Home to Machu Pichu, one of the seven wonders of the world, and the third largest country in South America, Peru is also known for it’s strong female voices. In fact, quite a few Latina America’s greatest feminist pioneer hail from the Land of the Incas, and used their culture and heritage to spearhead their activism and inspire their works.
This list features 10 of Peru’s FIERCEST escritoras.
Clorinda Matto de Turner
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Born in 1852 in Cusco, Clorinda Matto de Turner used her writings to defend the rights of women and the indigenous communities. Her most well-known and controversial book is Aves sin Nido (Birds without a Nest) which told the love story between a white man and an indigenous woman who can’t marry because they discover their father is the same priest. The book was also the first novel that portrayed the life and social conditions of the indigenous population in Peru. In 1889 she was appointed the director of El Peru Ilustrado where she insisted that the magazine reflect Peruvian concerns.
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Surrealist poet Blanca Varela is considered one of the most important Peruvian poets whose works have been translated into multiple languages. She contributed to magazines early on but didn’t publish her first collection of poetry, “Ese puerto existe,” until the age of 33 in 1959 after the insistence of famed Mexican writer Octavio Paz. She went on to publish 10 books and was awarded the Octavio Paz Prize for Poetry and Essay in 2001 and in 2006 the García Lorca International Poetry Prize.
Teresa González de Fanning
Poet, essayist, and fiction writer Teresa González de Fanning, born in 1836, was famously critical of women’s education during her time using her writing and speeches as forms of activism. A collection of her articles were compiled in a booklet entitled “Female Education” and released in 1898. Women’s education at that point was exclusively focused on marriage prep and motherhood and she insisted on a curriculum promoting music, writing and mathematics. Her acclaimed 1886 novel “Regina” focused on gender roles and economic reform through the breakdown of a family business. In 1881 she founded a girls’ high school in Lima, and many other schools in Peru are now named in her honor.
Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera
A pioneer in literary realism in Peru, Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera also blazed the trail as one of the first Peruvian feminists advocating women’s freedom. She wrote six novels focusing on the societal issues of her time with the most successful being “Blanca Sol” which attacked the materialism of her time and was published in 1888.
Suffragist and writer Aurora Cáceres was a part of the modernismo literary movement challenging the ideologies of the time. She was born in Lima in 1877 but her family was exiled to Argentina in 1895 and shortly after she began to publish her feminist articles entitled “The Emancipation of Women”. One of her most powerful novels is “La Rosa Muerta” published in Paris in 1914 – the same location where the novel takes place- which portrayed complicated male-female relations and sexually liberated women.
Feminist writer Lastenia Larriva was born in and died in Lima. However, she spent many years of her life in Ecuador where she did most of her writing. Between 1888 and 1890 she published a novel entitled “A Singular Drama or History of a Family” and in 1890 a short novel “Pro Patria”. In 1889 she published poetry book “La Ciencia y la Fe” that led to her receiving the Golden Plume in Ecuador.
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Renowned journalist and writer Gabriela Wiener was born in Lima in 1975 and has lived in Spain since 2003 where she’s currently working on her first novel. She’s written for Peruvian newspapers La República and El Comercio, and El País in Spain and she also was editor in chief of Spanish magazine Primera Línea and the Spanish edition of Marie Claire magazine. She has published nearly 10 books including “Sexografías” where she writes about her personal experiences including sexcapades in a swingers clubs, donating eggs, and ingesting ayahuasca in the Amazon jungle while exploring topics like immigration, maternity, and fear of death.
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Magda Portal was a poet, feminist, author, and political activist who co-founded the Peruvian Aprista Party. Born near Lima in 1900, Portal’s early years as a university student inspired her to begin her literary career reporting for magazines and writing poetry. She developed a reputation for her progressive views on women’s rights devoting her life to her political activism that sometimes got in the way of her writing. In 1980 Portal was elected the president of the Asociación Nacional de Escritores y Artistas and is still honored as a literary leader in Latin America.
Roxana A. Soto
Roxana A. Soto is an Emmy-award winning bilingual journalist, born in Lima and raised in the U.S. She got her start in journalism both national and international spanning 20 years. In 2009, she co-founded SpanglishBaby.com, an online community for parents, who are raising bilingual and bicultural children in the U.S. She published her first book Bilingual Is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America in 2012 and she is also an editor for MamásLatinas.com.
Claudia Salazar Jiménez
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Writer and literary critic Claudia Salazar Jiménez, 42, was born in Lima and resides in New York since getting her Ph.D. in literature from NYU. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies and websites and in 2013 she published her debut novel “La Sangre de la Aurora” winning the prestigious Las Americas Award in 2014, awarded to the best novel written in Spanish. The novel, published in English in 2016, tells the story of three women during the “time of fear” in Peru’s history during the Shining Path insurgency. She is also the founder and director of PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York.
Read: Latina Reads: 12 Puerto Rican Writers Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List