Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading

June 21, 2014 | by Jessica Reidy | 41

June is Roma and Traveller History Month, which began as an effort to educate people about these culturally rich, diverse, vibrant, oppressed, underrepresented, and misunderstood ethnic groups most commonly referred to as “Gypsies.” Let’s start with the word. Gypsy: the less-accurate term that gadjé (Rromanes for non-Romani people) use to refer to Roma, an ethnic group originating in India around the 11th century. After leaving India, Roma traveled West and were met by hostile, xenophobic Europeans, and so became nomadic due to persecution. Although many Roma are settled today and live all over the world, discrimination, hate crimes, and apartheid are ever-present. Travellers, sometimes known as “Tinkers,” are also traditionally nomadic and historically and presently suffer the same stigma and oppression that Roma suffer; however, they are of Irish ethnic origin and have their own culture and language and tend to live in Ireland and the U.K.

Over time, Gypsy became a racial slur, especially in the lowercase “gypsy,” and antigypsyist language is normalized in many languages. In American-English, for example, antigypsyist slurs are idiomatic (eg: That shopkeeper gypped me!). Racial slurs for Roma and Travellers include “Gypsy,” Gyppo,” “Gyp,” and for Travellers specifically, “Pikey” and “Knacker.” Despite this, Gypsy is often appropriated by gadjé and misused to describe anything occult, whimsical, sexual, or criminal, which both perpetuates harmful stereotypes and insultingly implies that “being Gypsy” is a lifestyle choice or a state of mind or spirit. This is particularly problematic considering the current global Romani and Traveller human rights crisis. However, some Roma and Travellers choose to reclaim Gypsy as an act of linguistic and identity empowerment, whereas some Roma, especially of the older generations (like my grandmother) just prefer Gypsy. If you aren’t Romani or Traveller, use Roma and Romani or Traveller instead of Gypsy or any other slurs, and if you are Romani or Traveller, you’re free to reclaim or shun the word Gypsy as you see fit.

Many Roma today are assimilated– some because they have the financial ability to hide their ethnicity, and others because the culture was dampened long ago by genocide or political tragedy. Some lose entire veins of Romanipen (The Gypsy Ways), from dress to religion, in an effort to fit in unnoticed, while others quietly preserve their heritage in the privacy of their own homes. Either way, most are secret-keepers, hiding their heritage for fear of losing their jobs, rights, and safety. In the wake of this silence, we are bombarded by Romani and Traveller misrepresentation in the media. Mainly, we get the stereotype archetypes: the Sexy Gypsy, The Magical Gypsy, and the Criminal Gypsy.

More recently, we have reality TV nonsense that, as a friend puts it, “is a cross between The Jersey Shore and My Super Sweet Sixteen” that’s trying to pass itself off as a cultural documentary. When my grandmother saw My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding for the first time, she called me and laughed. “But these aren’t Gypsies! That’s not how we are. Those girls are something else.” Then she grew quiet. “Who are those people?” she asked. Before I could answer, she asked another question that made my breath heavy. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a community. Is that how Gypsies are now?” My grandmother fled post WWII Germany fifty years ago and settled in New Hampshire, without her family, after half of Europe’s Romani population was extinguished in the Holocaust. I shouldn’t have had to reassure her that it was yet another misrepresentation of her culture, but assimilation, exile, and secrecy alienates a person from her own blood, especially when the dominant culture insists on fictionalizing its minorities.

This is why the Romani arts scene is so important. It’s more than cultural enrichment; it’s necessary representation to educate outsiders, to connect the disconnected, and to voice the unheard. The majority of the real Roma and Travellers in the media are in the news. If they aren’t victims of racist reporting, then they are victims of wildly racist politicians or severe poverty. There are images of Roma pushed into slums by the government, living barefoot in cobbled-together shacks with no running water, electricity, or sanitation. These news articles revealing spotlighting poverty and victimization are important, essential even to our fight for human rights world-wide, but the representation is imbalanced. There are no real popular culture touchstones of ‘Gypsyness’ that Roma and Travellers can point to and say, “See, we’re like that. That’s so Gypsy.”

I often meet grown men and women who are shocked that ‘Gypsies’ are not fantasy creatures of the mermaid and unicorn ilk. This is why I’m nervous to tell new people about my heritage lest they think it’s cool to tell me about the one time they went to Europe and were scared out of their wits by their tour guide’s warnings of “Gypsy thieves,” which, as far as the tour guide is concerned, is a redundant phrase. But this is the age of Opre Roma (Roma rising up), and with this surge of Romani professionals, writers, and artists, things are surely changing.

There is a common misconception that Roma and Travellers have no written language, but of course, we do. There are many different Romani clans (Sinti, Manouche, Lovara, Kalderash, etc.) and each clan has its own dialect of Rromanes, but all of the dialects find their roots in Sanskrit. There are also rumors that Rromanes is somehow linguistically impoverished, that we don’t have words for “tomorrow,” “beauty,” “truth,” “possession” and many other essential human concepts. Dr. Ian Hancock, Romani Studies and Linguistic professor at University of Texas—Austin, corrects these rumors in “Duty and Beauty, Possession and Truth: the Claim of Lexical Impoverishment as Control.” Most of these rumors of a fake culture were started by members of The Gypsy Lore Society, Victorian men who fetishized Gypsies to the point that “bedding a Gypsy woman” was a necessary qualification for membership. Language is what allows us to express our humanity, and when a language is degraded, so are the humans it purportedly represents. As a matter of fact, Roma and Travellers have a long and vibrant oral tradition, and storytelling remains an honored and respected trade. Both Rromanes and Cant, the Traveller language, are highly metaphorical. In Rromanes, “I love you” can be directly translated to “I eat your heart” or “I eat your belly.” To say someone overdosed, you would say, “Cocaine ate his head.” Writers and storytellers find the poetic-logic of the language endlessly inspiring, and as such, the mother-tongues lend themselves organically to stories and poems.

Story-telling and autobiography are closely linked in Romani and Traveller literature. Scottish Traveller Betsey Whyte is known for her two volume of autobiography The Yellow on the Broom and Red Rowans and Wild Honey, whereas other storytellers have narrated their life stories for gadjé writers to transcribe for them, such as Irish Traveller Nan Joyce, author of My Life on the Road with Anna Farmar. The book Gypsy Folk Tales, edited by Diane Tong, is an impressive collection of tales gathered from Romani story tellers all over the world. However, the storytelling tradition is dying out, particularly as Roma and Travellers lose their languages. In the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, governments have made a habit of removing Romani and Traveller children from their parents and transferring them to orphanages where the language is beaten out of them. Historically, legislation across Europe has also prohibited Roma from speaking with their true tongues. Native Americans as well as other indigenous groups oppressed by the colonizers have also been subjected to language-killing. And we know that systemic racism takes its toll on literacy rates too, which are very low among Roma and Travellers world-wide. Many Romani and Traveller children across Europe are automatically segregated into special education to keep them away from the gadjé students and because it’s assumed that they’re mentally challenged. In the U.S., Europe, and other countries, if they are permitted to attend school alongside gadjé children, they are often bullied so badly by both teachers and peers that their parents keep them home. There are also cultural challenges: Romani and Traveller culture is very insular with strict purity laws that gadjé don’t practice, and parents worry about that their children will lose their cultural values and be exposed to harmful ideologies, unclean practices, etc. in school. The combination of exclusion and fear of assimilation has made formal education and literacy a low priority, and so Romani and Traveller communities have met their own literary movements with ambivalence.

And yet, so many Roma and Travellers have the deep and persistent desire to write, create, and speak, and so they do. Some write in their mother tongue, some in their adopted languages, as most Roma and Travellers are at least bilingual. There are challenges to overcome on the path to mainstream representation: translation, organization, and accessibility. There are practically no Romani or Traveller writers included in “the great literary canon” and too few Romani and Traveller writers are translated into English and other languages or featured in critical theory, so as you can imagine, it’s a burgeoning field with the opportunity for discovery and real ground-breaking scholarship. There are not a lot of presses that champion Romani or Traveller work, but a handful, such as KHER in the Czech Republic, have sprung up across the world. Although Roma and Travellers struggle to unify politically, artistically, or otherwise, the Internet and social media are making it easier for this to happen, and so it happens. Efforts like the Romani Library Project, which sought to translate, publish, and distribute contemporary Romani writing too often suffer from lack of funding and interest, but the work they do is crucial and makes Romani and Traveller literature that bit more accessible.

And while I spend a lot of time on my soap box bellowing that Roma and Travellers are just human, as a storyteller and a poet, I will say that some of the most beautiful, dark, and hauntingly fantastic stories I’ve ever heard or read have been from Gypsies. It’s a MathildeVonThieleworld-view that outsiders would never be able to reach on their own, and I feel this poignantly as a not-quite-white looking girl who grew up knowing that, way back, her Gypsy ancestors sailed up and down the Danube from Germany to Hungary, working as dancers and fortune tellers in the riparian towns before the war tore everything to shreds. Their lives were not idyllic, but the stories my grandmother told were beautiful. I would hold them close to my chest when I was stoned at school, or given detention for “witchcraft and the evil eye” in a town where there were no Gypsies, where my mother and grandmother routinely referred to the Gypsy community (some abstract thing I imagined) as “they” instead of “we.” I worried about my “percentage of Gypsy” and whether or not it was enough to claim. The few practices my grandmother kept and passed down to me didn’t make sense until I began to research my own people when I was a teenager and realized that alienation is also inheritance. I found Papusza, the Mother of Romani poetry and an omen of exile and connection. I stepped into the river-mouth of my blood.

Nina Dudarova—(1903-1977), born in Russia, she is among the first Roma to publish her writing. Although there may have been singular earlier attempts, many scholars hold the opinion that Roma literature started in the 1920s in Russia, and it is safe to say that it did so impressively. In Russia, as early as in the 18th century, a cultural elite of Roma had come into existence. After the Revolution, representatives of this former musical and artistic elite, who in the past had been closely associated with high society in the former Russian Empire, were the first to gather under the banners of the new “proletarian” ideology. Ivan Rom-Lebedev (1903-1989), Nikolai Pankov (1895-1959), Nina Dudarova Maxim Besljudsko (1901-1989), Alexander Germano (1893-1955), and others wrote fiction, compiled dictionaries and textbooks, translated Russian literature into Romani, and wrote plays that were published in the years between 1925 and 1938, with active support of the Soviet state.

Olga Pankova— (1911-1983) Russian Romani Pankova wrote one of the first Romani literary works written by a woman, a collection of verses titled Amaré Divesa (Our Days), published in Moscow in 1933. She also wrote for the journal Novyi Put’ and translated Puškin’s prose and poetry into Rromanes.

Papusza—(Bronislawa Wajs, 1908-1987) Papusza (doll) is a Romani poet from Poland and asPapusza one of the first women to publish her writing, she is considered the Mother of Romani poetry. She survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forest and much of her poetry reflects on that time, most famously, “Tears of Blood.” Literate gadjé neighbors taught her to read, and though her family and community severely disapproved, she persevered. Jerry Ficowski discovered her in 1949 performing her songs with her husband, a violinist, and encouraged her to write them down. He translated and published her poetry in a magazine that supported the force settlement of Poland’s Roma, and her work became associated with the political movement to ghettoize the Roma. Because of this breach of trust, her community declared her marime and she was exiled. She spent great periods of her life in silence and died disgraced. However, her work lives on, and though only thirty-one of her poems have been recorded, she is one of the most important figures in Romani literature.

Philomena Franz—(1922) A Sinti Holocaust survivor born in Biberach an der Riss. She writes Romani tales and organizes literary events at schools where she lives in Rosrath near Cologne. She was the first Sinti woman to be awarded Germany’s highest prize, the Federal Cross for Merits for her “activities endeavoring after understanding and conciliation.”

Elena Lacková— (1921-2003) Slovakian Romani poet, story writer, and playwright born in Velky Šariš region. She has written several plays, novels, and stories about the Romani Holocaust experience. Her plays have been shown in Romani theatres since the 1950s and her short stories “Dead are not Coming Back,” “White Ravens,” and “Life in the Wind” were published in magazines and the Romani newspaper Romano Nevo Lil. She was awarded the Chatam Sofer medal from Pavol Mestan, director of the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava, for her documentation of the consequences of Holocaust on the Romani community.

Hedina Tahirović Sijerčić—(1960) born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, she is a journalism graduate, a writer, a poet, an educator, and the first Bosnian television and radio presenter and producer of Romani origin. She served as the Editor-in-Chief of the first Canadian-Romani newsletter “Romano Lil” from 1998 till 2001. She is the winner of “The golden pen of Papusza” literary prize, and the author of the prize-winning poetry collections How God made the Roma and Ašun, haćar dukh (Listen, feel pain). She presently lives in Germany.

Cecilia Woloch— (1956) Born in Kentucky, Woloch is an American- Carpathian Romani writer and poet with an MFA from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She is a freelance creative writing teacher, leading workshops for children and youth, for teachers, professional writers, participants in social programs and residents of a shelter for homeless women, as well as writing retreats in Istanbul, Paris, and Los Angeles. Her poetry collection, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem explores the Romani journey and identity, and the forces that have shaped the Roma people’s fate and fortunes. She is also the author of Carapathia, Late, Narcissus, and Sacrifice. Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, Chateau de La Napoule Retreat for Artists, and the Isaac W. Bernheim Foundation. Website:

Louise Doughty—Born in England in the East Midlands, Doughty is the author of seven novels, including the recently published Apple Tree Yard. Her first novel, Crazy Paving (1995), was shortlisted for four awards including the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her sixth novel, Whatever You Love (2010) was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her fourth novel, the internationally acclaimed Fires in the Dark (2003) is based on the history of the Romani people and her own family ancestry. She’s also the author of award-winning radio drama and short stories, as well as the non-fiction book, A Novel in a Year, based on her popular newspaper column. She is a critic and cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly for the BBC and writes for The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Telegraph, and The Mail on Sunday. She lives in London. Twitter handle: @DoughtyLouise; Website:

Mariella Mehr— (1947) Born in Switzerland, Mehr is a poet, novelist, and dramatist belonging to the Yeniche, a nomadic group with Scottish Traveller origins. She identifies with the Romani people and champions the causes of outsiders and oppressed minorities. She was a victim of the government project, Hilfswerk für die Kinder der Landstrasse (“Relief Organisation for Rural Street Children”), which separated Yeniche children from their parents. Mehr was moved between sixteen orphanages and three reformatories as a child. She was committed to a mental institution four times and spent nineteen months in a women’s prison. She is one of the founders of the “International Romani Writer’s Association” (IRWA) in Helsinki which was dissolved in 2008 due to lack of interest by Roma writers and Roma in general. Her debut novel, “Steinzeit” (Stoneage, 1981), was met with high acclaim which, 14 books later, has only grown, and in 1998, her work was recognized with an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel. Her poetry, translated into English, is featured in The Roads of the Roma: a PEN anthology of Gypsy Writers.

Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă—(1957) She is the best-known Romani prose writer and poet in Romania, where she was born. Her poetry has a close kinship with traditional Roma songs, and is featured The Roads of the Roma: a PEN anthology of Gypsy Writers. Her book of short stories, The Lost Country, is a volume of traditional tales more or less as told to her by her grandmother, as she has described it; but fleshed-out, breathed-in, and from a woman’s perspective, told by internal narrators, usually old grannies to young women entering the world. The title story is a fable of why the Gypsies must always be on the road with no home, while others represent other aspects of the Romani experience: violence, magic, music, dance, but through a mythic lens. Cioabă’s poetry collections include Earth’s Root and The Rain Merchant. She has been honored with literary awards in Romania and Italy.

Oksana Marafioti— (1974) Oksana Marafioti is an American writer, classically trained pianist, and cinematographer born in the USSR of Greek, Armenian, and Russian Romani descent. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in The Perpetual Engine of Hope, an anthology featuring stories written by seven Las Vegas writers, Fairy Tale Review, Slate, NPR, and other publications. Her critically acclaimed memoir, American Gypsy, follows her experiences in the former Soviet Union and her emigration to the United States as a fifteen-year-old just before the breakup of the USSR.

Paola Schöpf— (1953), also called Kiriassa (Cherry), was born in Bolzano, Italy. At age eleven, as a result of family tragedy, she was given shelter at a college in Verona where she was meant to study to become a teacher. Before she completed her exams, however, she left to return to her family in the South Tyrol in Northern Italy. She belongs to a group of musically talented Sinti Estekharja from Austria. Her poems, written in Italian, have appeared in the anthology edited by Alexian Santino Spinello, published each year to represent the best submissions to the international Amico Rom competition.

Margita Reiznerová—(1945) is a writer who publishes in the Romani language. She was born in Slovakia, but moved to Prague, where she writes primarily poetry and prose fairy tales. Along with a group of fellow authors, she was inspired to work for an early Roma periodical, Romano Lived (Romany List) in 1970. In 1989, she cofounded the Association of Roma Authors and contributed several poems to Kale Rose along with a prose tale, Le Gendalos Names of Roma (Mirror Roma). In 1992 she wrote a fairy tale,“Kali.”She also wrote a collection of poems entitled Suno (Dreams). From 1991-1994, she worked as the editor of the Romany Mirror and published additional poems in Amaro Lav and Romano Dzaniben. She worked as a nurse for many years and currently resides in Belgium.

Sterna Weltz-Zigler— was born in Avignon, France and grew up in a caravan in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. As a young woman, she made a living selling dolls of wickerwork in the marketplace. She moved to Paris and found a second home in Montmartre, where she felt she could be at once settled and free. She has been writing poems since 14 and has never lost the need to write. Her publications include the collection Romanes, from which the poem featured in Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers is taken, and a memoir entitled My Gypsy Secrets. She is also the founder of a music group called Rumberos, where she recites her poems accompanied by four Gypsy guitarists. She lives in Paris with her husband Torino Zigler, a Romani painter, with whom she has collaborated on many projects.

Diana Norma Szokolyai—is a young Hungarian-American DianaNormaSzokolyaiwriter/performance artist of Hungarian and Romani descent. She is Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, where she teaches and organizes Writing and Yoga retreats in France for adult writers. Her writing on literary communities was recently the subject of a monthly feature on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts and Quail Bell Magazine. She author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows (honorable mention for Best Poetry Book in the 2014 Paris Book Festival) and Roses in the Snow (first runner-up Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival). In 2011, The Brooklyn Art House Co-op digitized her handwritten chapbook, Blue Beard Remixed & Poems, written for The Fiction Project. Her writing has also been published in Lyre Lyre, the front page of The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Teachers as Writers, Polarity, Up the Staircase, Belltower & the Beach, Human Rights News, and Area Zinc Art Magazine, among others. She has released recordings of audio poetry in collaboration with musicians Dennis Shafer, Sebastian Wesman, David Krebs, Peter James, Howl Quartet, and Project 5 a.m. She also co-curates a poetry-music series, performs in CHAGALL PAC and is an interdisciplinary performance artist with the Brooklyn Soundpainting Ensemble. Her interdisciplinary work has been called “avant-garde” by The Boston Globe. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and was educated at Harvard, UConn, AMI, La Sorbonne Paris III and IV, and in her grandmother’s kitchen in Hungary. Website:; Twitter handle: @DNSWrites

Nadia Hava-Robbins—born in Czechoslovakia, is a Romani writer/performer and holds a Master’s degree. She has studied dance (classical, modern, ethnic, folk, historical, and ballroom) since the age of four, culminating in her acceptance to the National Ballet Theater of Prague, and continuing in the USA after emigrating in 1968. She has performed dance, poetry, storytelling, puppetry, and magic (and integrated combinations of these) in major cities and festivals across the USA and Canada, and appeared in a documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada. She is founder and artistic director of the Traveling Bohemians, originally in Honolulu, HI, and now in Redding, CA for over 10 years, creating and presenting eclectic performances of music, dance, spoken word, and art. She teaches, dances in, and directs Eclectica Dance Company in Redding, devoted to interpretive, sacred, folk, ethnic, and period dance, and also teaches Meditative Movement. She is a nationally and internationally published poet, and founder and editor of the Bohemian Press.

Tera Fabianova—(1930-2007) born in a Romani village in Slovakia. She’s been described as a “born poet,” despite the fact that she left school at eleven, she was fluent in four languages, and her poetry and stories celebrated for their lyrical qualities. She wrote in Rromanes, Czech, and Hungarian. She wrote for Románo l’il (Romani Letter), which ran from 1969 and 1973 as the magazine of the Sväz Cikánů-Romů (Union of Gypsy-Roma) in Prague.

Katarina Taikon-Langhammer— (1932-1995) was a Swedish Romani writer and actress, from the Kalderash caste. She was best known for writing the series of books Katitzi, partly autobiographical; in 1979, a TV series based on the books was produced). She died of brain damage after falling into a coma following an accident.

Caren Gussoff— Romani-American sci-fi and fantasy writer, she is the author of the short story collection, Sight Unseen, which maps the tangled webs of love, dependency and identity among a cast of fragile, bruised characters: dying recluse is torn between her mother and the pursuit of pain and a younger sister unleashes a terrible revenge when her virginity is traded for drugs. Kirkus Reviews writes,”Gussoff has a good eye for detail…A tautly written, haunting tale of loneliness, alienation, and lost hopes and dreams.” Scotland on Sunday writes that she “deals insightfully and unsentimentally with the issues the Jerry Springer show frequently airs, showing how seemingly normal families nourish the impulse for self-destruction.” She currently lives in Seattle. Twitter handle: @spitkitten

Irena Eliášová—The poet, playwright and novelist Irena Eliášová spent her early childhood in a Romany village in south-western Slovakia. The memory of this time has become the defining experience in her writing. She writes about the lost world of her childhood in the 1950s and 60s and the life of Roma in the Czech Republic today. Her work is permeated with a sense of family and community that also draws us back to an older world of Roma tradition, and her childhood days in Slovakia are the subject of her short novel, Naše osada (Our Settlement) published in 2008.


Jessica Reidy Bio PicJessica Reidy earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a Pushcart nominee, staff-writer for Quail Bell Magazine, the Social Media Outreach Assistant for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Art Editor for The Southeast Review, and visiting professor for The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France (Aug 7-20, 2014). She teaches creative writing and yoga, and runs GypsyRepresent, a blog dedicated to Romani culture, representation, and activism. She’s a mixed-heritage Gypsy-American and used to work her family’s trades, fortune-telling and dancing, through school. Reidy is currently working on her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, a half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter. For more, visit

41 Comments to 'Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading'

  • I wish there had been some Romani poetry here. The article is mostly about what they weren’t, not about what they are. I clicked on a few of the links, but did not find any actual poems. I am especially interested in the earlier poets. However, thanks for the poets’ names and the story. I will look further.

  • Hanna Danbolt Ajer says:

    Thank you for this! Your piece has just added several books to my to-read-list! I’m really looking forward to getting to know these writers and their works more!

  • Gloria D. Garcia says:

    will print list and search for them, thank you!

  • Bilal says:

    While I do appreciate the attention given to Romani women writers, I feel the need to clear up all a common misconception. All Romanies are NOT Roma. Roma are one type of Romani. If you wish to speak of the whole group please use the word Romanies, this will include not only Roma, but also Romanichales, Sinti, and Gitanos, who are not Roma. This is similar to referring to all Native American tribes as Algonquin; i’ts simply not accurate. In Germany they make a point to use the phrase “Roma and Sinti” for this reason. Sinti would genrally much rather be called Gypsies than Roma anyday.

    • Monika 35 says:

      What u said is simply not true!!! Sinti,gitanos, romanichales are all Roma orgypsies however u want to
      call us!!! We come from different groups but we are all Roma!!!

    • RL says:

      This, and any of the posts agreeing with this is ludacris. Tell all the wild stories you want to. Simple fact is your stories don’t hand a candle to DNA testing that has shown Sinti, Gitanos, Romanichals, etc, all stem from the same Indian ancestors as Roma. Stop with the lies.

      And the poster carrying on about Israel needs to shut it cos DNA makes you look a complete and total fool. We are NOT the lost tribe of Israelites. What is wrong with you? Move out of fantasy land. smh

      With that said, Pavees are not Gypsy and should not be ok for them to call themselves that. The name came into existence for Roma. No one else.

      • RL says:

        don’t *hold* a candle…

      • Bilal says:

        You misunderstood my comment. Yes we are related, but the umbrella term should be “Romanies”, not “Roma”. Yes all Romanies are from India, but as a Sinto, I will correct someone who tries to call me “Roma”. I’m Sinti. This is a modern thing to try to classify all Romanies as Roma. Roma is just one kind. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.

        • Romano Manush says:

          Hi to every one of you I’m happy for everyone of you that doesn’t matter from were your you are for your self or for your people : Rom,Romani,Romane,For the other people :Gaje:your Romany , Gitanos,Sinti , etc.

    • Victoria Rios says:

      Gitanos are most certainly Roma. I am Gitana, we are definitely Roma and are not confused about that – simply we use the word Gitano with pride and the word Roma is not in common usage. My Abuelos spoke Romani-calo and the launguage was lost due to Franco making it illegal and dangerous to speak. We ARE Roma. It is very difficult to be in a diaspora and find our collective power…this mis-information is not useful..While we prefer Gitano and refer to ourselves as Gypsy or Gitano – we know we are Roma as are Romanichales and Sinti

    • Romano manush says:


      “Gypsy” is the general English term used to describe our nation; however, in our homeland (India) we were originally called Dom, meaning “man.” Later, Dom developed into Rom. Today, Gypsy people prefer to be identified as Romany in Europe and in America; but in the Middle East & North Africa many still refer to themselves as Dom. In this report, the term “Dom” will be used for those of us who are found in the Middle East and the word “Gypsies” will be used as a general, more recognizable designation for the larger group of our people.

      Other names that are used to designate Gypsy people in the Middle East include Barake, Nawar, Kaloro, Koli, Kurbat, Ghorbati, Jat/Zott and Zargari. These names are usually more “tribe specific”

  • Roma are not indie, it’s a lie Roma are not Indians? India is not our pravlat. Our homeland is Israel, Roma are the original Israelites. Roma are the indigenous people of northern Kingdom of Israel Samari. Yes Roma were India, it is true, but it is not our pravlat it is to think of us say bullshit Gadže. Romani language are 70 words in Indian language and that’s it. I had to write it here and Roma believe that they are in India but it is not true. Roma were in India northwestern part of India where they have lived for centuries. Roma are the holy land of Israel Shalom Roma.

    • maria wilson says:

      I am confused. I grew up Gypsy…heavily isolated when we moved to Australia…my family still prefer the word Gypsy but everything ive ever read about my people has led me to believe we are Roma…the proper name for us?…i thought of it more like the word Aboriginal (original people of the land). Aboriginal friends dont call themselves Aboriginal unless they have to..they call themselves by their tribe name…i assumed the word Roma was similar?

      • Batko says:

        In gypsy language “Roma” means human, a man. That’s why in 90s this term was introduced in order to avoid the negative connotation of “gypsy”. In many languages “gypsy” is associated with thieves, robbers, rapists, prostitutes, dirty people etc. Since XVI century in Western Europe the gypsies were constantly chased and killed, it was forbidden for them to speak Romani language. But in the Ottoman Empire (due to the Pact of Umar) their traditional way of living was allowed. That’s why in Eastern Europe (especially Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria) there is significant Roma minority. Did you note that Jews also escaped in the same direction from Spain? It’s for the same reason… In countries like Slovakia and Ukraine the settlements are due to the Russian protection (by the way not the same as the Ottoman and that is why the Roma there preferred to move to the Balkans). In Hungary as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for Roma was forbidden to speak their language. The newborns were moved to foster families (very similar practice like the British one in Australia towards the local people). In that way many Roma people were assimilated or sent away.
        During the WW2 the Roma population was sent to the camps (again like the Jews). Afterwards the positive attitude towards them is due to the feelings of guilt. It created so called “positive discrimination”. After the end of the Cold war the Western civilization decided they know better how to live in multicultural society. In fact the whole history of the Western show how NOT to live in multicultural society; basically it should be vice-versa because the East civilization is based on empathy – especially the Balkans. However, there were launched many programs specially dedicated for Roma but this harmed the multicultural peace built with centuries. The effect is that now the majority of people feel themselves neglected.
        So please disseminate widely – if you wish the good of the Roma do not spend money for “integration”. These programs are designed by people who really don’t know what the situation is. Here we asses such things as “social engineering”. It is when there is no tradition but cold reason.

      • Jessica Reidy says:

        Maria, it really depends on the person/family. Because “Gypsy” has been used as a slur, it is not politically correct for people outside the community to use the word “Gypsy” to describe Romani people. However, Roma may refer to themselves as whatever they please. My family also prefers the word “Gypsy.”

    • Batko says:

      Linguistically and genetically proven: Roma come from India. I see you’re from Central Europe – sure, you’re assimilated by the Austro-Hungarians and that’s why you keep only 70 words. Even your phenotype is different. Look and speak with Roma in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova ;)

  • Jessica Reidy says:

    @Bilal, Yes, I made that distinction between clans and identity, but thank you for elaborating. My family origins are Sinti, so I understand.

    @Marek, It depends on what your sources are. Archeologists, linguists, and anthropologists find good evidence that the origin is India, The Biblical lore suggests Israel. Since this is an academic piece, I went with academic sources, but thank you for providing another perspective.

    @Patricia, I provided the names of Romani poets like Papuzsa, Szokolyai, Woloch, and others so readers could hunt down some good books. It would be impossible to include everything in an article. I hope you enjoy your adventure!

    @Hanna & @Gloria, Thank you so much! Happy reading!

    • jess smith says:

      Hello, I am a Scottish Traveller, lived all my young life on the road. I have written and had six books on my beloved culture published, all reaching best selling status. Please take a look at my web page and see what I do, and struggling to do, to highlight my culture. I was born a Traveller and i shall die a Traveller. Our timeline in Scotland is ancient and goes beyond the academic history as to our coming through Europe. I sing our family ballads, tell our stories. Last year I visited Gandhi Grammar school in Hungry, performed in Warsaw’s international storytelling festival and this year shared cultural stories with Maori’s in Auckland Uni. We are a very small group in Scotland, face many obstacles to maintain our culture but our heart still beats.

      • Jessica Reidy says:

        Thanks for telling us about yourself, Jess Smith! I’m surprised I haven’t already heard of you before, but I can’t wait to learn more about your work. And congrats on all those books! I’m still working on my first.

  • Bára Hladíková says:

    Thank you very much for this article! I am trying to identify with my Romani heritage, but it is proving very difficult as it is unspoken in my family. As a literature student in Canada I only have the option of studying British Literature and must find my own way with Czech/Romani writing. In other words, to me this is pure, pure gold.

    • Jessica Reidy says:

      Thank you so much, Bára. Good for you for rediscovering your history. It really is difficult when your family has lost the language, but not impossible. If you know which dialect your family spoke, you might be able to find some good resources. You could also try Ronald Lee’s book Learn Romani: Das-duma Rromanes, which is in the widely-spoken Kalderash dialect. I’ve been working through that one, and even though it isn’t my ancestor’s dialect, it brings me a lot of joy. And as far as studying literature and being stuck in the mainstream cannon, Diana Norma Szokolyai was in a similar position with French literature and proposed a thesis on Romani poetry in post WWII France, and she was able to study her real passion within the confines of her degree and is now working on turning it into a book. This is especially exciting because her thesis was truly original and she was able to do a lot of groundbreaking scholarship in Romani literary criticism. Try talking with your department about your interests– you may be surprised by what is possible. Good luck! (Kushti Baxt!)

  • Glenda Bailey-Mershon says:

    Thank you, Jessica, for this wonderful article. It made my heart sing. A list of writers–names only, no titles, unfortunately, including male and female writers–also exists here:

    My novel, Eve’s Garden, will be published in September 2014 by Twisted Road. It includes a romni (Romani woman) character based on my family stories. You can read more about it here:

    I hope you will keep up this vein of scholarship. There are so many more Romani writers than people think.

    • Jessica Reidy says:

      Thanks so much, Glenda! I can’t wait to read your book. And I’m so glad Qristina put together that list– thank you for sharing it.

    • Tamara Demetro says:

      Glenda, I agreed to conduct translation for you on some personal poetry some years back, there was never an agreement for you to use them in any manner for a published work as far as i can remember . Please be so kind as to get a hold of me as soon as possible . If I am incorrect, I will return and make correction as I am not accusing you. I have lost your email address and have not been able to write you on the one social media we still do share. Thank you

  • maria wilson says:

    Jessica…I have loved finding this inspired..thank you
    The line that touched me sooo deeply was ” I stepped into the river mouth of my blood”
    This has made me cry…i never truely know why i cry about my people..besides the obvious ancestral carrying of pain and suffering which i am seeing in my parents more and more as they age
    Thank you

  • This is Great! But not enough, I wish to see, touch, and read their books, this is a great formalized gossip but needs to be institutionalized among us the Rroma people. For every single woman in here we need to know more about their life, In this way we can know better who we are.

  • Zerina says:

    I have read a few books about Roma, but never anything written by Roma, except for some of Ian Hancock’s books. There is a movie about Papusza’s life that I did not find out about until too late. Papusza is mentioned in a book Called Bury Me Standing. I really want to see it but Netflix does not carry it. I have seen a few movies by the director Tony Gatlif. Great article! Thank You for sharing I have a lot of reading to do!

  • Susan Marie Kirwan says:

    I was very pleased to find your website. I have read some of the Romnia writers’ work, for example Ilona Lackova’s book, “A False Dawn: My Life as a Gypsy Woman of Slovakia,” which is excellent but now out of print.

    This article and this website are important for my research, thank you.

    It is important for another reason. I have chastised a major publisher/ editor by means of a book review for not allowing Roma women intellectuals to speak for themselves concerning Roma women. Instead, they published an article about Roma women written by a Rom. (see Kirwan review of ‘Gypsies’ in European Literature and Culture. Editors: Vanlentina Glajar and Domnica Radulescu in Romani Studies 5:18: 02: December 2008). It troubles me that all the academically anointed “Rom” writers who are published on a regular basis are all men and they are always the same two men: Ian Hancock and Ronald Lee, or nearly always. This is the reason this website is so very important.

    My article addresses another problem in academia concerning Roma. There is a lot of nonsense written about Roma and DNA research. As a cultural anthropologist (PhD.) who teaches four field anthropology, I am required to understand DNA research. For the record:

    (1) From person to person throughout the world we have 93% the EXACT SAME genetic material (DNA). People only differ in 7% of DNA throughout the world from person to person which accounts for differences in appearance and susceptibility to disease. Physical appearance and susceptibility to SOME disease (not all diseases are inheritable). Nor are physical appearance and susceptibility to disease inherited in a bundle but as separate genes from person to person, not according to ethnicity or religion. There is no “French” gene, no “German” gene, no Roma or Sinti or Kalderash gene. No Jewish gene or Christian gene etc. There is no “race” gene. Ethnicity and race are figments of the human imagination and have no scientific biological validity (2) Everyone throughout the world are Homo sapiens, the SAME SPECIES, there are no human “subspecies.” (3) Worldwide there are only 4 blood types and combinations of the four (with the R factor making the blood type either positive or negative). Whether one is born African, Asian, European, Euro-American, Euro-South American or Native American, the four blood-types are present in ALL population. This is the reason that the International Red Cross does not have to worry about the “ethnicity,” “race,” or religion of its donors. In other words: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BLOODLINES, only blood types.

    Now do not jump to the obvious conclusion that therefore “ethnicity” and “race” do not exist at all. They exist because we imagine them to exist and cause them to exist by the transmission of CULTURE, but not genes. People are born into certain FAMILY CULTURES. Culture is NOT INHERITED GENETICALLY!!!! It is created by means of language and practice.

    I have one last comment: not all anthropologists believe that the Roma originated in India. First, the evidence is scanty and there is very little “proof” that Roma originated in India. Second, anthropologists who promote this idea based on Sanskrit are not thinking broadly enough for Sanskrit WAS NOT THE LANGUAGE OF INDIGENOUS INDIA. People brought that language to India meaning they CAME FROM ELSEWHERE!!! The people who spoke Sanskrit were immigrants TO India. Just because it is true that Sanskrit derived words exist in Romani does not necessarily prove that Roma came from India. Latin and Greek are also Sanskrit derived languages. Does this mean the Romans and Greeks came from India? In fact, there are cognate words (words that are spelled the same, or nearly the same, and also have the same MEANING) in all three languages Romani, Latin and Greek.

    I study with well known Roma activists of France and I am one anthropologist who does not think Roma to have originated in India. I think them to be an indigenous peoples of the “Old World” just as the Native American peoples of the Americas are indigenous (first people) to the “New World” of the Americas.

    Thank you for the work this website represents

  • Chris Lee says:

    What a rich source for information about women Romani writers. Excellent. Thank you.

  • Tamara Demetro says:

    Dear Jessica,
    My name is Tamara, I am of the American Karldaras, Rromni sem Amerikaniestka. I love what you have done here, to finally bring light and lift to our women writers, so very long over due. Te beshen undo ghio amaro Devlesa sa.

    Ronald Lee was friends with my Grand father Toma Stanley, who’s life is documented in the Smithsonian, as one of the only two official leaders of the American Karldaras; the other being my sixth grand father’s brother above me, Milano (Oh Chiefto oh baro; Slotcho) Eli .

    I myself am a National Interpreter and translator for the International Rroma attempting to come into America from apartheid European circumstances, and or to assist in translation for medical and social assistance projects throughout Europe. I am a native born and raised within the Roma community Rromnji, also an advocate on behalf of our people’s human rights, cultural preservation and protection.
    I pray some what of a public speaker for our people, health advocate and soon I am also praying; fund raiser and grant project non profit for our people.

    I hope to do more and more to help lift our people for young beautiful daughters like yourself and future generations, in every Country throughout the world; that need the walls broken down. My writings are published in one of Professor Ian Hancock’s book and my poem (was told to me by Kako Ronald Lee); to be the first page in his course work materials when the Students take Rromani studies with him in Ontario where he teaches. I am also about to have one of my letters regarding Ian Hancock in Mr. Thomas Actions’s book; another leading Rromani Studies Author and Professor. I wish you the very best and brightest with the book you are working on, I am also doing the same . I do not however come from the academic professional circles, I was raised by those whom either were and or involved as tribal citizens; like myself. I do not pretend nor desire at least at this time in my life; to do so. I also do not always agree with the way in which this work is done on our people’s back, er I mean; “behalf”… ;)

    Kako Ranietsa (Ronald Lee) obtained the information for his dictionary, “Das duma Rromanes” from my Papo’s first cousin Kako Vasso.
    I was told by many of our own blood relatives who say they were there at the time, It was “suppose” to be a book to help our own Rroma children have a way to preserve the language in more modern times, as some not all were beginning to not teach their children the language as their first tongue

    Ironically, being that the book is done in an academic manner (not phonetic) and in the European alphabet. As well as nearly 98 or more percent of our American Rroma children do not attend school to understand how to break the teaching down; if they can even read at all.
    Then it would only be obvious and unfortunate, that only non Rroma and or educated other groups of Rroma have been able to use it.This as you might imagine is very hurtful to us.

    In all fairness to Ronald, he says when confronted by the few that even know about this and are involved in even knowing about “this” academic side to our race (we say race, they say people), that this is not so.
    And as you know; he is a very respected figure in the academic non Rromani circles of Rromani studies.

    From what I understand from Ian Hancock, the leading Rromani Professor in Rromani studies, linguistics and human rights; we are from India and one of the only few groups that (not sure about it myself), that are “not” Rroma/Roma/Romani etc; are the “Domari”.

    Kale, Sinti, Romanichal, Rromanies from England, etc etc etc, are all as the Karldaras; from the same Hindu Cloth. I am sure there can be disagreements about this but as far as I know, this is the most widely accepted and verifiable documentation of our his-story . It also I must add has some connections with the tribal oral stories; in ways it would take to long to bring up here. I think the scattering like with other ethnic minorities that once were one race; of course has caused great dissension among our people’s experience. I understand, was very impressed and respect your replies in all of your answers, responses murra pej Jessica , in particular about the bible origin. Yet, when the bible (Not referring to amaro Christo) is surrounded in such academic accredited controversy from the Gyjey academic system, from some of the leading theologians themselves. From missing pages, to interference and corruption of the original writings, etc etc , this seems (although I am not certain in any way) even less credited then the very thorough work done by Professor Hancock, Mr. Lee and others; thus why I personally give it more weight. As well as a Rromji; lol…..I can see us on their faces ; the ones from Punjabi espeacially.

    I am interested if possible to be pointed in the direction of what you referred to as your sources to how it is shown we are from the biblical teachings of our origin, am open to all possibilities of course. Have read so much throughout the years , not sure if you have access to information I have not seen in regards to this topic; I would be very interested if you cared to share.

    Many blessings to your good education, uncovering and connection to your roots and family tree. To your work and all of your life and of your families.

    Te beshes baxtali ty sasti

  • Ginny says:

    Slightly off-topic — or not; I don’t know if her ethnic heritage — but what do you think of PK McAllistair’s Cloudships of Orion SF trilogy?

  • Helena says:

    Hi Jessica, thank you for your article! In Sweden a movie about Katarina Taikon by Lawen Mothadi just premiered. I don’t know about subs at this stage, but I recommend this film for insight to Taikon’s life and context in the Swedish society. Let’s hope English subs soon.

  • uniqueudai says:

    anyone claiming he or she not decendent from india good for him
    but don’t mislead others by saying sanskrit is not indegenious to india and was brought from somewhere else

  • Erika M. says:

    To add a 21st women writer– this time, a gitana from Spain: Nuria L. de Santiago, whose novel EL ANGEL DE MAHLER (Barcelona : Bellaterra, 2014, ISBN 9788472906563) has been well received.

  • Helena says:

    Hi, I’m eager to find some work by Sterna Weltz-Ziegler, anyone knows where I can find this? Thanks!

  • MICHAEL says:

    June is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller month in UK. I would to say that information provided by this article are missguided . Gypsy – kale calling themselves as GADJE told them they are from EGYPT, from this word they calling themselves the way which many ROMA will claim it as racism. TRAVELERS are not from India and the GADJE authorities putted TRAVELERS under the ROMA UMBRELA – EU commission without asking both groups. I would like to recommend you to read more and not using main steam bullshit which is spread in to the air, as not all academics are telling the true. as example Mark D Knudsen : the ‪#‎Roma‬ never exhibited any of the typical ‪#‎nomadic‬ behavior. They were coerced to move from one region to another throughout their entire historical timeline, either because of banishment, flight, trade or else the maintenance of social and familial structures.


  • Jenny Colvin says:

    Thanks for this list! I plan to focus on books from people on the fringes and on the move in 2017, so this post was incredibly useful. I know what I will do in June!

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