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Arguedas, José María (1911–1969)

Arguedas, José María (1911–1969)

José María Arguedas was a Peruvian novelist, poet, ethnographer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Renowned for his dedication to indigenous narrative literature and commitment to the survival of indigenous cultures, Arguedas drew on his personal experiences in Quechua communities to portray indigenous culture. Born on 18 January 1911, he was raised by his white father (an itinerant judge) and Quechua Indian caretakers after his mother died. As a result, he spoke Quechua before he learned Spanish. Formally trained in literature and anthropology at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru, he later held posts in various government cultural programs and at museums of folklore and ethnology.

As part of a literary indigenista movement in Latin America, Arguedas acknowledged the significance of his Spanish cultural heritage but simultaneously feared its power to destroy the indigenous culture he valued so highly. In his folk-loric and ethnological studies, Arguedas aspired to preserve the best of indigenous culture while exposing the cruel treatment and discrimination against indigenous peoples in rural Peruvian communities. His novels and short stories—written in both Spanish and Quechua—reflect his desire to attain a kind of cultural fusion, or mestizaje, in which the values of both of Peru's indigenous and Iberian-derived cultures could be joined.

In 1964 Arguedas became head of the Department of Ethnology and professor of Quechua at the Agrarian University. On 28 November 1969, one day after his resignation, he shot himself. It was perhaps his doubt that mestizaje would ever be achieved—that in fact indigenous culture would not survive—which led to his suicide. Evidence for this exists in his final unfinished novel, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (The fox from above and the fox from below), published posthumously in 1970. His published works also include Agua (Water; 1935), Yawar fiesta (The Yawar Party; 1941), Diamantes y pedernales (Diamonds and Flint; 1954), Los rios profundos (The Deep Rivers; 1958), El Sexto (The Sixth; 1961), and Todas las sangres (All of the Bloods; 1964).

See alsoIndigenous Languages; Quechua.


Aldrich, Earl M., Jr. The Modern Short Story in Peru. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.

Franco, Sergio R., ed. José María Arguedas: Hacia una poética migrante. Pittsburgh, PA: Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, 2006.

Kokotovic, Misha. The Colonial Divide in Peruvian Narrative: Social Conflict and Transculturation. Brighton, U.K., and Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2005.

Oviedo, José Miguel. "Homenaje a José María Arguedas." Revista Peruana de Cultura 13 and 14 (1970).

Polar, Antonio Cornejo. Los universos narrativos de José María Arguedas. Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1973.

Portugal, José Alberto. Las novelas de José María Arguedas: Una incursión en lo inarticulado. Peru: Editorial Fondo PUCP, 2007.

Ortega, Julio. Revista Iberoamericana 49, no. 122 (1983). Special issue devoted to Arguedas.

Sandoval, Ciro A., and Sandra M. Boschetto-Sandoval, eds. José María Arguedas: Reconsiderations for Latin American Cultural Studies. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 1998.

                                     Charlene van Dijk

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