Alegría, Claribel 1924–
Alegría, Claribel 1924–
(Claribel Joy Alegría)
PERSONAL: Born May 12, 1924, in Esteli, Nicaragua; daughter of Daniel Alegría (a medical doctor) and Ana Maria Vides; married Darwin J. Flakoll (a journalist), 1947 (died, 1995); children: Maya, Patricia, Karen, Erik. Education: Received George Washington University, B.A. (philosophy and letters), 1948.
ADDRESSES: Home—Apt. Postal A 36, Managua, Nicaragua. Office—c/o Curbstone Press, 321 Jackson St., Willimantic, CT 06226.
CAREER: Poet, novelist, and essayist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Cenizas de Izalco was a finalist in the Seix Barral competition, Barcelona, Spain, 1964; Casa de las Americas poetry award, 1978, for Sobrevivo; honorary doctorate degree from Eastern Connecticut State University.
Anillo de silencio (poetry; title means "Ring of Silence"; also see below), Botas (Mexico), 1948.
Suite de amor, angustia y soledad (poetry), Brigadas Liricas (Mendoza, Argentina), 1950.
Vigilias (poetry; also see below), Ediciones Poesia de America (Mexico City, Mexico), 1953.
Acuario (poetry; also see below), Editorial Universitaria (Santiago, Chile), 1955.
Huesped de mi tiempo (poetry; also see below), Americalee (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1961.
(Editor and translator, with husband, Darwin J. Flakoll) New Voices of Hispanic America, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1962.
Via unica (poetry; title means "One Way"; includes Auto de fe and Comunicacion a larga distancia), Alfa (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1965.
(With Darwin J. Flakoll) Cenizas de Izalco (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1966, translated by Darwin J. Flakoll as Ashes of Izalco, Curbstone Press/Talman (Willimantic, CT), 1989.
(Translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Miguel Angel Asturias, The Cyclone, Peter Owen (London, England), 1967.
(Translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Morris West, El hereje, Pomaire (Barcelona, Spain), 1969.
Aprendizaje (title means "Apprenticeship"; includes poetry from Anillo de silencio, Vigilias, Acuario, Huesped de mi tiempo, and Via unica), Universitaria de El Salvador (San Salvador, El Salvador), 1970.
Pagare a cobrar y otros poemas, Ocnos (Barcelona, Spain), 1973.
El deten (novel; also see below), Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.
Sobrevivo (poetry; title means "I Survive"), Casa de las Americas (Havana, Cuba), 1978.
(With Darwin J. Flakoll) La encrucijada salvadorena (historical essays), CIDOB (Barcelona, Spain), 1980.
(Author of introduction) Homenaje a El Salvador, edited by Alberto Corazon, Visor (Madrid, Spain), 1981.
(Editor and translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Nuevas voces de norteamerica (bilingual edition), Plaza y Janes (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.
Suma y sigue (anthology), Visor (Madrid, Spain), 1981.
(Editor, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Nuevas voces de norteamerica (anthology; parallel text in English and Spanish), Plaza & Janes (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.
(Translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Robert Graves, Cien poemas (anthology), Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1982.
Flores del volcan/Flowers from the Volcano (anthology; parallel text in English and Spanish), translated by Carolyn Forche, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1982.
(With Darwin J. Flakoll) Nicaragua: La revolucion sandinista; Una cronica politica, 1855–1979 (history), Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1982.
(With Darwin J. Flakoll) No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadorena en lucha, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1983, translated by Amanda Hopkinson as They Won't Take Me Alive: Salvadoran Women in Struggle for National Liberation, Women's Press (London, England), 1987.
Poesia viva (anthology), Blackrose Press (London, England), 1983.
Para romper el silencio: Resistencia y lucha en las carceles salvadorenas (title means "Breaking the Silence: Resistance and Struggle in Salvadoran Prisons"), Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1984.
Pueblo de Dios y de mandinga: Con el asesoriamiento cientifico de Slim (also see below), Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1985.
(Translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) Carlos Fonseca, Viva Sandino, Vanguardia (Managua, Nicaragua), 1985.
Pueblo de dios y de mandinga (contains El deten, Album familiar, and Pueblo de dios y de mandinga), Editorial Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1986, translated by Amanda Hopkinson as Family Album, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1991.
Despierta, mi bien, despierta (title means "Wake up, My Love, Wake up"), UCA Editores (San Salvador, El Salvador), 1986.
Luisa en el pais de la realidad/Luisa in Realityland (parallel text in English and Spanish), translated by Darwin J. Flakoll, Curbstone Press/Talman (Willimantic, CT), 1987.
(Editor and translator, with Darwin J. Flakoll) On the Front Line: Guerilla Poems of El Salvador, Editorial Nueva Nicaragua (Managua, Nicaragua), 1988.
Y este poema rio, Editorial Nueva Nicaragua (Managua, Nicaragua), 1988.
Mujer del rio/Woman of the River (poetry; parallel text in English and Spanish), translated by Darwin J. Flakoll, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1989.
Fuga de Canto Grande, UCA Editores, 1992, translated by Darwin J. Flakoll as Tunnel to Canto Grande, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1996.
Fugues (parallel text in English and Spanish), translated by Darwin J. Flakoll, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1993.
Somoza: expediente cerrado: la historia de un ajusticiamiento, Editorial el Gato Negro (Managua, Nicaragua), 1993, translation published as Death of Somoza, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1996.
Variaciones en clave de mi, Libertarias/Prodhufi (Madrid, Spain), 1993.
(Editor with Darwin J. Flakoll) Blood Pact and Other Stories, translated by Daniel Balderston and others, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1997.
El niño que buscaba a ayer (title means "The Boy Who Searched for Yesterday"), 1997.
Umbrales = Thresholds: Poems, translated by Darwin J. Flakoll, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1997.
Saudade = Sorrow (poems), translated by Carolyn Forche, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1999.
In Soltando Amarras = Casting Off (poems), translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 2003.
Una vida en poemas (poems), Editorial Hispamer (Managua, Nicaragua), 2003.
Contributor to books including Lives on the Line: The Testimony of Contemporary Latin American Authors, edited by Doris Meyer, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA) 1988; and You Can't Drown the Fire: Latin American Women Writing in Exile, edited by Alicia Portnoy, Cleis Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1988; contributor to periodicals such as Casa de las Americas and Massachusetts Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Considered one of the most prolific and significant voices in late twentieth-century Latin-American literature, Claribel Alegría, a poet, novelist, and testimony writer, was born in Nicaragua and spent her childhood in exile in El Salvador. Alegría lived in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, and Majorca, Spain, before returning to her native Nicaragua upon the victory of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) in 1979. According to Jan Clausen in the Women's Review of Books, Alegría represents a writer of "an educated class which is relatively privileged by Central American standards, yet has suffered enough at the hands of repressive oligarchs who represent North American imperial interests to be acutely sensitized to the plight of workers and campesinos."
Alegría's mother loved to read poetry, her father loved to recite it, and both loved to recite it to their young daughter. She, in turn, loved to create it, and her mother insisted she dictate it to her while she wrote it down. Although she learned to read French from her grandfather who had an extensive library containing many books written in French, Alegría had no real interest in literature other than poetry. As a child, she dreamt of becoming an actress or a performer of tragic theater and as an adolescent, of becoming a scientist or a doctor. When she was fourteen, she read Rainer Maria Rilke's 1903 Letters to a Young Poet, which made such an impression on her that she decided there and then that poetry would become her life's pursuit; her first poems were published in Repertorio Americano when she was seventeen. At the age of eighteen, she was admitted to a girls' finishing school in Hammond, Louisiana, and in 1944, she was awarded a scholarship to summer school at Loyola University in New Orleans. There she met poet Juan Ramon Jiménez who lived in Washington, D.C., but who had read some of her poems in Repertorio Americano. He invited her to move to Washington, D.C., where he could mentor her while she attended college. She forfeited a four-year scholarship elsewhere, enrolled at Georgetown University, acquired a job as a translator at the Pan-American Union, pursued her degree in philosophy and letters, and studied writing verse under Jiménez's mentorship. Within three years, Jiménez had chosen twenty-two of her poems, which were published as Anillo de silencio.
Political discord, however, galvanized Alegría's desire to become a writer. She told Marjorie Agosin in Americas that it was not until the Cuban Revolution in the early 1950s that she began to write about more serious topics. "I was living in Paris," she explained, and "Carlos Fuentes and other friends … encouraged me to write down those memories" precipitated by the revolution. For Alegría, this meant writing "about what was happening around me, to go outside of my bourgeois family." Her first prose novel, Cenizas de Izalco (Ashes of Izalco), was the result; it went on to become one of the Salvadoran education system's official texts.
Often employing feminist and political themes, Alegría's novels are sometimes classified as "resistance narratives." Ashes of Izalco is a love story cowritten with her husband, Darwin J. Flakoll, that recounts the repressive aspects of small-town life in El Salvador. The narrative focuses on events that occurred in 1932, the year the Salvadoran government massacred hundreds of political dissidents in Alegría's adopted hometown of Santa Ana. Focusing on a daughter's discovery of her mother's love affair, the novel provides little direct discourse on the massacre itself. Some critics have interpreted the detachment of Alegría's characters from their political surroundings as a commentary on the United States' involvement in the war-torn countries of El Salvador and Nicaragua.
With Despierta, mi bien, despierta ("Wake up, My Love, Wake Up"), Alegría focuses on Lorena, an upper-middle-class Salvadoran woman who is married to a member of the oligarchy in 1980. Although her social class affords her many privileges, she is lonely and bored, and her marriage is dull. When she has an affair with a young guerrilla poet, however, she becomes more attuned to the political and social situation in her country. Seymour Menton observed in World Literature Today that "the novel ends melodramatically with Lorena's discovering her lover's severed head on her car seat."
Linda Gregory in the American Book Review praised the way Alegría's language in her novel Luisa in Realityland, "delights and astounds in its presence as words, sounds, and images." A novel that blends poetry and prose in telling about the coming of age of a young girl in El Salvador, Luisa in Realityland employs the techniques of magic realism to blend traditional Central American fables with actual historic events in order to emphasize Latin America's cultural heritage. The novel "moves the reader through a narrative mixing present with past, dreams with reality, the personal with the political," commented Gregory, who concluded that the work is a "complexly textured piece of literature which is as concerned with modes of perception as with that which is perceived and just as dependent on the resonance between images as on the images themselves."
Despite her prolific and acclaimed prose output, Alegría considers poetry, which she has been writing since 1948, to be her primary passion. But her verse was not widely known among English-speaking North Americans until the publication in 1982 of Flowers from the Volcano, a bilingual collection of poetry drawn from more than two decades of work. Helene J.F. De Aguilar, in a Parnassus essay, quoted translator Carolyn Forche from her preface to this collection: "In her poems, we listen to the stark cry of the human spirit, stripped by necessity of its natural lyricism, deprived of the luxuries of cleverness and virtuosity enjoyed by poets of the north." Calling the poems neither easy nor comfortable, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that although the poems "ask us to share the loss of friends and country, to stand witness to torture and violent death," there is a spirit of hope in them as well, "of belief in the power of the word and in the value of one human memory."
Like Flowers from the Volcano, Alegría's poetry collection Woman of the River is concerned with political turmoil, repression of citizens, and torture in Central America. Alegría's later poetry collection, Fugues, translated by her husband Darwin J. Flakoll, was faulted by one critic for its failure to match the level of insight and accomplished imagery revealed in her previous volumes. Others critics, however, emphasized the distinctly personal voice of Fugues, arguing that the collection presents a deliberate contrast with her previous work in its use of classical imagery and concern with the theme of death from an individual, rather than political, perspective.
With On the Front Line: Guerrilla Poems of El Salvador, a bilingual anthology of poetry, Alegría turned to translation and editorship, again in collaboration with her husband. Reviewers have observed that while the terror of war provides the dark background to the poems, the central focus of the verse is human and life-affirming.
In No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadorena en lucha, translated in a 1987 English version as They Won't Take Me Alive: Salvadoran Women in Struggle for National Liberation, Alegría recounts the life of Eugenia, a Salvadoran guerilla leader who was killed by army troops in 1981. Through interviews with Eugenia's family and friends, Alegría offers a portrait of a committed, brave woman who lost numerous friends in battles with the government. Some critics faulted the book for being overly doctrinaire and one-dimensional. Writing in the New Statesman, Jane Dibblin observed that the work is "stiff with political jargon" but remarked that Alegría's verse nonetheless "challenges and lingers in the mind."
When Flakoll, to whom Alegría had been married for forty-seven years, died in 1995, the poet told Agosin she felt "mutilated." Yet this loss became the source of yet another poetry collection, Saudade = Sorrow, published in a bilingual edition with an English translation by Forche. The book was welcomed as a sensitive, tender, and powerful collection that, according to Forche, records "the passage of the human soul through searing grief and separation." Bloomsbury Review critic Cristian Salazar hailed Sorrow as a "gorgeous and brave" work that "pulses with the rhythm of grief and grieving." A writer for Kirkus Reviews observed that "these simple lyrics of solitude and sorrow, with their haiku-like brevity, at their best achieve the purity and clarity of classical verse." The book was chosen for the Academy of American Poets Book Club catalog, and the American Bookseller Association selected it for its Book Sense program.
When reviewing In Soltando Amarras = Casting Off—a natural sequel to Saudade = Sorrow, in which she immortalizes her dead husband as she struggles with her loss—Juana Ponce de Leon commented in School Li-brary Journal that Alegría "comes from a culture where the living stay in constant conversation with the dead. With an ease and laughter that register clearly over our long-distance telephone connection, she says, 'Since I was very young the two main themes in my writing have been love and death. When I was young, however, death was distant. Now death is near, especially since Bud passed away. Now death is my friend. I speak to her.'" Ponce de Leon added that, in In Soltando Amarras, "the past looms large as the future diminishes. The poems illuminate the open road that lies before the prize-winning poet and evoke the feelings that go with charting new terrain."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alegría, Claribel, Saudade = Sorrow, translated by Carolyn Forche, Curbstone Press (Willimantic, CT), 1999.
Boschetto-Sandoval, Sandra M., Claribel Alegría and Central American Literature: Critical Essays, Ohio University Center for International Studies (Athens, OH), 1994.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 75, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 145: Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, Second Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
American Book Review, July, 1988, Linda Gregory, review of Luisa in Realityland.
Americas, February, 1999, interview with Marjorie Agosin, p. 48.
Bloomsbury Review, March-April, 2000, Cristian Salazar, review of Saudade = Sorrow.
Library Journal, February 15, 2000, Judy Clarence, review of Sorrow, p. 166.
New Statesman, April 24, 1987, Jane Dibblin, review of No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadorena en lucha, p. 28.
Parnassus, spring, 1985, Helene J.F. De Aguilar, review of Flowers from the Volcano.
Publishers Weekly, October 22, 1982, review of Flowers from the Volcano; October 18, 1993, review of Fugues, p. 69; October 25, 1999, review of Sorrow, p. 78.
School Library Journal, June, 2003, Juana Ponce de Leon, "Acetylene Rose" (interview), p. 30.
Times Educational Supplement, May 29, 1987, p. 23.
Women's Review of Books, October, 1984.
World Literature Today, spring, 1988, Seymour Menton, review of Despierta, mi bien, despierta.