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Rivera, José Eustasio (1888–1928)

Rivera, José Eustasio (1888–1928)

José Eustasio Rivera (b. 1888; d. 1 December 1928), Colombian poet and novelist. Born of a poor family in Neiva, in southeastern Colombia, Rivera was a difficult child both at home and at school. Expelled from three schools, he made his family's economic situation yet more precarious. But he had a natural inclination for literature, and during his best days at school, he was called upon to give speeches, recitals, and even poetry improvisations.

Rivera studied to become a teacher at the Escuela Normal in Bogotá, attending an extra year to apply for the position of school inspector. In 1910 he was finally appointed inspector of Tolima, a province in central Colombia. Rivera took up his work zealously and conscientiously, but was frustrated at having to slow down and accept routine procedures and traditional methods. On top of this frustration came the sudden death of his sister at seventeen years of age. Rivera's life was marked by suffering that was both personal and a reflection of Colombia's condition at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, when the country was in the midst of civil war and beset by rancorous party politics.

Despite his surroundings, this poor, unknown Colombian became a renowned Latin American figure as a poet and a novelist. In poetry, laurels were bestowed on his volume Tierra de promisión (1921), and he achieved his right to sit among the great novelists of America for La vorágine (1924; The Vortex, 1935). The former, a collection of fifty-five sonnets, won him the stature of national poet; the latter made him famous even outside the boundaries of the Hispanic world when it was published in other countries in translation. In fact, The Vortex is a breathtaking romantic vision of the Colombian llanos (plains), a bold encounter with the "green inferno," an exhilarating display of the beauty of the tropics. But most of all, it is a tragic document of the dehumanizing influence of the jungle and caucherías (rubber-collecting sites) on the souls and lives of those lured by the promise of fast wealth, who were doomed to endless suffering and often merciless death by the savagery of the enganchador (recruiting man). Only five years after the publication of his novel, Rivera died in Bogotá.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America .


J. David Suárez-Torres, "José Eustasio Rivera," in Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria Isabel Abreu, vol. 2 (1989), pp. 671-675.

Additional Bibliography

Morales T., Leonidas. Figuras literarias, rupturas culturales: Modernidad e identidades culturales tradicionales. Santiago de Chile: Pehuén, 1993.

Ramírez, Liliana. La vorágine, José Eustasio Rivera: Estudio literario. Bogotá: Panamericana Editorial, 2001.

Walker, John. Rivera, La vorágine. London: Grant & Cutler in association with Tamesis, 1988.

                                J. David SuÁrez-Torres

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