As National Poetry Month comes to a close, we can’t help but think of all of the impactful Latinx voices that have made their — and our — stories and struggles known with their words. It’s so often the case that we need someone else to speak for us in order to make us feel heard and seen, and poets undoubtedly have the power, the skill, and talent to do just that. From modern visionaries like Elizabeth Acevedo and Natalie Diaz to political icons like Chile’s Pablo Neruda and Cuba’s Jose Martí, Latinx poets have made their marks not just on the literary world, but on society as a whole.
It fills us with pride to read poems by these authors and to be able to feel and relate to their passion and authenticity, and for that, we celebrate them. Here, we honor some of the most influential Latinx poets of all time, each of whom have made history.
Back in 2019, Dominican poet Elizabeth Acevedo became the first person of color ever to win the Carnegie Medal for her debut novel-in-verse, The Poet X. The Carnegie Medal is awarded for an English-language book for children or young adults, but until then, had only ever been awarded to white writers throughout the entirety of its then 83-year history. The Poet X has also earned Acevedo a slew of other awards including The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Pura Belpré Award.
In June 2021 the Mojave and Latinx poet Natalie Diaz became the first Latina to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She was awarded the prize for her poetry collection titled, Postcolonial Love Poem. The only other Latinx person in history to win the Pulitzer in poetry was William Carlos William, all the way back in 1963. Natalie has continued to garner acclaim for her work, which largely focuses on identity and creating visibility for Indigenous communities.
Julia de Burgos
Nearly 70 years after her death, Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos remains one of the most acclaimed and well-known Latina poets in history. She was a trailblazer who used her words for the betterment of her community. Quite significantly for the time, she served as the Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom, which was the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. More than thirty years after her death, de Burgos was given a posthumous doctorate degree in Human Arts and Letters from the Spanish Department at the University of Puerto Rico. Throughout the years she has been the subject of a number of documentaries and biopics, and has been honored with memorials in both Puerto Rico and the U.S.
Acclaimed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda not only made his mark on the arts, he did in politics as well. Despite giving up his studies at the age of 20, he became a member of Chile’s senate as a member of the Communist party, but had to go into hiding a few years later when communism was made illegal. He wrote extensively on issues of the people and politics, garnering himself the nickname “the people’s poet,” along with countless high-profile awards including the International Peace Price and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Dominican American author Julia Alvarez is one of the most successful Latina authors of all time, and while she’s best known for her novels, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, she’s a veritable poet as well. She’s won more awards than we can count and in 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama. Perhaps more importantly, she’s had a massive impact on Latinas throughout the U.S. and the world throughout the span of her decades-long career.
He may have lived more than a century ago, but Jose Martí’s poetry is still revered today. He was incredibly talented and committed to using his voice to support and elevate the people of Cuba. He was so dedicated to achieving Cuban independence from Spain that he became know as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.” He was exiled from Cuba multiple times, but ended up being widely considered a national hero. He actually helped lead a coup against his country’s government in 1894 that ultimately led to his death.
Cuban-Jamaican poet Aja Monet’s prose cuts deep. When she was just 19 years old, she became the youngest poet ever to win the Nuyorican Poet’s Café’s Grand Slam, and in the more than 15 years since, she’s continued to be one of the most revered modern Latinx poets. Monet uses her influence to benefit her community as an activist and her words to connect with people from all walks of life, advocating for the “poor, abused, and oppressed.”
Ada Limón, who is of Mexican descent, is widely considered one of the most influential and talented Latinx poets of our time. She has committed herself to being an honest, authentic, and unapologetic voice for Latinx people, and in doing such she has garnered herself a slew of awards. Among the awards she’s received are thee National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 2019 and the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 2020. Her book, Bright Dead Things, was also a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry in 2015.
Carmen Giménez Smith
Widely considered a forerunner for many of today’s young, Latinx poets, Carmen Giménez Smith, who is of Peruvian and Argentinian descent, has penned six poetry collections, and has used her notoriety as a poet to help advance others. She’s the co-director of the CantoMundo fellowship for Latinx writers and she is the publisher of Noemi Press, which was founded in 2002 with the goal of serving both emerging and established authors. Smith was a Guggenheim fellow and has earned several awards throughout her career including the Juniper Prize for Poetry and the American Book Award.