Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s historical novel, CALLIGRAPHY OF THE WITCH, combines the horror of the Salem witch trials with the philosophy and poetry of the nun and writer known as the first feminist of the Americas, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, to explore issues of gender, race, displacement, truth and justice.
Born of a Spaniard and a mixed-race woman, young Concepción Benavidez was apprenticed as a scribe to a convent. At nineteen, she escapes and is captured in the siege of Vera Cruz in 1683. She unexpectedly becomes the property of the Dutch pirate Laurens-Cornille de Graffe, who rapes her repeatedly on the long, deadly journey to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he will sell his cargo. Realizing the young mestiza has fine penmanship, the pirate promptly sells her when they reach the cold New England coast.
Concepción is thrust into a strange world where she doesn’t understand the language or the customs. Bought by a prominent Puritan to tend to his old father-in-law and his chicken farm, the girl from New Spain is regarded with suspicion. She is considered a papist half-breed who speaks the language of the devil and practices an ungodly religion. Concepción is forbidden to speak her native tongue, and her name is changed to Thankful Seagraves.
The merchant’s barren wife discovers that the girl is pregnant with the pirate’s child. And she covets the baby. In the following years, the two women spar for the child’s love and affection. But when several women in Salem Village, including Concepción’s friend Tituba Indian, are imprisoned for witchcraft, it’s not long before people—and even her own daughter—start whispering about Concepción.
Meticulously researched and elegantly written, this novel takes a mesmerizing look at women in the New World in the 17th century and the stubborn men who accuse them for no reason.
ALICIA GASPAR DE ALBA is the author of various works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, among them a Lambda Award-winning novel, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders (Arte Público Press, 2005), a collection of poems and essays, La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge: Poetry y Otras Movidas (Arte Público Press, 2003) and a historical novel, Sor Juana’s Second Dream (University of New Mexico Press, 1999). She is also the editor of Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera (University of Texas Press, 2010) and Our Lady of Controversy: Alma López’s “Irreverent Apparition” (University of Texas Press, 2011). A full professor of Chicana/o Studies, English and Gender Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, Gaspar de Alba is a native of the El Paso/Juárez border. She is married to the artist, Alma López.
ARTE PÚBLICO PRESS is the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. Its imprint for children and young adults, Piñata Books, is dedicated to the realistic and authentic portrayal of the themes, languages, characters, and customs of Hispanic culture in the United States. Based at the University of Houston, Arte Público Press, Piñata Books and the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project provide the most widely recognized and extensive showcase for Hispanic literary arts and creativity. For more information, please visit www.artepublicopress.com.