Texas Book Festival 2019:
Finding Their Power

Two authors mine the past for tales of queer sisterhood

The story of the CIA laboring to get Doctor Zhivago published in the late Fifties and the story of a group of queer Uruguayan women creating a sanctuary where they can escape persecution in the late Seventies – you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re not an obvious pairing.

But the number one takeaway from Saturday’s Finding Their Power: Novels of Female Community and Autonomy panel was that Carolina De RobertisCantoras and Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept are sisters of the best kind –– they share a set of values and ambitions and they are instantly in conversation with each other, placed in the same room.

Carolina De Robertis (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

After both authors were introduced and De Robertis and Prescott each read a five-minute excerpt from their books (a segment from the first chapter and the prologue, respectively), moderator Dalia Azim (laser-focused as a listener, armed with insightful questions) began an engrossing conversation about how the threads of the two novels intertwine. As the title of the session suggested, both Cantoras and The Secrets We Kept have communities of women at their heart, and both De Robertis and Prescott indicated that sisterhoods had been at the core of their writing from day one. “The choral voice of the ‘we’ was the first thing to come to me,” Prescott said, regarding the sections of her novel narrated by the secretaries of the CIA’s typing pool. “I always knew this was going to be a collective story,” De Robertis noted when talking about the process of gathering oral stories about queer Uruguayans.

When Azim asked about what is meant to write about big political moments, De Robertis and Prescott once again seemed to have deeply shared experiences. Prescott nodded throughout as De Robertis described working on historical fiction as writing “with a double consciousness,” where you are mindful both of the details of the time you’re describing and of the current reality in which you’re living. And how do they know when to rein in the research? “I knew when I was using [research] as procrastination,” Prescott acknowledged, with a laugh. What she doesn’t use this time around, she puts “in the compost heap” of ideas, said De Robertis, and maybe it’ll become a different story down the line.

Lara Prescott (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The room, full of a quietly attentive crowd, couldn’t have felt more eager to follow Prescott and De Robertis’ careers into the future. The brief audience questions segment that wrapped up the session was heartfelt and stressed the meaningfulness of seeing the stories of queer women in print – one woman described her joyful surprise at realizing there was a lesbian love story in The Secrets We Kept in the middle of reading it and thanked Prescott for it, while another brought De Robertis to tears when describing the hopefulness that Cantoras gave her. The community of their novels clearly stretched beyond the page.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Texas Book Festival
Texas Book Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling: A Conversation With Journalist Scott Pelley
Festival 2019: Truth Worth Telling With Scott Pelley
Newsman Scott Pelley had words of advice about media in the modern age

Joe O'Connell, Oct. 28, 2019

Texas Book Festival 2019: On Second Look: Writing About Home From New Perspectives
Festival 2019: On Second Look
Oscar Cásares and De'Shawn Charles Winslow keep it all in the family

Joe O'Connell, Oct. 28, 2019

More by Rosalind Faires
Texas Book Festival 2019: <br> Modern Royalty in Romance
Festival 2019: Modern Royalty in Romance
Casey McQuiston and Jasmine Guillory reign over rom-coms

Oct. 28, 2019

The Highs and Lows of Houston Life in <i>Lot: Stories</i>
The Highs and Lows of Houston Life in Lot: Stories
Bryan Washington depicts residents with warmth and discernment as they live, fight, work, and love in a city that can be both a home and a challenge

Oct. 25, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Texas Book Festival, Texas Book Festival 2019, literary fiction, Carolina De Robertis, Lara Prescott, Dalia Azim

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle