Female Improvisational Poets : Challenges and Achievements in the Twentieth Century
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In December 2009, 14,500 people met at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre in the Basque Country to attend an improvised poetry contest. Forty-four poets took part in the 2009 literary tournament, and eight of them made it to the final. After a long day of literary competition, Maialen Lujanbio won and received the award: a big black txapela or Basque beret. That day the Basques achieved a triple triumph. First, thousands of people had gathered for an entire day to follow a literary contest, and many more had attended the event via the web all over the world. Second, all these people had followed this event entirely in Basque, a language that had been prohibited for decades during the harsh years of the Francoist dictatorship. And third, Lujanbio had become the first woman to win the championship in the history of the Basques. After being crowned with the txapela , Lujanbio stepped up to the microphone and sung a bertso or improvised poem referring to the struggle of the Basques for their language and the struggle of Basque women for their rights. It was a unique moment in the history of an ancient nation that counts its past in tens of millennia: I remember the laundry that grandmothers of earlier times carried on the cushion on their heads] I remember the grandmother of old times and today's mothers and daughters. . . .


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