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These 23 Latin American Writers And Poets Changed The World With Their Work

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In spite of the anti-immigrant rhetoric pervading the US these days, there’s no doubt that Latin American literature has seen a recent surge in popularity and relevance worldwide. While this is only a sample of notable Latin American authors ranging from just south of the border all the way to south of the world, take note and you might just include a few in your regular reading rotation.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Considered by many as the best Spanish writer of all times, this Colombian journalist and author received the Nobel literature prize in 1982 after the enormous success of his epic “100 years of solitude.” Garcia Marquez was universally acclaimed as the father of “magic realism” which he used to depict everyday situations with just the right touch of weird. He passed away in 2014.

Gabriela Mistral

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The nation of Chile is no stranger to wonderful writers and poets, and Lucila Godoy, whose nom de plume was Gabriela Mistral, was not the exception. Back in a time when women writers were a rarity, she became the first female writer from Latin America to be awarded the Nobel literature prize in 1945. Her writings were poetic, and full of powerful, idealistic, emotions.

Pablo Neruda

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His political inclination towards Communism had Neruda at odds with the Chilean government at the time, leaving his friends to hide him in a farmhouse to avoid his detention. When he was awarded the Nobel literature prize in 1971, it didn’t sit well with the anti-Communist agenda. His writing style had plenty of surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos and love. Even today there is debate of how he died, most probably killed by the Chilean government that overthrew Allende.

Isabel Allende

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Born in Peru, although originally Chilean, she is American by marriage. She is a relative of the former socialist president Salvador Allende, and her writings are dotted with hints of the magic realism. Considered one of the foremost feminist writers in the world, she often relates her own experiences growing up in Latin America as the sources for her writings. She frequently lectures throughout the US.

Alejo Carpentier

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Cuba has had its fair share of extraordinary writers, and Carpentier was one of the first writers to redirect the Baroque style that other Latino writers assimilated into their own artistic vision. Born in Switzerland, he never left that European viewpoint in his writings, which were laced with affinity toward revolutionary movements like the one in Cuba in the late 50s led by Castro. A lesser-known aspect of his life was his thorough study of music, especially the Cuban bolero.

Alfonsina Storni

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Born in the final years of the 1800s century, she took her own life in 1938. One can only imagine what would have been of this prolific writer’s works. Starting as a journalist, she befriended many other writers in Argentina and Latin America as a whole. Many consider her as the front runner for the feminine movements that started much later in the century. In fact, a large part of her work was centered around feminism and women’s rights.

Octavio Paz

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Diplomat and poet are sometimes seen as opposites, but in the case of Paz they were a fit for a man equally as contrasting. As a Mexican diplomat he was sent to Paris in 1945, where he wrote his masterpiece “The Labyrinth of Solitude.” In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel literature prize.

Norah Lange

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Another notable woman writer from Argentina, Lange was normally associated to the avant-garde movement of South American writers that dominated the literary scene in the ’20s and ’30s. Her writing style was concurrent with the movement of the times, mostly regarded as “art for art’s sake”. The ultra-modernistic style of Lange had a definite influence in many Argentine writers of the postwar period.

Carlos Fuentes

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Loved by many, despised by many, Carlos Fuentes is described as one of the most admired writers in Spanish, and one whose influence is notable in the Latin American literary explosion in the late 60s and 70s. One of his writings, “Old Gringo” was adapted into a screenplay by Hollywood in a movie starring Gregory Peck. His works were always with the reader in mind, thus when he sat down to write he always asked himself, “am I writing this for?” Many feel he deserved the Nobel, but never won the award. Died in 2012.

Julia De Burgos

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One of the earliest proponents of women’s liberation movements worldwide, this Puerto Rican poet was also an ardent advocate of the island’s independence from the USA. In her writings, she stands out for the oppressed people chronicling their social struggles and combining that with the intimate side of feminism. In her final years, she wrote in English, including her “Farewell in Welfare Island” detailing her bouts with depression and alcoholism. She was largely anonymous when she died in 1935; her body claimed a few weeks later.

Mario Vargas Llosa

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A native of Peru, he is one of the leading writers of his generation and also considered a significant novelist and essayist who also had the greatest impact internationally than any other writer of the Latin American boom started in the late 60s. He is one of the few leading writers of his time to gradually shift politically from the left into right-wing liberalism, a move that garnished him some ill-advised opinions from his peers. He was awarded the Nobel literature prize in 2010.

Delmira Agustini

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Such a short life, full of expectations and tragedy. The precocious daughter of Italian immigrants was born in Uruguay in the late 19th century. From childhood she excelled in all of the fine arts, specially music and writing. Her works are laced with overt erotic undertones, uncharacteristic of her time. She dallies into sexual escapades with vivid imagination. Unfortunately, just a month after she married, her husband shot her in the head and then took his own life. One can only imagine what may have become of this extraordinarily gifted writer.

Jorge Luis Borges

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Blindness perhaps would bring most people down in their hopes, but in the case of Borges, it aided him into creating innovative literary symbols that later led into the magic realism so present in Latin American literature. Born at the end of the 19th century in Argentina, he is better known for his short stories with interconnected dreams, sometimes whimsical twists and turns, and plenty of fantasy. Sitting at the political center, he struggled both with communism and capitalism, criticizing both. His career started as a translator, thus he was familiarized with many works.

Albalucia Angel

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Unlike many male writers of her generation, this Colombian didn’t receive the rave reviews of critics, publishing houses and academics. Born during the first quarter of the 20th century, she studied in France and later in Italy where she perfected a literary style that, although set in the Latin American boom phase, was rather independent in her worldview. She delved into poetry, novel, theater, essays and screenwriting. Twice Alice is one of her most famous works.

Julio Cortazar

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Considered one of the most innovative and original writers of his time, he also started his career as a translator assisting in his contact many different works of literature. Cortazar was admirable in crafting short stories, poetic prose and major novels, creating a new wave in Latin American literature. Like many writers in Latin America, he was not for into the political turmoil going on and, protesting against the government of his native Argentina, he was nationalized French in the early 50s and spent the last days of his life in Europe. He died in 1984, always a fierce atheist.

Cecilia Meirells

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This Brazilian writer, journalist and educator, grew up in hardship, which she overcame by becoming a writer at the early age of nine. Even her first marriage brought about hardship as her husband, struggling with depression, took his own life. Her writing style is considered timeless, ethereal. She is credited with having started the Brazilian modernism in literature. Her educational children’s books are still used today. She lectured at the University of Texas during the 40s.

Alberto Girri

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This Argentinian writer is noticed for his intellectual writings laced with stoic references of self-denial of pleasures. Another translator originally, he revised the works of many English-speaking authors such as TS Elliot, Frost and others that definitely left a mark on the writer. He insisted that poetry was a vehicle for philosophical rationale, but always affirmed the need for letting go of oneself and possessions. He died in 1991 in his beloved Buenos Aires.

Jaime Sabines

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This Mexican author of Cuban and Lebanese descent left an indelible mark in the literature of the second half of the 20th century. A simple man, he decided to live and dwell among the common folk, learning and absorbing everything from them. He was lauded by his peers and critics alike, because of his close regard for the people. Politicians noticed his status and offered him different positions, which he took, but never felt comfortable in it. His work is influenced by Neruda. Sabines died in 1999, at the age of 72.

Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz

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The illegitimate child of a Spanish soldier, she was born just outside Mexico City and studied on her own from a library the family had inherited from her grandfather. Book reading was forbidden for girls, so she was obviously enlightened by the opportunity. Those books opened the young girl to many fields: sciences, literature, theology, jurisprudence and philosophy. Taking a vow as nun, she faced opposition from the Bishop of Puebla because of her writing defending women’s right to education, a taboo back then. She died at 43 in 1651, infected of plague while tending to other sick nuns.

Mario Benedetti

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Uruguayan born in 1920, he is considered one of the greatest Latin American writers of the second half of the 1900s. Journalist, poet and novelist, he adorned the pages of many printed media with his short stories and poems. Being of German descent from his mother, he was Kafka’s first translator in Uruguay, although his Dad made his take distance from Mom’s homeland during the rise of Nazism. His works are prolific, he was a tireless writer. Also tireless as a political activist he was ordered removed from his country by the dictatorship in the early 70s. He passed away back home in 2009.

Rosario Castellanos

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Mexican writer, diplomat and ardent feminist, she graduated from the school of philosophy in Mexico City and later became lecturer in the Universities of Wisconsin, Colorado State and Indiana. Her failed marriage led to her interest in defending women from the strongholds of “machismo” at the time. Her poetry was an attempt to always reach the root cause of anything, using the word as her tool. Politically, she was appointed Mexican Ambassador in Israel and died in Tel Aviv in 1974 in a strange home accident, electrocuted by an appliance after showering.

Victor Jara

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Not exactly a writer, but Jara, a Chilean singer-songwriter, became the face of freedom amidst the brutal dictatorship that rattled the land during the mid-part of the 70s. His political inclination to the radical left made him many admirers, but also the worst of foes in the military junta that toppled the government of Allende in 1973. The same day Allende was overthrown and killed, the dictator’s forces captured Jara and led him to a concentration camp. His body was found a week later with over 40 gunshot wounds. It took 17 years for the government to finally admit he was tortured and killed by the ruling forces. His work has inspired many contemporary singers, writers and authors.

Elena Poniatowska

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Born in Paris, but Mexican by her mother, she had to move back to America after war broke in Europe in the late 30s. She didn’t study high school, but was eager to work in a newspaper, first as secretary then covering the burgeoning social scene of the Mexico City of the 50s. All this sparked her interest in achieving better living conditions for Mexican women. But her moment of glory came when covering the events of a bloody stop to a student revolt in 1968, days before the Olympics in Mexico, “The Night of Tlatelolco” became a mandatory reading for those interested in the subject that still today is a matter of controversy, almost 50 years after the fact. She is very active today.

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