Water by the Spoonful


Quiara Alegría Hughes

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Water by the Spoonful Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Quiara Alegría Hughes's Water by the Spoonful. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Quiara Alegría Hughes

Quiara Alegría Hudes was born in Philadelphia in 1977. Although her biological father was Jewish, Hudes’s mother and her stepfather are Puerto Rican, so she was raised in a Puerto Rican household. Hudes began writing and composing music at a young age, studying piano at a local branch of the Settlement Music School, music composition at Yale University, and finally playwriting at Brown University. Since then, she has written plays, musicals, and children’s books, and is a visiting professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, though she is most widely recognized as a playwright. Her first career success Yemaya’s Belly was published in 2003, winning multiple awards, and had its first stage production in 2004. Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue, the first in the Elliot trilogy, premiered in 2006 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007. Hudes went on to collaborate with famed playwright and actor (and fellow Puerto Rican) Lin-Manuel Miranda, producing the children’s musical Barrio Grrrrl! and Broadway musical In the Heights, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008. Both musicals were also Pulitzer Prize finalists. Hudes won her first Pulitzer Prize for Water by the Spoonful in 2012, which revisited the soldier Elliot and became the second piece of the trilogy, which she finished with 2013’s The Happiest Song Plays Last. Hudes continues to write plays, compose music, and even develop movie scripts. Her latest stage production is Miss You Like Hell, a piece the L.A. Times described as “an immigration musical for the new Trump era.” Hudes lives in New York with her husband and children.
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Historical Context of Water by the Spoonful

Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1898, as a result of Spain losing the Spanish-American War. Shortly after, many Puerto Ricans began migrating to the United States, settling mainly in New York City and Philadelphia and forming large communities there. The 1917 Jones-Shafroth Act declared all Puerto Ricans to be full US citizens, eliminating any barriers or restrictions on their immigration into the continental United States. Puerto Rican presence and influence steadily grew in America, resulting in widespread conflict between Puerto Rican immigrants and the dominant white culture in the United States. This dissonance is reflected in how the Puerto Rican characters in the play, particularly Yaz, feel about their blended Puerto Rican American identity. Yaz feels connected to her family and traditions, yet ashamed of the idiosyncrasies that make her culture stand out from the norm. Her initial decision to leave the barrio contrasts with her choice to step in as the new head of her family at the end of the play, demonstrating a conscious decision to embrace her Puerto Rican roots rather than continue assimilating to American culture.

Other Books Related to Water by the Spoonful

Water by the Spoonful is the second piece of Hudes’s Elliot trilogy. It is preceded by Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue, in which 19-year-old Elliot returns from Iraq with a wound to his leg and grapples with the impact of war and military service on the past three generations of his Puerto Rican family, and followed by The Happiest Song Plays Last, which follows Yaz as she renovates the barrio and Elliot as he breaks into his acting career, shooting a film in the Middle East. Although the Elliot trilogy is hers alone, Hudes often collaborates with fellow Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and producer of Hamilton and In the Heights. In the way that she draws upon her ethnic heritage, Hudes’s work also stands adjacent to the many plays of famed Puerto Rican playwright Jose Rivera, author of Marisol and Boleros for the Disenchanted.
Key Facts about Water by the Spoonful
  • Full Title: Water by the Spoonful
  • When Written: 2008-2009
  • Where Written: Hartford, Connecticut
  • When Published: First premiered on stage on October 20, 2011; first printed in August 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Dramatic play
  • Setting: Philadelphia, San Diego, Japan, and Puerto Rico in 2009
  • Climax: Elliot wrestles with the Ghost, who leaves after searching through Elliot’s wallet and gently touching his face.
  • Antagonist:
  • Point of View: Dramatic

Extra Credit for Water by the Spoonful

Composition Book. Each piece of the Elliot trilogy is thematically linked to a particular composer, which also becomes the musical score. In Water by the Spoonful, the dissonance John Coltrane’s forms the thematic center.