Kathleen Alcalá explains Magical Realism!

Dear Magically Real:

What the heck IS Magical Realism anyway?   Please advise.

An admiring but confused reader.


Dear confused:  No worries!  Noted Seattle-7 fiction writer and essayist Kathleen Alcalá explains the term with 6 easy-to-understand criteria.

Characteristics of Magic Realism

by Kathleen Alcalá

There are some general ideas that I think most people will agree are aspects of magic realism.

a) magic realism arises as a form of writing in countries where a portion of the population is politically, culturally, or socially repressed – it becomes a sort of coded outlet for ideas that cannot be stated forthrightly;

b) magic realism usually has a naturalistic setting and gradually introduces elements of fantasy into the story;

c) by default, magic realism always contains social commentary;

d) magic realism often uses hyperbole – to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, for the hard of hearing, you shout; for the blind, you draw large and startling pictures.

e) I will go out on a limb a little and say that it is never escapist fiction – while it is a pleasure to read, it is never merely an entertainment.

f) magic realism arises in cultures where the unseen is just as important as the seen.


Thanks to Kathleen for sharing her knowledge.  Visit her website at:

Kathleen Alcalá

One thought on “Kathleen Alcalá explains Magical Realism!

  1. Thanks for posting this Stephanie. I think it’s interesting to see the increased use of magic realism in fiction, almost in reverse proportion to the state of the economy in the nation. Realism alone just doesn’t cut it for most people anymore. So many people feel limited, and perhaps magic realism is one outgrowth of that.

    PS: I’ve written several stories (and a novel) that make substantial use of magic realism myself. You would be proud!

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