Poet, novelist, music scholar and journalist, Luisa Futoransky has led a life characterized by travel and the arts. Born on January 5, 1939 in Buenos Aires, Argentina to Alberto Futoransky (b. 1914, Argentina) and Sonia Saskin de Milstein (b. 1918, Russia), both of whom have resided in Israel since 1975, Futoransky has spent almost half of her life abroad. Since initially leaving Argentina in 1970 to participate in the Iowa Writers’ Program, she has lived in Italy, Spain, Japan, China and France, where she has resided since 1981. Although she has occupied a variety of arts and media-related posts, she defines herself first and foremost as a poet.
Futoransky began her colorful and diverse career as a music student at the Conservatorio Municipal, where she studied under Cátulo Castillo (1906–1975) between 1953 and 1961. During the late 1960s, while pursuing a law degree at the University of Buenos Aires (a career she would never practice), she began to study English poetry with Argentina’s foremost writer, Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). Her first three collections of poetry—Trago Fuerte (Strong Drink, 1963), El corazón de los lugares (The Heart of Places, 1964), and Babel Babel (1968)—were published during this period. Futoransky continued her literary studies at the University of Rome and the Accademia Chighiana, Siena.
Between 1976 and 1981 she traveled throughout the Far East, where she taught opera at the National Academy of Music in Japan, and worked at Radio Peking in China. In 1981, she settled in Paris, where she has worked at Radio France, the French Ministry of Culture, the Pompidou Center and the France Presse. Perhaps more importantly, France is where she has written the majority of her published works, and where she has expanded her repertoire to include prose and essays in addition to poetry.
Luisa Futoransky’s writings deal principally with themes of exile and language. One critic, Marcy E. Schwartz, suggests that all her fiction focuses on displacement. When Jewish motifs enter her work, it is often to articulate broader preoccupations with displacement and identity. Laura Kaplansky, the protagonist of Son cuentos chinos (They’re Chinese Tales [colloquial expression for an apocryphal story]) and De Pe a Pa (From A to Z), is a semi-autobiographical character whose Jewishness appears as one of many components of her fragmented identity. Yet, Jewishness also functions as that which questions the very notion of a fixed identity. The idea of the Jew as nomad, in Futoransky’s work, challenges the idea of nationality, a theme that she treats more broadly in other texts. In the poem “Probable olvido de Itaca,” (Probable Forgetting of Ithaca) for example, the intrinsic relationship between self and nation is questioned in such lines as “tu sitio, ya lo sabes: partió cuando llegaste” (your place, you know: it left when you arrived). Futoransky also establishes a link between writing and the strong Jewish tradition of textual engagement. Babel Babel’s biblical reference alludes to the fragmentary nature of language.
Gender comes into play as yet another marginalizing force, bearing exclusionary potential. The narrator of her novel Son cuentos chinos wonders what can be more disgraceful than being “female, forty-something, alone, not very thin, Jewish, South American, and fickle.” Here, being a woman pertains to a long list of characteristics devalued by society. Thus, according to Laura Beard, her narrative voice is markedly female, as well as feminist.
The body is also explored in several works, such as De pe a pa, in which the protagonist’s undiagnosable illness reflects her status as an outsider in France; Pelos (Hair), a philosophical essay on hair; and Dentadura (Teeth), a painfully humorous poem detailing torturous experiences at the dentist. Her works are gracefully composed in a sophisticated yet often colloquial style, and can be characterized by a sharp wit and ironic play.
The translation of Futoransky’s writing into English, French, Hebrew, Portuguese, Japanese, and German—among other languages—as well as her numerous awards and honors reveal the wide reception of her work. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991, the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in 1990, the Centre National des Lettres Fellowship in 1987 and 1993, and was the Regent’s Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in 1997. Her writing has been included in a myriad of international journals, including Trilce, Hispamérica, World Fiction, El Universal and Taifa, as well as anthologies such as The House of Memory: Stories by Jewish Women Writers of Latin America and Miriam’s Daughters: Jewish Latin American Women Poets. Futoransky’s texts accompany her in her global travels, where they continually influence and are influenced by new audiences and landscapes.
Trago Fuerte (1963); El corazón de los lugares (1964); Babel Babel (1968); Lo regado por lo seco (1972); En nombre de los vientos (1976); Partir, digo (1982); Son cuentos chinos (1983); El diván de la puerta dorada (1984); De Pe a Pa (1986); La sanguina (1987); Pelos (l990); Urracas (1992); La parca, enfrente (1995); Lunas de miel (1996); Cortezas y fulgores (1997); De dónde son las palabras (1998); París, desvelos y quebrantos (2000); Estuarios (2002).
Beard, Laura J., “A is for Alphabet, K is for Kabbalah: Luisa Futoransky’s Babelic Metatext” Intertext 1:1 (Spring 1997): 25–39; Beard, Laura J. “La sujetividad femenina en la metaficción feminista latinoamericana.” Revista Iberoamericana 64:182–183 (1998 January–June): 299–311; García Pinto, Magdalena, “Las movadas del exilio: La poesía de Luisa Futoransky.” Confluencia: Revista Hispánica de Cultura y Literatura 14:2 (1999 Spring): 3–11; Jensen, Kelly Cathleen. “Un estudio del hogar diasporico mediante novelas de seis escritoras exiliadas: Isabel Allende, Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, Luisa Futoransky, Sara Gallardo, Marta Traba y Ana Vasquez.” Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 2000; Schwartz, Marcy E. Writing Paris: Urban Topographies of Desire in Contemporary Latin American Fiction. Albany: 1999.