Instituto Cervantes and the literary world celebrate the life and work of Claribel Alegría


In January, the world had lost one of its greatest literary minds. In May, the Instituto Cervantes in London celebrated her work with a presentation at the Embassy of El Salvador. The event was jointly organized by the Instituto Cervantes and the embassies of Nicaragua and El Salvador. The presentation was delivered by Dr. Tania Pleitez Vela entitled Claribel Alegría: Poetics of Resistance in which she took the audience through a captivating journey of Alegría’s life and work. Audience members were also treated to the music of guitarist Fabricio Mattos who performed a selection of pieces inspired by Alegría’s poetry.

Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, Ignacio Peyró, said: “Claribel Alegría passed away in January, leaving us orphans of one of the most lucid and gifted poetic voices in our common language. She was a brilliant disciple of the Spanish Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez, who guided her in her first steps in poetry.”

“Last year she was awarded the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry, which rewards the poetic work of an outstanding living author which, for its literary value, constitutes a major contribution to the shared cultural heritage of Ibero-America and Spain.”

Her awards also include the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Alegría was born to Nicaraguan and Salvadoran parents in Estelí, Nicaragua, on May 12, 1924. However when Claribel was nine months old, her father was sent into exile for protesting human rights violations occurring during the United States occupation of Nicaragua, which lasted from 1912 to 1933. After the exile, Alegría traveled to her mother’s home in El Salvador, to the city of Santa Ana.

During the time period, the ‘Banana Wars’ were ongoing. A series of police actions, which resulted in occupations by the United States in Central America and the Caribbean between from 1898 to 1934. While she went to University in the United States in 1943, the Second World War was ongoing. She graduated in 1948 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Letters from George Washington University.

In spite of close ties to the Nicaraguan Sandinista National Liberation Front, Claribel Alegría was ardently against violence, and this is reflected through much of her work. Alegría was labeled as part of “la generacion comprometida” (the committed generation), a literary movement whose goal was to aide in the evolution of political justice for the disenfranchised.

“In the middle ’70s, lots of people, not only from my country but throughout Latin America, were being murdered or disappeared, including some of my friends,” said Alegría. “I felt that I had a niche in my heart for each one of them, and it is because of them I called myself a cemetery.”

Ambassador of El Salvador, Her Excellency Mrs. Elisabeth Hayek Weinmann, said: “We celebrate not just Claribel Alegria’s poetic voice but her inspiring life and legacy. Because poetry and a life lived with integrity and constant commitment to human rights and social justice, are intertwined in Claribel’s literary work.”

Ambassador of the Republic of Nicaragua, Her Excellency Ms. Guisell Morales-Echaverry said: “Claribel Alegría, the woman, the poet, gave a voice to the struggles in Nicaragua and El Salvador. She is one of the most valuable and transcendental writers of the 20th century in Latin American literature.

“When Alegría received the Ibero-American Poetry Prize, Reina Sofía, at the Royal Palace of Madrid last year, she made an emotional tribute to female Latin American writers. She also said: ‘There is no masculine or feminine writing. There is good and bad writing’”.

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