English professor Gina Barreca, dubbed the “feminist humor maven” by Ms. Magazine has kept us laughing through 10 books from “I Used to Be Snow White But I Drifted” to “If You Lean In, Will Men just Look Down Your Blouse?” Her latest, though, invites others to the party. “It’s like that children’s book ‘Stone Soup,’” she says of the “little of this, little of that” approach she took to editing “Fast Funny Women: 75 Essays of Flash Fiction.”
For the compilation Barreca brought together 75 writers including Jane Smiley, Mimi Pond, Fay Weldon, Marge Piercy, and Judy Sheindlin aka Judge Judy — and 35 UConn students, alums, and staffers. “I thought, ‘I want emerging writers, I want students, who might not have their voices heard, alongside these foundational writers,’” says Barreca. English major Nicole Catarino ’22 (CLAS) is one of those students. She also helped Barreca put the book together. “She said, ‘We’re making a book and I want you in it,’” says Catarino, “which was massive for me. It’s such an honor to be side by side with these women. My confidence has skyrocketed.”
It’s not surprising that Barreca would find a pandemic project like this. “Making comedy, making a story, has always been my way to cope,” she says. And she is known for gathering people. Pre-Covid, friends, students, and former students were always stopping by Barreca’s office, which she describes as “a cross between a piñata, a toy store, and an Italian deli. Everybody comes, we eat, we talk.” Even more than humor, perhaps, this is Barreca’s brand — bringing people together to support one another in a community, as she says, “based on letters, on a love of words.”
“Dartmouth may have Gina’s papers. The Friars Club may have Gina’s photo. Thankfully, UConn has Gina’s living legacy of students and alumni,” is how Laura Rossi Totten ’91 (CLAS), another English major, puts it.