Born 17 February 1914, Carolina, Puerto Rico; died 6 July 1953, New York, New York
Daughter of Paula Garcia de Burgos and Francisco B. Hans; married Rubén R. Beauchamp, 1934 (divorced); Armando Marín, circa 1943
Julia de Burgos revealed herself in her poetry and her life as a woman ahead of her times. In both, she challenged the social conventions that ruled over the Puerto Rican women of her epoch. Her humble origins in the rural barrio of Santa Cruz in Carolina, Puerto Rico, where she grew up as the eldest of a large family, gave her the strong unity with nature appearing constantly in her poetry. When her family moved to Rio Piedras in 1928, de Burgos enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico High School where her studiousness won her recognition. In 1931 she entered the University of Puerto Rico, earning a teaching certificate in 1933. Financial difficulties prevented her from continuing her studies. In 1934, the year of her first marriage, she started working for the Puerto Rico Economic Reconstruction Administration in a daycare center. The following year (1935), she taught in another rural area in Naranjito and took courses during the summer at the university.
Although poets like Luis Palés Matos, Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, and Luis Llorens Torres would influence her work, it was the revolutionary patriotism of the president of the Nationalist party, Pedro Albizu Campos, that inspired her early poems which called for social and political reform. Her first collection, Poemas exactos a mí misma (Exact Poems to Myself), was published in 1937 in a private edition. Apparently dissatisfied with this work, she tried to suppress it. Poema en veinte surcos (Poem in Twenty Furrows), containing her famous poem "Río Grande de Loíza," appeared in 1938. The river of her childhood is a powerful image throughout her work; it is in the river that the poet seems to search for her essence. Her recurrent themes of the eternal search for her true self, love, social reform, and art as a means of liberation first appear in this collection.
Canción de la verdad sencilia (Song of the Simple Truth, 1939), which received an award from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature, presents love as its central theme. The river is present in various poems, now also as a rival of her lover. In "Confesión del Sí y del No" de Burgos repeats her resistance to the imposition of social values, earlier seen in "Á Julia de Burgos." In an attempt to free herself from social constraint, in 1940 de Burgos moved first to New York and then to Cuba with the man who had inspired her love poems. In Havana she met the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the writer who most deeply influenced her work.
In 1942, a love disillusionment that marked her for the rest of her life occasioned her return to New York. While living there, she actively collaborated in the publication of Pueblos Hispánicos, founded and directed by the Puerto Rican poet Juan Antonio Correjer. Although she continued to write, in her last years alcoholism weakened both her spirit and health. She spent most of this time in various hospitals. Collapsing on a Harlem street in 1953, she died, and her body was taken to Puerto Rico for burial near the river she had made famous.
A posthumous volume El mar y tú, y otros poemas (1954) pays tribute again to her one great love and reflects her disillusionment and final disintegration. The sea, symbol of the infinite and witness of the cosmic union of the lovers, becomes the deathbed that called her. A compilation of her works, Obra Poética, appeared in 1961.
Critics have seen influences of modernism in de Burgos's work. José Emilio González, pointing out imperfections in her poetry, contrasts her lack of interest in the discussion of aesthetics with her deep concern with social problems. The importance she placed on truth and justice, and her understanding of poetry as an instrument for social and political change, gave priority to the message rather than to the form. The result was the revelation of the essence of the poet herself, making her poetry so strikingly unique.
A Rose Made of Water: Ten Selected Poems of Julia de Burgos; Translated by Rafael Ramos Albelo, from the Original Spanish (1994). Roses in the Mirror (1992). Song of the Simple Truth: Obra Completa Poetica (The Complete Poems) (1997).
A Dream of Light & Shadow: Portraits of Latin American Women Writers (1995). Cabrera, F. M., Historia de la Literatura Puertoriquena (1971). González, Jose E., La Poesía Contemporánea de Puerto Rico, 1930-1960 (1972). Jiménez de Baez, L., Julia de Burgos: Vida y Poesía (1966). Julia de Burgos, 1914-1953 (1986). Price, J., "Faces of Rebellion: Critical Commentary and Translation of the Poetry of Julia de Burgos, Rosario Castellanos, Clementina Suarez" (thesis, 1981).
Inventing a Word: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Puerto Rican Poetry (1980). NAW (1980). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Puerto Rican Authors: A Biobibliographic Handbook (1974). Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book (1990). Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (1996).
La Torre (Sept.-Dec. 1965). Sin Nombre (Oct.-Dec. 1976).