Classic Author Focus: Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and educator who was the first Latin-American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was also more recently shown through an archive of her letters to be a lesbian, despite her image being appropriated by Pinochet’s military dictatorship as an example of a celibate, saint-like figure who demonstrated submission to authority.

Mistral, whose real name was Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was born in a small Andean village where her father was a schoolteacher. He abandoned the family before she was three, and most of her life was spent in poverty. She started in the career of education by working as a teacher’s assistant at the age of 15 to help support her mother and herself.

Mistral began writing poetry after the suicide of her lover following a passionate affair. She was known for lyrical poetry, inspired by powerful emotions. Although she became known throughout Latin America for her love poems in memory of the dead, Sonetos de la muerte, published in 1914, her first collection of poems, Desolación, was not published until 1922.

Mistral was an educator for years until she began to be able to support herself from her poetry. She played a key role in organizing the educational systems of both Chile and Mexico. She acted as Chilean consul in three different countries and was part of the cultural council of the League of Nations.

Dates: 1889-1957

Most popular works: Desolación, Sonetos de la muerte

Other works: Ternura, Tala, Lecturas para Mujeres, Lagar

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