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Claribel Joy Alegría: 1924—: Poet, Novelist

Gave Testimony To A Life

Alegría did not limit herself to writing only poetry. In 1966 she wrote a novel, Cenizas de Izalco with her husband, Flakoll. Then in 1968 she wrote three short novels that would not be published for several more years: El Detén, Album familiar, and Pueblo de Dios y de Mandinga. Craft suggested that Alegría turned to writing novels when "poetry no longer sufficed to describe the national reality." But even with a creative change to writing novels, Alegría never abandoned her poetry. A 1978 book of poems, Sobrevivo, would win the Casa de las Americas Prize in 1978. Alegría was finally able to return to Nicaragua to live in 1979, when the Sandinista rebels gained power. After the move, Alegría and her husband began to research Nicaragua's history of revolution and political unrest. The result was a new book, a history of revolution, Nicaragua: La revolución sandinista; Una crónica política, 1855-1979, which was published in 1982. In what was to be their longest period in one house, Alegría and her husband lived in Deya, Majorca, just off the coast of Spain, from 1962 to 1983, although they did continue to travel and visit other countries, even maintaining a second home in Nicaragua.

A pivotal event in Alegría's life occurred in 1980. She and Flakoll had gone to Paris, where Alegría was to give a reading at the Sorbonne. But that same day, she received word that Archbishop Romero had been assassinated in El Salvador. Her husband encouraged Alegría to abandon the reading and in its place to speak about the murder of Archbishop Romero. Instead of her scheduled reading, Alegría provided a tribute to the slain churchman, but she also spoke about the death squads in El Salvador, and it was this last fact that resulted in a twelve-year self-imposed exile. Alegría did not even return to Santa Ana for her mother's funeral in 1982 because she had been warned that she would be killed if she entered the country. In her interview with Moyers, Alegría recalled how difficult it was to stay away at this time. She said, "I adored my mother, and she wanted to see me, but my brothers telephoned and said, 'Don't come because there will be two funerals instead of one.'" It was not until 1992 that Alegría could finally visit her mother's grave for the first time.

During the 1980s Alegría and her husband published two testimonial works that attempted to give voice to the victims of political war. No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadoreña en lucha documents the story of the women of El Salvador, who continue to fight and survive through oppression and war. Another book in a similar vein is Para romper el silencio: Resistencia y lucha en las cárceles salvadoreñas, which tells the stories of political prisoners. In these two books, Alegría moves beyond novels to give voice to those who might otherwise never be heard. In an article that explores Alegría's work as a means of testimony for those who are displaced by war and oppression, "Migrancy, Exile and the Hybrid Landscapes of Homelessness," author, Teresa Longo, suggested that Alegría is "ever mindful of her role as a poet/peace-activist," and as a result, "her writing emerges as a poetic reconstruction of places torn apart by injustice and repression." Because of Alegría's texts, "Exile—and the everyday rage and impotence that accompany it," are given voice. She recalled a home for those who are homeless, the displaced victims of tyrants and dictators.

For nearly 50 years, Alegría and her husband formed a personal and professional partnership. His death in April of 1995 was captured by Alegría in her last published book of poetry, Saudade = Sorrow, which was published in 1999. She began writing the poems in this book soon after her husband died, and several reviewers have noted the pain and grief expressed in the poetry. Liz Rosenberg, writing for The Boston Globe, noted that "saudade" is a Portuguese word that is "nearly untranslatable," but that it comes closest to meaning a "sadness, a longing beyond words." And yet, Alegría used words to express her grief at Flakoll's death: "I don't know what seas/ rivers/ or secret passages/ you have to cross/ but I'm waiting for you today." Another reviewer, Sandra Bertman, asserted in her review for the New York University system's Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database, that Saudade = Sorrow contains 47 sparse love letters, that are "neither sentimental nor confessional." Instead these poems "draw on the struggles of Circe, Prometheus, and Orpheus as well as themes of unfinished rites, sadness, and symbolic immortality." Although she is deep in grief, Alegría used classical allusion to demonstrate that she is not a victim. Just as she has proved so many other times in her life—Alegría is a survivor.

Selected writings

Anillo de silencio, Botas, 1948.

Suite de amor, angustia y soledad, Brigadas Líricas, 1950.

Vigilias, Poesía de América, 1953.

Acuario, universitario, 1955.

Tres cuentos, Ministerio de Cultura, 1958.

Huésped de mi tiempo, Américalee, 1961.

Vía única, Alfa, 1965.

Cenizas de Izalco, Seix Barral, 1966.

El Detén, Lúmen, 1977.

Sobrevivo, Casa de las Américas, 1978.

Album familiar, Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1982.

Nicaragua: La revolución sandinista; Una crónica política, 1855-1979, Era, 1982.

No me agarran viva: La mujer salvadoreña en lucha, Era, 1983.

Pueblo de Dios y de Mandinga, Era, 1985.

Saudade = Sorrow, Curbstone, 1999.



The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets With Bill Moyers, Doubleday, 1995, pp. 5-16.

Novels of Testimony and Resistance From Central America, University Press of Florida, 1997.


Boston Globe, February 27, 2000, p. C2.

Peace Review, Vol. 13, Number 2, 2002, pp. 167-175.


"Alegria, Claribel: Sorrow/Saudade," NYU Medical Humanities, www.endeavor.med.nyu.edu/lit-med/lit-med-db/webdocs/webdescrips/alegria11962-des.html (March 13, 2003).

"Claribel Alegría," Entrevistas de Rafael Varela, www.2culturas.com/entrevistas/claribel.html (March 13, 2003).

—Sheri Elaine Metzger

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