October 19, 2021
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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 33
Author: Elizabeth Horan
Title: Gabriela Mistral: An Artist and Her People



The present text is but a single step along an extended itinerary of wanderings into the writings of Gabriela Mistral. This road has taken me from New York to California, to Spain, Mexico, and Argentina, and to an unforgettable year in Chile. With these pages, I hope to pay something of the debt I owe many Latin Americans for their generous contributions and the hundreds of hours dedicated to explaining a thousand idiomatic subtleties. Those friends have inspired me to persist in this commitment to cross the borders of language to arrive at the provinces of the spirit.

As I began to work on my doctoral dissertation, Professor Marta Morello Frosch posed the challenge that still remains today—to read as a feminist the received literary tradition that represents Gabriela Mistral as a poet of frustrated maternity. I also received an important stimulus from Doris Dana, literary executrix of Gabriela Mistral, when she affirmed the vitality of that project. All of the readers of Gabriela Mistral are indebted to Doris Dana for her work in conserving and putting in order Gabriela Mistral’s papers, for her translations and other writings, as well as for her generosity in giving interviews.

In drafting this manuscript, I had important assistance from some generous readers. In addition to Professors Morello Frosch and Priscilla Shaw, I am grateful to my former fellows in Santa Cruz, California: Harryette Mullen, Marilyn Patton, Roz Spafford, Priscilla Shaw, and Ken Weisner; and then in Tempe, Arizona: Julia Douthwaite, Valerie Miner, Joan McGregor, and Julie Codell. Their commentaries led me to understand that the study of Gabriela Mistral from the cultural standpoint was a wide-open field. Among the many people who helped me develop some of the ideas presented in this book, through dialogue or monologue, I note, in the approximate order of their conscription to the service of my errant campaign, the following persons: Yolanda Provoste Fuentes, José María Rabassa, Amalia Pereira, Roque Esteban Scarpa, Tomás Montecinos, Mónica Blanco, Irene Rostagno, Miguel Farías, Julio Parada, Fernando Moraga, Leonidas Emilfork, María Ester Martínez Sainz, Ana María Cuneo, Paulius Stelingis, Bernardo Subercaseaux, Gastón von dem Busche and Fernando Alegría.

The committee of judges chosen by the Organization of American States and the Chilean Government to select the prize-winning manuscripts from among those submitted anonymously to the Concurso-Homenaje Gabriela Mistral, consisted of Carlos Germán Belli, Tamara Kamenszain, Roque Esteban Scarpa, and Gastón von dem Busche. I hope to be worthy of the example that they have established, as promoters of the rich and complex literary culture of Latin America.

The Spanish-speaking readership rightly seeks to avoid the trouble of reading in English about a figure central to Latin American literature. For this reason I began the long process of bringing my drafts, written in English, into a Spanish version which the Organization of American States is considering for possible future publication. In that task I had important assistance from Veronica Zondek, poet and editor, who heroically accomplished the first translation, which I then revised, cut, and corrected, eliminating footnotes and various redundancies, with the help of Marietta Franulic and Amparo Clavijo, graduate assistants at Arizona State University. The remaining text was read by Marjorie Agosín, Professor of Latin American Literature at Wellesley College: I am grateful for her perspicacious commentary as well as for her faith and illuminating intelligence. A reading more or less equal to the riches of Gabriela Mistral’s written work still awaits us: it would require the efforts of a bookworm, and a frequent visitor to used book stalls, for the universal reputation of Gabriela Mistral has not brought with it a complete, corrected edition of her poetry. The great quantity of journalistic prose and letters written by Gabriela Mistral are still dispersed to the four winds, and the best critical studies of her work are very poorly distributed. In brief but important visits, I benefitted from access to various collections, thanks to Patricia Ballou, of the Mistral Collection of Barnard College Library in New York, Thomas L. Welch, Director of the Columbus Library of the Organization of American States, in Washington, D.C., and to the librarians of the Manuscript Sections and the Hispanic Reading Room of the Library of Congress of the United States in Washington, D.C. I am also grateful to Mario Farías, “guardian angel” of the Archivo del Escritor, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile in Santiago, Jorge González and Betty Jorquera Toro, of the Museo-Biblioteca Gabriela Mistral in Vicuña, Chile, and to Martín Fernández de la Peña of the Photo-Studio Gamma in La Serena, Chile, for their help in obtaining photographs of Gabriela Mistral.

The logistical assistance of various institutions contributed to the writing of this manuscript in Spanish. The Fulbright Commission allowed me to spend an unforgettable year in Santiago, Chile, where I could read, speak, and live something of the Chilean culture that shaped Gabriela Mistral. The good people of the Organization of American States (in Washington, D.C., Carlos Paldao, the Staff of the Editorial Center and Gloria Loyola-Black, and in Santiago, Chile, Ricardo Hughes and Augusto Correa), and Oscar Aguero Woods of the Education Ministry of Chile, made possible another trip to Chile, in 1990, where I did further research on Gabriela Mistral, the results of which will be appearing in another book. In Arizona State University, various faculties, programs, departments and divisions (the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Women’s Studies, the Humanities Research Awards Program, the Friends of Latin American Studies, and the Department of English) have assisted in the production of this manuscript.

Editors’s note.   All Spanish poetry and prose was translated to English by the author.