Call for Papers


      One of the major events in the Spring 2001 Text and Community Program on the text I, Rigoberta Menchœ: An Indian Woman from Guatemala (IRM) is a student essay contest. This competition is open to registered GMU undergraduates in all majors or programs. The essays will be reviewed by a group of faculty members and the results will be announced on April 20. Those two students whose papers are selected will receive an award recognizing their contributions at the panel discussion on the controversy over IRM on April 25 at 3:00 p.m. in the SUB II Ballroom. One winner will be chosen for each essay below.
      Students who wish to be considered for this honor must submit 3-5 page papers on one of the following questions by April 12 no later than 12:00 p.m. to the English Department. All papers must be typed, double-spaced and have no identifying marks. The cover sheet should include name, phone number, and e-mail address.

            1. How has I, Rigoberta Menchœ: An Indian Woman In Guatemala affected you personally? In your essay you might describe how her account exposed you to the reality of historical and political events in Central America. You might write on how the text opened your eyes to the struggle of indigenous peoples in Central America or the world. Or you might choose to comment on how MenchœÕs voice inspired your own sense of strength against adversity in modern life. In your discussion, you must be sure to make references to MenchœÕs text.

            2. The book I, Rigoberta Menchœ is an example of testimonio, a fairly recent genre of literature in Latin America that attempts to provide a voice in history for people who have been marginalized in their societies, like people of color or victims of state oppression. The testimonio text involves both an editor and a subject. Typically, the editor (in IRM Elisabeth Burgos-Debray) interviews an individual (here, Rigoberta Menchœ) whose story is then presented as a collective voice for his or her community. Menchœ herself states at the beginning of her book: "This is my testimony. I didnÕt learn it from a book and I didnÕt learn it alone. IÕd like to stress that itÕs not only my life, itÕs also the testimony of my people. ItÕs hard to remember everything thatÕs happened to me in my life since there have been many bad times but, yes, moments of joy as well. The important thing is that what has happened to me has happened to many other people too: my story is the story of all poor Guatemalans. My experience is the reality of a whole people."

      In his book, Rigoberta Menchœ and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans (1999), the anthropologist David Stoll argues that MenchœÕs claim to be the representative of "all poor Guatemalans" is undercut by several factual discrepancies in her book. Stoll spent ten years interviewing members of MenchœÕs local community and other sources on her story, including her editor and interviewer Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, and claims to have uncovered key details that are false in the text. Stoll writes that Menchœ "drastically revised the prewar experience of her village to suit the needs of the revolutionary organization she had joined" and whose cause she was promoting in Europe when interviewed by Burgos-Debray. According to Stoll, because MenchœÕs account was dictated by pressure from this group and members of the academic left in Latin America, her story rings false as the authentic representation of "all poor Guatemalans."

      The publishing of StollÕs book unleashed a major controversy about Rigoberta MenchœÕs book, which is frequently assigned in North American college classrooms. In this essay, you are to respond to StollÕs claim that the reader of IRM must "distinguish between what can be corroborated and what cannot, what is probable and what is highly improbable." In this essay, you are to consider how Stoll's critique of IRM has affected your reading of the text. Has his argument caused you to reconsider your initial responses to IRM? If it has, in what ways? If Stoll's claims have not affected your opinion of the text, describe why this is so.

Text and Community is a program of the English Department at George Mason University. The Text and Community Web Site is sponsored and created by the New Media Group in English.