Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: General Nonfiction
Competition: US & Canada
Irene Vilar was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Her memoir The Ladies’ Gallery (Other Press, 2009, originally published in 1996) was a Philadelphia Inquirer and Detroit Free Press notable book of the year and was short-listed for the 1999 Mind Book of the Year Award. The memoir was featured on NPR’s Fresh Air, CBS, PBS, Vogue magazine, New York Times Magazine, and in the Arts’ front page of The New York Times. Her latest memoir, Impossible Motherhood (Other Press, 2009), is being translated into many languages, is a bestseller in Italy, and won the 2010 IPPYgold medal for best memoir/autobiography. Both memoirs explore generational and national trauma. Vilar worked as acquisitions editor for Women and Jewish studies at Syracuse University Press and from 2002 to 2005 served as founder and series editor of The Americas book series published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Currently she is series editor of the Americas at Texas Tech University Press.Vilar is literary agent for Vilar Creative Agency, and co-agent in the U.S. for Ray-Gude Mertin Literary Agency, an agency specializing in Spanish, Latin American, and Portuguese authors representing such notable writers as Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago.
During her Guggenheim fellowship term, Vilar will be working on an autobiographical novel, Truman's Affair, and a third memoir, The Middle of the Night, about motherhood and childhood and how power struggles as modeled by our parents affect our own parenting and inform the psychology and motivations of the largest groups (group is here used instead of society). This third memoir is an experiment of introspection and academic research informed by psychohistory, a science model Vilar used in her previous works. The further back in history one goes the lower the level of childrearing, and the higher the number of houses of horror where children lived and dissociated. Psychiatric studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between elevated levels of dissociative symptoms—separate alters, depersonalization, derealization—and the amount of early physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Historical evolution of the psyche, psychohistory tell us, is the slow, uneven process of integrating fragmented selves into the unified self that is the goal of modern, sophisticated, empathy-driven parenting. The Middle of the Night is an account of one mother’s search for the expression of her real self through childrearing, a search for meaning that cannot but trace in the process the evolution of the psyche and society.
Slide show links:
1. Irish Independent newspaper cover magazine feature by Caitriona Palmer, January 23, 2010
2. Italian newspaper Il Giornale's, Tempi magazine cover feature by Benedetta Frigerio, May 5, 2010
3. UK Granta edition of A Message from God in the Atomic Age, October 1998
4. France Balland edition of Impossible Motherhood, April 2010
5. Germany HoCa edition of Impossible Motherhood, September 2010
6. US Other Press edition of Impossible Motherhood, October 2009
7. Italy Corbaccio edition of Impossible Motherhood
8. US Other Press edition of The Ladies' Gallery, October 2010