan Pyrenees, and through Solà’s beautiful prose, we encounter the voices of men, women, ghosts, nymphs, clouds, mushrooms and deer. This ghostly, magical and breathtaking novel won Solà the Premi Llibres Anagrama de Novel·la, and the Núvol and Cálamo Prizes for the Spanish edition of the book. Thanks to the huge success of Canto jo i la muntanya balla, in 2020 Solà won the European Union Prize for Literature. Mara Faye Lethem’s translation of the novel, When I Sing, Mountains Dance, was published in 2022 by Granta in the UK and Graywolf Press in the US, and a translation of her first novel Els dics, is forthcoming in 2023 from Graywolf Press.  

Andrea Abreu is a writer and journalist from the Canary Islands who published her first novel, Panza de burro, in 2022 with Barrett. It was this book that saw her selected as one of the twenty-five best writers of her generation by Granta, and her short story ‘Mi nuevo yo’, appeared in their magazine, Granta 23: The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists (2021). Julia Sanches’ English translation of Panza de burro has also been published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson as Dogs of Summer. This gritty, humorous and dark novel offers a young girl’s perspective of a hot summer in the Canary Islands. Scattered with Canarian dialect and coarse bachata lyrics, we’re immersed in this young girl’s world and her thoughts on friendship and desire. This rich, lively tale is an exciting debut.

Irene Vallejo is a Spanish philologist and writer. She is best known for her nonfiction work which often focuses on literature and language, and how classical authors and styles connect with and influence the present. In 2020 she was awarded the Premio Nacional de Ensayo for her book El infinto en el junco (Ediciones Siruela, 2019), for which she also won the Premio Aragón 2021. In 2022 the book was published by Hodder & Stoughton in Charlotte Whittle’s translation as Papyrus. In this fascinating book, Vallejo chronicles literary culture in the ancient world and explores how the book as we know it today came to be. Papyrus featured on the Economist’s best books of 2022 list and was described by the Times Literary Supplement as a ‘literary phenomenon’.

Almudena Sánchez’s first book of short stories, La acústica de los iglús was first published in 2016 by Caballo de Troya and is now in its eighth edition. Since then, she has published numerous short-story and flash-fiction collections. In 2013, she was included in Bajo 30, an anthology of new Spanish writers, and in 2019 she was selected among the ten best ‘thirty-something’ writers in Spain by AECID. Her latest book, Fármaco, was published in 2021 by Random House, and was translated into English by Katie Whittemore as Pharmakon (Fum d’Estampa, 2023). This work perfectly showcases Sánchez’s unfaltering, hard-hitting, but incredibly poetic prose. This beautifully written testimony to the experience of depression and recovery marks Sánchez as one of Spain’s most singular voices.

Katixa Agirre started her career publishing short stories and children’s literature, writing her first novel, Atertu arte Itxaron (Elkar), in 2015, a work which won her the Akademia award. Katixa’s most notable work to date is Amek ez dute, (Zubikarai Saria, 2016) which she self-translated into Spanish as Las madres no (Editorial Tránsito, 2019). In the opening pages of this book, a mother commits the unthinkable act of killing her young twins. In this brilliantly provocative novel, Agirre brings together elements of journalism, thriller, essay and literary fiction to create a story that keeps you gripped. It was translated from the Basque by Kristen Addis and published by 3TimesRebel press as Mother’s Don’t in 2022; you can read a review on page 152 of this magazine. Agirre’s most recent book was translated into Spanish as De nuevo centauro (Editorial Tránsito, 2022) by none other than Aixa de la Cruz. Although it is written in Katixa’s unmistakable unfaltering and precise style, the themes couldn’t be more different from her previous work, only proving this author’s fantastic range.

Alice Banks

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