115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Revisiting the Landmarks: Genre Transgression and Innovation in Cherríe Moraga's Loving in the War Years and This Bridge Called My Back

Shelley Garcia, Biola University

This paper applies a genre theory lens to an analysis of Cherríe Moraga’s Loving in the War Years and This Bridge Called My Back, co-edited with Gloria Anzaldúa, in order to illustrate the inextricability of their social critique from their genre innovation.


In the more than thirty years since the publications of This Bridge Called My Back:Writings by Radical Women of Color, co-edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, and Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios, written by Cherríe Moraga, little has been done to explain the tremendous influence and revolutionary innovation of these landmark works. Certainly, Bridge is recognized by many as transforming the trajectory of feminism, exposing the exclusionary and narrow focus of mainstream, white, middle-class feminism and offering new perspectives from non-white women and queer women of color. Similarly, Moraga’s Loving, recognized as the first text written by a Chicana lesbian, broke new ground. But all too often, the focus remains only on the content of these contributions (the articulation of Chicana experience) without exploring the radical innovation in traditional genre form. This oversight misses crucial aspects of the works and the author’s pairing of form and content to provide powerful social critique. 

This paper continues my larger project of analyzing Chicana literature from the lens of genre theory, not with the intention of replicating formalist readings of individual texts, but rather working towards an attentiveness to the ways Chicana authors play with, challenge, transform, and transcend traditional genre techniques and characteristics. Moraga not only experiments with genre in her texts but also works across genres. She has co-edited several collections, published prose, poetry, memoir and critical essays, as well as several plays. Moraga’s career is marked by breadth of form, perhaps even more than her contemporaries. Yet, despite the breadth of her work, scholarship on Moraga’s work tends to break along genre lines.  In perhaps ironic asymmetry, Moraga’s generic transgressiveness, even transcendence, is met with generically circumspect, even genre-defined, analysis. For a writer and artist whose earliest works (Bridge and Loving) resisted traditional genre conventions, it is striking how strongly traditional genre conventions have shaped the academic response to her work.

Exploring Moraga’s work not only continues the larger project of demonstrating the necessity of applying a genre theory lens but also exposes the power that the genre system already exerts on the interpretation of texts, not simply on the level of individuals reading but on the scale of academic trends in scholarship. Genre shapes which texts are read and by whom, how they are analyzed, and where the scholarly conversations are happening. 

This paper seeks to correct the imbalance by foregrounding genre in the analysis of Bridge and Loving. Bridge when read as multi-genre anthology serves as a direct challenge to canonical anthologies, an important juxtaposition given, as a genre, the anthology is perhaps the most influential genre in shaping canon and academic discourse while also simultaneously the least studied. Of the two, Loving has received more scholarly attention, with even some providing genre analysis. Unfortunately, too much of the attention paid in the area of feminist autobiography fails to see the fullness of Moraga's cultural critique and its inextricability from her genre innovation.