4 minute read

Claribel Joy Alegría: 1924—: Poet, Novelist

Learned Of Political Unrest Early

Claribel Joy Alegría was born on May 12, 1924, in Esteli, Nicaragua. Her mother, Ana Marie Vides, was originally from El Salvador. Her father, Daniel Alegría, was from Nicaragua. Alegría's father was a medical doctor who opposed the United States Marine occupation of Nicaragua in 1924. Because of this opposition, her father was the victim of frequent harassing attacks by marines. On several occasions United States Marines fired upon his family, once when his infant daughter was present. Three months later, when Alegría was nine months old, the family fled Nicaragua for El Salvador. Alegría grew up in Santa Ana, El Salvador and was educated there. She attended a progressive school, Jose Ingenieros, which was founded by her uncle, Ricardo Vides, who named the school after the Argentinean philosopher. From the time she was nine months old until she was eighteen, Alegría lived as an exile in El Salvador, as did her family.

Although the family now lived in El Salvador, Alegría's father continued to protest against the occupation of Nicaragua. As part of his opposition, Alegría's father worked to support rebellions against the occupation, including that of a failed peasant uprising in 1927. In spite of her father's work on behalf of Nicaragua, life in El Salvador seemed very calm and ordinary to the young girl. The family lived in a pleasant Spanish home that was filled with opportunities for Alegría to explore her future. Even as a small child, Alegría composed poetry. She was only six years old when she began to create her own poems, and although she was too young to read or write, she dictated poems to her mother, who carefully wrote them down. In a 1995 interview with Bill Moyers for his book, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, With Bill Moyers, Alegría recalled that her father "loved to recite poetry," while her mother also loved reading poetry, especially the Spanish poets. Both parents often recited poetry to their daughter, and so her desire to compose her own poetry, as well as the request that her mother record her compositions, seemed not at all unusual.

At a Glance . . .

Born on May 12, 1924, in Esteli, Nicaragua; married Darwin J. Flakoll 1947 (died 1995); children: Maya, Patricia, Karen, Erik. Education: Georgetown University, BA, 1948.

Career: Author and poet, 1948–.

Awards: Casa de las Americas Prize for Sobrevivo, 1978.

Although she was already creating poetry at a young age, Alegría did not always want to be a poet. She told Moyers that she had wished to be an actress. As an adolescent, she wanted to be a "tragic artist of the theatre" and she would often look in a mirror and recite lines of poetry to gauge the effect on her face. Of course, like any other child, Alegría was interested in other possible careers as well. In a 1989 interview with Rafael Varela, for the 2 Culturas Publishing Company, Alegría told of how, as a child, she wanted to be a scientist or a doctor. Except for dictating her poems to her mother, she had no other interest in literature, even though she lived in a house with many books. As a child, Alegría had easy access to many books. Her grandfather had an excellent library. He had been educated in France, and many of the books were in French, which she learned to read. In spite of the emphasis on poetry and literature in her home, Alegría continued to want to be a scientist throughout adolescence.

Then, when she was fourteen, Alegría read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke had long been recognized as the most important European poet of his time. His letters, written in 1903, had a profound effect on Alegría's young life. In virtually every interview ever given, she has recounted how, upon reading Rilke's letters, she stayed awake all night pacing through the halls of her family's home. Eventually, as she told Moyers, she knew that "This is what I want to be. This is it. I want to be a poet." After this moment of epiphany, Alegría began what was to become an earnest commitment to writing poetry. By the time she was sixteen, Alegría was writing poetry with all the seriousness of an established poet, even though she was still unpublished. Finally, in 1941, when she was seventeen years old, she published her first poems in Repertorio Americano, a Central American cultural supplement. Then, two years later, José Vasconcelos, the Mexican educator, who was at that time living in exile from his home in Mexico, arranged for Alegría to be admitted to a girls' finishing school in Hammond, Louisiana. By the time she was eighteen, Alegría had emigrated to the United States for what was to be an almost permanent visit, as her parents wished for her to study English and to attend a university.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyClaribel Joy Alegría: 1924—: Poet, Novelist Biography - Learned Of Political Unrest Early, Studied Poetry With Jiménez, Gave Testimony To A Life