For the past seven years Hildegard Elisabeth Keller has been a woman obsessed.
It was in the early '90s when she discovered the writing of Alfonsina Storni, an Argentine and Latin-American poet. Like Keller, Storni was from Switzerland with a Latin connection. Storni — one of the most unsung feminist poets of the last century — became a point of intrigue for Keller, a professor of Germanic studies at IU. Keller stared noticing her books when she would travel, always making sure to stop and pick one up. But it was not until eight years ago, and after moving to Bloomington, that Keller knew she needed to tell the story of Storni's life.
Keller will be doing just that when she hosts a night of music, film, and visual art in honor of Storni. The show is a perfect precursor to Keller's soon to be released biography of Storni's life, a labor of love for the last seven years. Keller has pored over original writings and traced the steps of Storni — a life that seems fairly similar to Keller's in many ways.
"I am straddling the continent so to say," says Keller. "I live between Bloomington, Indiana and Zorick, Switzerland. I was born Swiss... Alfonsina was born in 1892 and lived lived four years in Switzerland before her parents left the country."
The night will have five short films made by Keller, original music from Francisco Cortés-Álvarez, the IU Latin American Ensemble, theater performances, and mixed multimedia presentations. The song by Álvarez will be sung by the Spanish soprano Patricia Illera who held the title-role in Carmen at the IU Opera. It will also be its world premiere. Much of the artwork will be in Spanish and English.
"At that point [in 2008] I didn't know what shape the project would take," says Keller. "But I always had in mind to do a biography. It was my aim, as a Swiss — but also as a Swiss with a Latin American heart — I wanted to do some work for her, to make her known. Not just in this reduced form of the song, but to make her known, to translate her, to write a biography about her so people can get to know her."
Storni is probably known best for being the subject of a famous song about her suicide. It was said that she was very sick with breast cancer, wrote a final poem to one of the newspapers that regularly housed her byline (she was also a journalist in addition to being a poet and playwright), and walked out into the ocean to end her life. Her body was found the same day the poem arrived at the paper. The popularized song, by Félix Luna "Alfonsina y el Mar," shows her life as one of sorrow.
"[I wanted to highlight] all of the things that were eclipsed by that myth," says Keller. ...One on side it kept her memory alive and her name, it still brings it out into the world. On the other hand it's a song about a suicide. It's about a suicide and very sad, very heavy, it tosses a very heavy blanket over her life. And people didn't go back to read. They were satisfied with that, they stuck to that ... Her brighter moods, her humor, her commitment to beauty, to evolutional transformation through art [were over shadowed by her suicide]. All of those things were eclipsed. Those who know her, or those who know her through that song they think of a tragic, dark, sad female life — a classical kind of thing."
Keller explained that Storni was never married and at a time when that was very uncommon for women. Storni channeled herself into her writing.
"I like her intelligence," says Keller, recalling what made her decide to dedicate this much research to her the author. "She is really a bright person. She is really able to put a lot of things in very few words. I feel her depth. Not just in an intellectual sense also her heart. She was fiercely independent. That's really special because she didn't choose a time where this was common or welcome. She paid her price for being so frank. The first part of her life and her work were giving voice to female thought, wishes and feelings... But she understood that she was giving voice to something that was being silenced. She says things like "One day when women will be frank, the world will be changed.