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Puerto Rican literature

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Puerto Rican literature evolved from the art of oral story telling to its present-day status. Written works by the native islanders of Puerto Rico were prohibited and repressed by the Spanish colonial government. Only those who were commissioned by the Spanish Crown to document the chronological history of the island were allowed to write.

It wasn't until the late 19th century with the arrival of the first printing press and the founding of the Royal Academy of Belles Letters that Puerto Rican literature began to flourish. The first writers to express their political views in regard to Spanish colonial rule of the island were journalists. After the United States invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War and the island was ceded to the Americans as a condition of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, writers and poets began to express their opposition of the new colonial rule by writing about patriotic themes.

With the Puerto Rican diaspora of the 1940s, Puerto Rican literature was greatly influenced by a phenomenon known as the Nuyorican Movement. Puerto Rican literature continued to flourish and many Puerto Ricans have distinguished themselves as authors, poets, novelists, playwrights, essayists and in all the fields of literature. The influence of Puerto Rican literature has transcended the boundaries of the island to the United States and the rest of the world.

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Early history

Puerto Rican literature got off to a late start. This was because the Spanish colonial government, which ruled over Puerto Rico at that time, feared that Puerto Rico would develop its own social and cultural identity and eventually seek its independence. Therefore, written works by the native islanders were prohibited and were punishable by prison terms or banishment. The island, which depended on an agricultural economy, had an illiteracy rate of over 80% in the beginning of the 19th century. Even though the first library in Puerto Rico was established in 1642, in the Convent of San Francisco, access to its books was limited to those who belonged to the religious order.[1] The only people who had access to the libraries and who could afford books were either appointed Spanish government officials or wealthy land owners. The poor had to resort to oral story-telling in what are traditionally known in Puerto Rico as Coplas and Decimas.

The island's first writers were commissioned by the Spanish Crown to document the chronological history of the island. Among these writers were Father Diego de Torres Vargas who wrote about the history of Puerto Rico, Father Francisco Ayerra de Santa María who wrote poems about religious and historical themes, and Juan Ponce de León II who was commissioned to write a general description of the West Indies.

The first native-born Puerto Rican governor, Ponce de León II, included information on Taíno culture, particularly their religious ceremonies and language. He also covered the early exploits of the conquistadors. These documents were sent to the National Archives in Sevilla, Spain, where they were kept.

Puerto Rican history, however, was to change forever with the arrival of the first printing press from Mexico in 1806. That same year Juan Rodríguez Calderón (a Spaniard) wrote and published the first book in the island, titled Ocios de la Juventud. In 1851, the Spanish appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Juan de la Pezuela Cevallo, founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters. This institution contributed greatly to the intellectual and literary progress of the island. The school licensed primary school teachers, formulated school methods, and held literary contests. However, only those with government positions and the wealthy benefited from the formation of the institution. The first Puerto Rican writers came from some of the island's wealthiest families, and they were critical of the injustices of the Spanish Crown.

19th century

In 1806, the Spanish Colonial Government established "La Gaceta de Puerto Rico" (The Puerto Rico Gazette), Puerto Rico's first newspaper. The newspaper was biased in favor of the ideals of the government.

The first written works in Puerto Rico were influenced by the Romanticism of the time. Journalists were the first writers to express their political views in the newspapers of the day and later in the books which they authored. Through their books and novels, they expressed what they believed were the social injustices, which included slavery and poverty, brought upon the common Puerto Rican by the Spanish Crown. Many of these writers were considered to be dangerous liberals by the colonial government and were banished from the island. An example of this treatment was poet and journalist Francisco Gonzalo Marín, who wrote against the Spanish Crown. Some went to the Dominican Republic, Cuba or New York City where they continued to write about patriotic themes while in exile. The literature of these writers helped fuel the desire of some to revolt against the Spanish government in Puerto Rico, resulting in the failed attempt known as the Grito de Lares in 1868.

When the Americans invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War in 1898, many members of the Puerto Rican literary class welcomed them believing that eventually Puerto Rico would be granted its independence. Instead, Puerto Rico was declared a territory of the United States. The new government failed to realize that Puerto Rico was already a nation with its own culture and proceeded to Americanize the island. Many writers and poets expressed their opposition by writing about patriotic themes through their work. Puerto Rican literature continued to flourish.

Twentieth century migration to the U.S.

The Nuyorican Poets Café building on East 3rd street
The Nuyorican Poets Café building on East 3rd street

During the early part of the 20th century, many Puerto Ricans moved to the eastern coast and Mid-western parts of the United States in search of a better way of life. Most settled in cities such as New York and Chicago. There they faced racial discrimination and other hardships. Jesús Colón, known as the father of the Nuyorican Movement, was discriminated against because he was Black and had difficulty speaking English. He wrote about his experiences, as well as the experiences of other immigrants, becoming among the first Puerto Ricans to do so in English.

One of his works, A Puerto Rican in New York, preceded the literary movement known as the "Nuyorican Movement". Ultimately, the Nuyorican Movement significantly influenced Puerto Rican literature, spurring themes such as cultural identity and discrimination.[2] The goal of the Nuyorican Movement is to maintain the cultural identity of the Puerto Rican people in a foreign land. This movement is composed of a group of intellectuals, writers and poets who express their experiences as Nuyoricans living in the United States, including Nicholasa Mohr (whose El Bronx collection of stories earned her a finalist position for the National Book Award), Piri Thomas, Pedro Pietri (who founded Nuyorican Poets Café, Giannina Braschi (author of the classic Spanglish novel Yo-Yo Boing!, Esmeralda Santiago, J.L. Torres and others.[3]

Books and novels

Some of Puerto Rico's earliest writers were influenced by the teachings of Rafael Cordero. Among these was Dr. Manuel A. Alonso. In 1849 he published El Gíbaro, a collection of verses whose main themes were the poor Puerto Rican country farmer. Eugenio María de Hostos who wrote La peregrinación de Bayoán in 1863, which used Bartolomé de las Casas as a spring board to reflect on Caribbean identity. After this first novel, Hostos abandoned fiction in favor of the essay which he saw as offering greater possibilities for inspiring social change.

Alejandro Tapia y Rivera also known[by whom?] as the Father of Puerto Rican Literature, ushered in a new age of historiography with the publication of The Historical Library of Puerto Rico. Cayetano Coll y Toste was a Puerto Rican historian and writer. His work The Indo-Antillano Vocabulary is valuable[neutrality is disputed] in understanding the way the Taínos lived. Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía in 1894 wrote La Charca and told about the harsh[neutrality is disputed] life in the remote and mountainous coffee regions in Puerto Rico. Dr. Antonio S. Pedreira, described in his work Insularismo the cultural survival of the Puerto Rican identity after the American invasion.

Puerto Rican novelists and short story writers whose works recount the experience by Puerto Rican immigrants to New York City include Edgardo Vega Yunqué, author of Blood Fugues; Giannina Braschi, author of Yo-Yo Boing!; Pedro Juan Soto, author of Spiks; and Manuel Ramos Otero.


Early poetry

María Bibiana Benítez was Puerto Rico's first woman poet and playwright. In 1832 she published her first poem "La Ninfa de Puerto Rico". Her niece was Alejandrina Benítez de Gautier, whose "Aguinaldo Puertorriqueño", published in 1843, gave her the recognition of being one of the island's great poets. Alejandrina's son José Gautier Benítez is considered by many to be Puerto Rico's greatest Romantic-era poet. Lola Rodríguez de Tió was the poet who wrote the lyrics to the revolutionary "La Borinqueña" used by the revolutionists in the Grito de Lares. Poets José de Diego, Virgilio Dávila, Luis Lloréns Torres, Nemesio Canales, Francisco Matos Paoli, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Clemente Soto Vélez and Hugo Margenat were independence advocates who wrote poems with patriotic inspired themes.


In 1928, Soto Vélez together with Alfredo Margenat (father of Hugo Margenat), Pedro Carrasquillo, Graciany Miranda Archilla, Fernando González Alberti, Luis Hernández Aquino, Samuel Lugo, Juan Calderón Escobar and Antonio Cruz Nieves founded the group "El Atalaya de los Dioses" which turned into the literary movement known as "Atalayismo."[4] The "El Grupo Atalaya" movement sought to connect the poetic/literary world with political action and most of its members, including Soto Vélez became involved with the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.[5]

Universal lyricism

Mercedes Negrón Muñoz wrote under the name "Clara Lair" and published "Arras de Cristal" in 1937. In her poem she describes the everyday struggles of the common Puerto Rican. However, it was Julia de Burgos who was to be considered by many as one of the greatest poets to be born in Puerto Rico and who later lived in New York. The inspiration spurred by her love of Puerto Rico is reflected in her poem "Río Grande de Loíza". Other important lyric poets of the early twentieth century include Luis Palés Matos, Luis Lloréns Torres, and Evaristo Ribera Chevremont.

In her scholarly book Evaristo Ribera Chevremont: Voz de Vanguardia, Carmen Irene Marxuach has argued that while several of Ribera Chevremont's dozens of published books do treat the subjects of Puerto Rican nationality and regionalism, the majority of his verses move away from folkloric subject matter and excel in a more universal lyricism.[6] Robert Márquez's anthology Puerto Rican Poetry: A Selection from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times offers a useful overview and translation into English of many of the most important Puerto Rican poets.[7] In 1969, Victor Hernández Cruz became the first Hispanic poet to be published by a mainstream publishing house when Random House published his poem "Snaps".[8] In 1981, Life Magazine named him one of America's (US) greatest poets.[9]

Playwrights and journalists

External audio
You may view and listen to Act 1 - Part 1 of René Marqués' ""La Carreta"".[10]

One of Puerto Rico's greatest essayists and playwrights was Francisco Arriví (1915–2007) known as "The Father of the Puerto Rican Theater." Arriví who used a style known as Areyto presented in 1955, what is considered by many as one of greatest works, "Bolero y plena" at the University Theater and in 1958, he presented Vejigantes in the First Festival of Puerto Rican Theater.

These were followed by Sirena (Mermaid) and Medusa en la Bahía (Medusa in the Bay). Arriví gained international recognition and his plays were presented abroad. He was instrumental in the establishment of various theater festivals and in the establishment of the Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré (Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center) in Puerto Rico.[11]

Among the other great playwrights of Puerto Rico are René Marqués, whose Juan Bobo and the Occidental Lady presents a traditional, buccolic vision of the island; whose Oxcart (La Carreta) follows the hardships of a Puerto Rican family that moves from the island to New York City, and whose El Puertorriqueño Dócil y Otros Ensayos describes the psychological and political realities of the island.

José Luis González, whose País de cuatro pisos y otros ensayos describes the rigid structures of island society, and Luis Rafael Sánchez, whose plays, short stories, essays, and novels, especially La Guaracha del Macho Camacho (translated by Gregory Rabassa as Macho Camacho's Beat) have rendered him one of Puerto Rico's greatest contemporary writers.

Younger contemporary Puerto Rican playwrights include Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya, founder of Casa Cruz de la Luna in San Germán, Puerto Rico. Also notable in this category is playwright and screenwriter José Rivera, the first Puerto Rican screenwriter to be nominated for an Academy Award.

A variety of journalists and columnists further enrich Puerto Rican letters. The more than 300 editorials published by Nelson Antonio Denis in El Diario La Prensa about the New York/Puerto Rican diaspora, were recognized with repeated "Best Editorial Writing" awards from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[12] Denis's history book War Against All Puerto Ricans, about the evolution of US-Puerto Rico relations since 1898, was the best-selling book in Puerto Rico in 2015 and 2016.[13]

David Gonzalez is an award-winning journalist at the New York Times. Over a 25-year career, Gonzalez has written hundreds of stories in the New York Times which deal with the history, culture, politics and people of Puerto Rico. In 2013, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists inducted Gonzalez into its Hall of Fame, in recognition of his lifetime of committed and compassionate journalism.[14]

Gerson Borrero is an award-winning journalist, radio host and TV commentator in New York City. He has been editor-at-large of City & State NY[15] and editor-in-chief of El Diario/La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City.[16] His press coverage has ranged from New York City politics,[17][18][19] cultural reviews[20] and personality profiles,[21] to the Somos Uno Conference[22] and the Puerto Rican Day Parade.[23]


Historians such as Dr. Delma S. Arrigoitia have written books and documented the contributions which Puerto Rican women have made to society. Arrigoitia was the first person in the University of Puerto Rico to earn a master's degree in the field of history. Her publications, which cover Puerto Rico's early-20th-century politicians, include: Jose De Diego el legislador, San Juan, Eduardo Giorgetti Y Su Mundo: La Aparente Paradoja De Un Millonario Genio Empresarial Y Su Noble Humanismo;, Puerto Rico Por Encima de Todo: Vida y Obra de Antonio R. Barcelo, 1868-1938; and Introduccion a la Historia de la Moda en Puerto Rico.[24]

Teresita A. Levy's Puerto Ricans in the Empire: The History of Tobacco Cultivation in Puerto Rico, 1898-1940, a study of the tobacco-growing regions in the eastern and western highlands of Puerto Rico, is the first book to tell how Puerto Ricans challenged United States officials and fought successfully for legislation that benefited the island. Her book has been praised by scholars.[25][26] Puerto Ricans in the Empire provides an excellent introduction to Puerto Rico's crucial tobacco industry, with fascinating material on farmer organizations and agricultural research." —Herbert S. Klein, Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History Columbia University

Modern and contemporary Puerto Rican literature

After a nationalist tradition of Puerto Rican writers from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the island has maintained a production of authors. Often, these writers are cataloged by decade into "generations" (for example, writers who got their start in the 1950s are identified as "the Generation of 1950"). Some highly representative writers from the early and mid-20th century were: Juan Antonio Corretjer, Luis Lloréns Torres, Luis Palés Matos, Enrique Laguerre, and Francisco Matos Paoli. These Puerto Rican writers wrote in Spanish and reflected a literary Latin American tradition, and offered a variety of universal and social themes. Some of the most important writers who got their start in the 1950s were José Luis González, René Marqués, Pedro Juan Soto, and Emilio Díaz Valcárcel.

Writers who started in the 1960s and 1970s included Carmen Lugo Filippi, Lourdes Vázquez, Rosario Ferré, Luis Rafael Sánchez, Manuel Ramos Otero, Ángel Encarnación, Edgardo Sanabria Santaliz, Olga Nolla, Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá, Myrna Casas, and Luis López Nieves. Writers whose careers took off in the 1980s and 1990s include Ana Lydia Vega, Giannina Braschi, Mayra Santos-Febres, and Luz María Umpierre.

Breakthrough voices of a new Puerto Rican literature began to emerge at the turn of the new century with the publication of Pedro Cabiya's Historias tremendas in 1999, declared Best Book of the Year by the Pen Club. Identitarian politics and the complexities of Puerto Rico's relationship with the US - topics that had dominated the work of previous writers - gave way to the successful exploration of new genres and themes, such as science-fiction, horror, fantasy, and noir, as seen in the short-stories, novels and comics by Pedro Cabiya, and the short-stories by José Liboy, with added experiments in form in the work of Bruno Soreno.[27]

New and emerging voices on the island include Rafael Acevedo, Moisés Agosto, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Janette Becerra, Ana María Fuster Lavín, Zoé Jiménez Corretjer, Eduardo Lalo, Juan López Bauzá, Alberto Martínez Márquez, Luis Negrón, Maribel Ortiz, Max Resto, and José E. Santos, while Spanish-language writers such as Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Ángel Lozada, Benito Pastoriza Iyodo, and Alfredo Villanueva Collado write and publish their works in the U.S., Puerto Rican literature in English continues to flourish with the important contributions of authors such as Erika Lopez and Ernesto Quiñonez.

Numerous anthologies focus on the work of Puerto Rican writers. Some of these are Literatura y narrativa puertorriqueña: La escritura entre siglos edited by Mario Cancel;[28] Literatura puertorriqueña del siglo XX: Antología edited by Mercedes López Baralt;[29] and Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora, edited by David Caleb Acevedo, Moisés Agosto and Luis Negrón, which focuses on LGBT Puerto Rican literature.[30]

In 2013, Eduardo Lalo became the first Puerto Rican to win the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, one of the largest literary prizes in the world.[31]

Luis Negrón published his debut short story collection, Mundo Cruel, in 2010. An English translation was published in 2013, and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction at the 26th Lambda Literary Awards in 2014.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Kanellos, Nicolás. Chronology of Hispanic American History: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present, p.48. New York: Gale Research, 1995.
  2. ^ "Puerto Rican Literature, Art & Culture". La Salita Cafe. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  3. ^ "Father of Nuyorican movement". Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  4. ^ Costa, Marithelma and Alvin Joaquín Figueroa. Kaligrafiando: conversaciones con Clemente Soto Vélez. Río Piedras, P.R.: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1990. ISBN 0-8477-3238-X
  5. ^ Guide to the Clemente Soto Vélez and Amanda Vélez Papers 1924-1996 Archived June 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Marxuach, Carmen Irene. Evaristo Ribera Chevremont: Voz De Vanguardia. San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe y la Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1987. OCLC 19267286
  7. ^ Márquez, Robert, ed. Puerto Rican Poetry: A Selection from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007. ISBN 1-55849-561-4
  8. ^ Aparicio, Frances R. "Victor Hernández Cruz." Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition. Paul Lauter, General Editor. Cengage Online Study Center. Accessed January 10, 2010.
  9. ^ "Hispanic Firsts", By; Nicolas Kanellos, publisher Visible Ink Press; ISBN 0-7876-0519-0; p.40
  10. ^ "". 2008-04-05. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  11. ^ Pérez-Rivera, Tatiana. "Adiós al padre del teatro boricua." Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine El Nuevo Día February 9, 2007.
  12. ^ "Manhattan Times News". Manhattan Times News. Archived from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  13. ^ Rosalina Marrero Rodríguez,"Lo que se está leyendo en Puerto Rico," El Nuevo Dia, March 2, 2016 Retrieved 2015-5-13.
  14. ^ Veteran Journalists David Gonzalez and Gilbert Bailón Named to the 2013 National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame (NAHJ)
  15. ^ City & State; Feb. 3, 2016; “Gerson Borrero reveals Cuomo’s new Secretary of State’’
  16. ^ Clyde Haberman, New York Times; June 30, 2001; “NYC; Words, Served Hot, Not Minced”
  17. ^ Gerson Borrero; New York Post, February 2, 2014; "Schneiderman set to oust Puerto Rican Day Parade board"
  18. ^ Gerson Borrero; New York Post; April 22, 2012; "Hispanic vote not uno-fied"
  19. ^ Gerson Borrero; City and State NY; "Bochinche & Buzz News Articles"
  20. ^ Gerson Borrero; New York Post; January 23, 2011; "Idol and the Bronx"
  21. ^ Gerson Borrero; New York Post; May 6, 2012; "New York's Craziest Councilman"
  22. ^ Gerson Borrero, City & State NY, March 23, 2017; "30 Years of Somos: Has it worked?"
  23. ^ Jordan Journal; WBAI Radio; February 7, 2014; "What's in store for the Puerto Rican Day Parade?"
  24. ^ "Los Tres Hombres de Delma"; El Vocero; by Carlos Ochpteco; March 27, 2010; p. 30
  25. ^ The History of Tobacco Cultivation in Puerto Rico, 1898-1940
  26. ^ Tostones and Matzoh, a Puerto Rican-Jewish journey
  27. ^ Morales Boscio, Cynthia. La incertidumbre del ser. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Isla Negra Editores, 2009.
  28. ^ Cancel, Mario R. Literatura y narrativa puertorriqueña: la escritura entre siglos. Puerto Rico: Editorial Pasadizo, 2007. ISBN 0-9791650-0-8
  29. ^ López Baralt, Mercedes. Literatura puertorriqueña del siglo XX: Antología. San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2004. ISBN 0-8477-0156-5
  30. ^ Acevedo, David Caleb, Moisés Agosto, and Luis Negrón, eds. Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora. San Juan: Editorial Tiempo Nuevo, 2007. ISBN 0-9773612-8-4
  31. ^ "Puertorriqueño Eduardo Lalo gana el Rómulo Gallegos 2013". Primera Hora (in Spanish). 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  32. ^ "Lambda Awards honor best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books". Washington Post, June 2, 2014.

Further reading

  • Brahan, Persephone. From Amazons to Zombies: Monsters in Latin America (Bucknell Studies in Latin American Literature and Theory). Bucknell University Press (November 19, 2015).
  • Caulfield, Carlota. "US Latina Caribbean Women Poets." In Carlota Caulfield and Darién Davis, Jr., eds., A Companion to US Latino Literatures. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85566-139-4
  • Gordis, Yanis. "Island and Continental Puerto Rican Literature: Cross-Cultural and Intertextual Considerations". Special Section: Multicultural Literature, Part IV. In ADE Bulletin 91 (Winter 1988). One of five articles about Puerto Rican literature.
  • Loustau, Laura R. Cuerpos errantes: literatura latina y latinoamericana en Estados Unidos. Rosario, Argentina: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 2002. ISBN 950-845-118-1
  • Moreira, Rubén A., ed. Antología de Poesía Puertorriqueña. (Vol. 1: Romanticismo, Vol. 2 Modernismo y Post Modernismo, Vol. 3 Contemporánea, Vol.4 Contemporánea). San Juan, P.R.: Tríptico Editores, 1992-1993.
  • Pausides, Alex, Pedro Antonio Valdez, and Carlos Roberto Gómez Beras, eds. Los nuevos caníbales: Antología de la más reciente poesía del Caribe hispano. San Juan: Isla Negra Editores, 2003. ISBN 1-932271-06-6
  • Rosado, José Ángel, ed. El rostro y la máscara: Antología alterna de cuentistas puertorriqueños contemporáneos. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Isla Negra Editores, 1995.
  • van Haesendonck, Kristian. "Enchantment or Fright? Identity and Postmodern Writing in Contemporary Puerto Rico." In Theo D'Haen and Pieter Vemeulen, eds., Cultural Identity and Postmodern Writing. New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. ISBN 978-90-420-2118-1
  • Torres-Padilla, Jose L. and Carmen Haydee Rivera. Writing Off the Hyphen: New Critical Perspectives on the Literature of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Seattle: U. of Washington Press, 2008. ISBN 9780295988139

External links

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