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Liza Bakewell, writer and anthropologist, holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. from Brown University. Her recent books are A Gateless Garden: Quotes by Maine Women Writers (Maine Women Write, 2015) and MADRE: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun (W.W. Norton, 2011).”

Liza Bakewell is a cultural anthropologist with the soul of a novelist.”
—Luisa Valenzuela, author of Black Novel With Argentines

About the writer

I’m a writer and anthropologist and live in Maine with my family. In 2011, I co-founded Maine Women Write, an organization that helps to promote Maine Women authors, and in 2013 I became its Executive Director. For over two decades, I was a professor at Brown University, at one point teaching in the Department of Anthropology and at another conducting research at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, where I directed and co-authored The Mesolore Project. I have, also, taught at Bowdoin College and Colgate University. I continue, from time to time, to teach as a Visiting Professor.

A snapshot of my life: Most of my mornings and evenings are filled with my children. During the day, when they go off to school, I write. If I am stuck, I’ll pull out Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or one of my favorite works of fiction or go for a walk, a jog, a bike ride or into the pantry in search of something really sweet. There was a time in my past when I wrote academic prose, and there might be a time in my future when I’ll start writing fiction. I can feel the urge to invent stories coming on, but I’m trying to keep it at bay, while I write one more literary, non-fiction book. Urges can be treacherous. (My children began their life as an urge).

Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun is my first foray into literary non-fiction. The choice to write this way, and to set aside the academic M.O., came to me as a longing: I wanted to bring linguistics to a broad audience. (There’s an excerpt you can download on the Madre page here at this site, or you can open the book at one of the book vendor’s sites).

Mesolore, my web project, has similar origins: How can we bring to a broad audience often esoteric information on Mesoamerican writing? Going to the Mesolore page at this site will tell you more. Surfing through the actual site at mesolore.org, even more so.

In my next book—the one I’m writing at the moment—I include discussions of language, too. This time, rather than swoop down onto one word, such as “mother” in Spanish, and take it by storm, I circle around several words, while weaving them into a thick plot, where Spanglish is spoken and a zany childcare situation—one that involves not only twins and single-motherhood but 23 nannies, au pairs, and neighbors—is doused with picante recipes, imported to a kitchen in Maine from down south of the border.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have the time to conduct lots of ethnographic fieldwork, mostly in Latin America, beginning in 1987. I’ve also been fortunate to receive funding for my research, writing, and software projects in the form of two Fulbright Fellowships that each time took me to Mexico, along with various other grants from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Davis Educational Foundation.