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Claribel Joy Alegría: 1924—: Poet, Novelist

Studied Poetry With Jiménez

In 1944 Alegría received a scholarship to attend a summer session at Loyola University in New Orleans. In her interview with Varela, Alegría recalled how she met Juan Ramon Jiménez, who would achieve signifi-cant importance as her mentor. Alegría knew that the poet, Jiménez, lived in Washington, D.C. Alegría admired Jiménez's work, and so she decided to write a letter to him. In what was to become a very fortunate bit of luck, Jiménez responded to Alegría's letter. He told her that, while in Costa Rica, he had read some of her poems in Repertorio Americano, and he invited Alegría to move to Washington, D.C., where she could study with him while attending college. Even though she had a four-year scholarship elsewhere, Jiménez convinced Alegría to give up the scholarship and move to Washington, D.C., which she did. She enrolled at Georgetown University and immediately found a job as a translator at the Pan-American Union. Alegría studied at night, and three afternoons a week, she studied with Jiménez.

Jiménez insisted that Alegría learn about rhyme and about sonnet forms and about meter—things that she had never bothered with before. She had always written in free verse, but Jiménez pointed out that free verse was actually a much more difficult style of poetry to master and that she should, instead, begin with more absolute forms. He also insisted that she go to museums so that she could understand the relationship between visual art and poetry. Jiménez instilled in Alegría a discipline that she had lacked as a poet, and he is responsible for the publication of her first book. Putting together this first book was not her decision, but Jiménez's. After three years of studying with Jiménez, he chose 22 of her poems, and they became Anillo de silencio, which was published in 1948. In both the interview with Moyers and the one with Varela, Alegría has described the relationship with Jiménez as painful because Jiménez was very critical of her work and kept pushing her to do better. Years later, Alegría would recall that Jiménez had admired Emily Dickinson and insisted that she read Dickinson's work. After Anillo de silencio was published, she was frightened that her first book was too much like Dickinson's work and that the critics would think she had plagiarized the poems in it. Of course, that did not happen. Anillo de silencio contains poems of Alegría's adolescence, and as she told Varela, these are things that she could not say now.

In 1948 Alegría graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelors of arts degree in philosophy and letters. Six months earlier in December of 1947, she had married Darwin J. Flakoll, a student at Georgetown University, who was completing a graduate degree. The two formed a collaboration that would last until his death in 1995. Flakoll co-authored some of Alegría's novels and translated many of her other works into English. In time Alegría and Flakoll had four children. A daughter, Maya, was born in Washington, D.C., in 1949. Later, twin daughters, Patricia and Karen, were born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1950. Also while in Virginia, Alegría completed a book of short stories, Tres cuentos, which would not be published until 1958. In 1951 Alegría and her growing family moved to Mexico. Over the next several years, Alegría had three more books of poetry published. While still in Mexico, she wrote Suite de amor, angustia y soledad and Vigilias. Alegría told Varela that Suite is the only book of which she is ashamed. In this book of poetry, she felt she had lost her voice, and to her great relief, "luckily it was published in Argentina and only five hundred units were left." In 1953 Alegría and Flakoll received a fellowship from the Catherwood Foundation to fund research in Santiago, Chile, where both Alegría and her husband worked on an anthology of Latin American writers. Also with the move to Chile, the family was completed with the birth of a son, Erik, who was born in Santiago in 1954. While in Chile, Alegría would write Acuario.

After three years in Chile, Alegría and her husband returned to Washington, D.C., where in 1956, Flakoll sought work with the State Department, in the Foreign Service. Because of his tour with the Foreign Service, Flakoll's work required that the family had to move often, and they eventually lived in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paris. Eventually, however, his disagreement over United States foreign policy in Latin America caused Flakoll to leave the Foreign Service. Yet even while moving frequently, Alegría continued to write, and although she traveled a great deal, Alegría always returned to El Salvador whenever she wished to see family and friends. Alegría published two works during those years of travel in the early 1960s: Huésped de mi tiempo and Vía única. Because of changes in Cuba that were brought about by the Cuban Revolution, the creative atmosphere for writers was vastly improved in that country. Alegría became one of several Latin American writers who celebrated the new cultural freedoms that writers could now enjoy under Fidel Castro's regime and she visited Cuba in 1961. She was also able to have greater interaction with other Latin American writers who also gathered in Cuba for cultural events. In her book on Latin American writers, Novels of Testimony and Resistance from Central America, Linda Craft says of Alegría, that before the Cuban Revolution, she "had written off Central America as 'sin remedio' (hopeless) and doomed to eternal dictatorship." Alegría told Craft that Castro's victory gave her "hope" that things could change.

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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