WWP Alumni: Eléna Rivera

WWP Alumni: Eléna Rivera

To celebrate our thirtieth anniversary, we are launching a new series featuring stories from people who have helped shaped the Women Writers Project. Here, Professor Eléna Rivera (Senior Encoder, 1997–1999) shares some memories from her time at the WWP. 

We hope you enjoy the series!

I was working at the John Hay Library at Brown University at the time, cataloguing and sorting through manuscript collections, when I saw the job posting for a Lead Encoder and Text Editor at the WWP. I was excited by the idea of the project and especially what it would mean for me as a writer to be working with texts by women. I didn’t know anything about women’s writing pre-1800, at least not in English, and was eager to find out more. Julia Flanders hired me when I had had no experience with SGML but believed I would learn the job quickly with my fluency in French and Spanish, my literary background and studies, and my knowledge of library cataloguing. I’m grateful that Julia was confident that I would learn the TEI/SGML encoding quickly, which I did.

I remember on my first day of work, as I was being introduced to my co-workers, they said, “You’re going to love it here,” and, “This is a great place to work.” The atmosphere of the office was so friendly, laid back, while at the same time everyone was working hard and expressing such enthusiasm for the project. I’ve had many jobs and it’s rare to encounter such passionate interest in the work; I was very impressed with that. The WWP ended up being one of the best jobs I ever had, in terms of the work I was doing (text encoding, proofreading, corrections, organizing encoding goals, setting the day-to-day work of encoders, training and supervising students, researching name files and maintaining the project’s records) and because I was working with such marvelous texts. I encoded texts by Margaret Cavendish Duchess of Newcastle and Aphra Behn among others. I remember I especially liked Margaret Cavendish, with her humor and intelligence; I hadn’t known there were any women playwrights during that period and was very impressed with her. By 1999 though my husband was taking a job in New York, and so we ended up moving. I otherwise would have stayed on at the Project.

Working with these texts, finding examples of women doing what I wanted to be doing in a time when women’s lives were very restricted, was an eye-opener for me. Also, Julia’s faith in me, her urging, what she taught me, came at a time when I needed a vote of confidence. Julia’s support, her belief in the project, and her intelligence were especially energizing. During my first year in New York I was hired temporarily as a consultant for the Margaret Sanger Project at New York University where I provided training in SGML using TEI and MEP guidelines and analysis of editorial issues for the project’s publishing project, all of which was a direct result of the training and work I did at the WWP. Later I began teaching, both at NYU and at Bard College, and I think my work at the WWP gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my goals as a poet, writer and teacher.

Today, I’m a writer, translator and teacher. In 2017, my book of sonnets Scaffolding was published by Princeton University Press, and I’m currently translating books by French poets Bernard Noël and Isabelle Garron. I’m also on the Faculty of the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College, Poets House, and until recently taught at New York University in the McGhee Division Liberal Arts.

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