The world of poetry has been shaped and enriched by the contributions of countless Latina poets. These writers, with diverse experiences, have left an indelible mark on literature that continues to reverberate decades later. From the mystical and philosophical works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to the raw, emotional verses of Gabriela Mistral, Latina poets have consistently pushed the boundaries of language, form, and expression. Their poetry speaks to the complexity of the human experience, and has the power to inspire, challenge, and transform readers. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are exploring the lives and works of 11 of the most iconic Latina poets, whose contributions have helped to shape the literary landscape of Latin America and beyond.
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the first published feminists of the New World. Sor Juana combined the Spanish Golden Age and the philosophies of Roman Catholicism, and her work often focuses on women and their right to knowledge and an education. She was a poet, nun, and scholar born in San Miguel Nepantla, Tepetlixpa, Mexico on Nov. 12, 1651. Sor Juana’s ” Respuesta a Sor Filotea”, is considered the first feminist manifesto defending a woman’s right to education. Her poetry includes “Que consuela un celoso epilogando la serie de los amores”, “Hombres necios que acusáis,” and “Este amoroso tormento.”
Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga on April 7, 1889, became the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. She published over 30 poetry collections throughout her career around themes of loss, motherhood, and childhood. She was also South America’s first ever Nobel Laureate in Literature and In 1951 she received the Chilean National Prize in literature, but did not return to her native country until 1954, when her poetry collection, Lagar, was published in Santiago.
Julia de Burgos
An Institutos de Literatura and Cultura Puertorriqueña poetry prize winner, Julia de Burgos centered on social justice and feminism and is considered to be the foremother of the Nuyorican movement. One of her most famous works includes “Rio Grande de Loiza” where she addressed the pain and violence suffered by Puerto Rican natives and African slaves on the island. To this day she is considered one of the greatest poets from the island and Latin America.
Alfonsina Storni was born in Switzerland in 1892 and grew up in Argentina where she later began working as a journalist while also writing her poetry. She’s considered a Modern poet known for being critical of gender roles and the discrimination women faced. She’s best known for her three volumes of poetry: El dulce daño (1918), Irremediablemente (1919), and Languidez (1920), the second of which won her acclaim and the National Literature Prize. Her final poetry volume, Mascarilla y trébol, published in 1938 is considered to be her most experimental as far as style goes with an atypical rhyme scheme. She died by suicide on October 25, 1938 after learning her breast cancer had returned. In 1961, a volume containing all of her work, Obra poetica completa, was published.
Rosario Castellanos is considered one of the most important Mexican poets of the 20th century. Her thesis, Sobre cultura femenina is a seminal feminist work in Mexico. She attended prestigious schools in both Mexico and Europe and became the press director for the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Castellanos wrote poems including “Apelación al solitario,” “Charla”, and “Epitafio del hipócrita.” She was said to be inspired by the works of 16th century Spanish nun and writer Teresa of Ávila and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Her work is famous for themes of her Mexican heritage, self-identity, and women’s rights.
Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini is famous for being among first Latin American women in literature to write about female sexuality and passion. Published in 1910 her debut, El Libro Blanco, is one of her most talked-about poetry collections featuring poems “Noche de Reyes” and “La Estatua.” Her third and final collection, Los Cálices Vacíos, was dedicated to Eros, the god of love, for his inspiration as a symbol of eroticism in her work. She died at the age of 27 after her ex-husband shot her and then killed himself. The Selected Poetry of Delmira Agustini: Poetics of Eros (2003), translated by Alejandro Cáceres, is the most comprehensive collection of her work published in English.
Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda
Poet and playwright Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was born in Camagüey, Cuba to Spanish parents and began writing a the age of 12. She’s considered one of the most prolific 19th century writers known for her romantic works having written about 20 plays and numerous poems throughout her career. Her best known work is Sab (1841), an anti-slavery novel revolving around a doomed love story between a slave and his master’s daughter. It was so controversial that it was not published in Cuba until 1914.
Argentine poet Nydia Lamarque wrote expressively about feminism and socialism. She released her first collection, Telarañas, in 1925 and continued to write social and political criticisms until her final book, Echeverría el Poeta, in 1951.
Rafaela Chacón Nardi
Born in Havana, Cuba, Rafaela Chacón Nardi was not only a gifted poet but also a respected educator. She taught at prestigious institutions such as Escuela Normal para Maestros, Universidad de La Habana, and Universidad Las Villas. In 1948, she published her first volume of poetry titled Journey to the Dream, which was reprinted in 1957, featuring a letter from the Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral praising her work. Nardi went on to publish over 30 books and died in Cuba in 2001.
Afro-Cuban poet Excilia Saldaña is best known for her exploration of the Afro-Cuban discussing difficult topics such as abandonment, incest, and sexual violence, as well as support and reclamation from other women. In 1979, she received the National Ismaelillo Prize from the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba as well as the Rosa Blanca Prize in 1984. In the Vortex of the Cyclone: Selected Poems by Excilia Saldaña was the the first-ever bilingual anthology of her work publishing in 2019. She died in Cuba in 1999 at the age of 52.
Norah Lange was an Argentinian poet and prominent figure in the Argentine avant-garde whose work was published in magazines like Prisma, Proa, and Martin Fierro. Her iconic 1950 novel Personas en la sala was translated in English in 2018, a huge moment for Lange decades later. She was awarded Argentina’s highest literary prize, the Gran Premio de Honor of the Argentine Writers’ Association, in 1959. She was born in 1905 to Norwegian parents in Buenos Aires and experienced her first literary success in 1937 with her memoir Notes from Childhood.
Virginia Isaad contributed to this article