Home to not one but five UNESCO World Heritage sites, Chile’s literary history is also rich with wonders. From iconic writer Isabel Allende to the history-making career of Gabriela Mistral, Chilean women are trailblazers not just for their country but all of Latin America. Inspired by their homeland and the political trials it endured, the 14 women on this list used their words to make strides and advocate for the empowerment of women.
Read on to learn more about these fierce escritoras.
The most well-known female Chilean author is undoubtedly novelist Isabel Allende who rose to fame with her acclaimed novel, “The House of Spirits.” Born in Peru in 1942 to Chilean parents, Allende started her literary career writing for magazines in Chile. While living in Venezuela to escape the violence in Chile, she received news of her grandfather’s impending death and decided to write him a letter in an attempt to keep his spirit alive. The letter served as inspiration for “The House of Spirits” which was published the following year in 1982 and became famous for its use of magical realism. In 2010, she received Chile’s National Literature Prize and in 2014 President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Fluent in English, she was granted U.S. citizenship in 1993 and resides in California. She has released more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books including “City of the Beasts,” “Zorro” and her latest, “In the Midst of Winter.”
There are many reasons why Gabriela Mistral is one of Chile’s most prominent writers including becoming the first Latin American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The multi-talented Mistral not only published beloved works of poetry, she also worked as a diplomat and educator. Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in 1889 in Vicuña, she began publishing under her pen name in 1908 and received her first award in a national contest in Chile in 1914. She released her first book, “Desolacion” in 1922, a collection of poems about motherly love, religion, morality and nature. One of her most quoted poems is “Su Nombre es Hoy.”
Praised as one of Latin America’s most successful writers, Marcela Serrano has been an award-winning writer since she published her first novel in 1994 at the age of 38. “Nosotras Que Nos Queremos Tanto,” won the Literary Prize in Santiago, and her second book, “Para Que No Me Olvides,” won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize for women writers in Spanish. She received the runner-up award in the renowned Premio Planeta competition in 2001 for her novel “Lo Que Está En Mi Corazón.” Her writing centers on feminism and the experience of being a woman in a patriarchal society.
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Born in Chile to a Russian-Jewish family and educated in England, Carla Guelfenbein, 59, gained fame as an editor and novelist. She worked as a fashion editor for Elle magazine in Chile and has published several award-winning novels including “Contigo en la Distancia” which won the Alfaguara prize. The book is a literary thriller inspired by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector intertwining the lives of three characters sharing a love story and a passion for literature. Her other novels include “El Revés Del Alma,” “La Mujer De Mi Vida,” “El Resto Es Silencio,” “Nadar Desnudas” and her latest, “Llévame al cielo.”
Soledad Fariña Vicuña
One of Chile’s most prominent contemporary poets, Soledad Fariña Vicuña has released eight poetry collections since 1985. Her latest collection is actually entitled “1985” after the year she started writing it, and it follows four characters in Santiago during the time of the Pinochet dictatorship. Being a female poet in the 80s in Chile garnered a lot of negative attention and she touches on the subject of feminism and femininity in various ways in her own works. “They said to me, about my book, ‘men are going to think it’s shit,’ “and they did. But now look!” she told Revista Revolver.
Diamela Eltit, 68, is widely recognized for her avant-garde style and illustrious career as a novelist. She published her first novel, “Lumpérica,” in 1983 and has since published 20 works including her latest novella, “Sumar.” In her writing, she has examined post-coup Chile including its violent effects and how they intersect with gender, identity and class. Eltit co-founded the Collective for Artistic Action (Colección de Acciones de Arte) in 1979 as a form of cultural resistance against Pinochet’s dictatorship. She is currently the Distinguished Global Professor of Creative Writing in Spanish at New York University.
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Patricia Paola Fernández was born in Santiago in 1971 and starting at a young age, she has gone by the name Nona Fernández. The triple threat is an actress, screenwriter and novelist. She published her first collection of stories entitled “El Cielo” in 2000 followed by her award-winning novel “Mapocho” two years later. In 2016 she released “La dimensión desconocida” about an undercover Chilean agent who confesses to a journalist about crimes against human rights during the Pinochet dictatorship. When the truth is revealed it opens the door to a “universe” of brutal torture, disappearances and mass graves that had never be known before. The book was awarded the 2017 Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize.
Mariela Griffor, 56, is a poet, editor, and publisher who has published three renowned collections of poetry. “Exiliana,” “House,” and “The Psychiatrist” are mostly about her experience living as an exile in Sweden and the U.S. during the Pinochet regime. She is co-founder of the Institute for Creative Writers at Wayne State University and Publisher of Marick Press as well as honorary consul of Chile in Michigan where she resides.
Lina Meruane, 48, is one of the most acclaimed contemporary Chilean writers recently winning the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize for her 2012 novel “Sangre en el ojo.” The novel is a loosely autobiographical tale of a young woman — who, like Meruane — deals with blindness and faces her past in Chile after moving to the U.S., with pivotal events happening on September 11th in both nations. She earned her doctorate in Spanish-American literature at New York University where she currently teaches. She is the founder and director of the independent label Brutas Editoras.
María Luisa Bombal
Feminist writer María Luisa Bombal was born in Viña del Mar in 1910 and became an influential figure in the magical realism genre. Her novel “House of Mist” is one of the first magical realism works from South America, it tells the story of a young bride struggling with her marriage and her mysterious lover. The book came after the success of the Spanish version, “La última niebla” published in 1935, which also focuses on a woman’s dissatisfaction with her marriage and with society’s expectations for her as a married woman. A later edition published in 1973 included three short stories exploring similar themes, all originally published 1939–41: “El árbol,” “Islas nuevas,” and “Lo secreto.” In her second novel, “La amortajada“ released in 1938, the deceased protagonist, while watching her own funeral, contemplates her failed love affairs before embracing death a second time. She studied literature and philosophy in Paris and lived in Argentina for a time before returning to Chile where she died in 1980.
Paulina Flores, 30, was born in Santiago and spent her childhood in Conchalí later studying at the University of Chile and teaching at a local high school. She’s most famous for her short story “Qué vergüenza” which won the Roberto Bolaño Prize. Her first collection of stories was published under the same title in 2015 and won the Municipal Literature and Art Critics Circle awards.
Born in Santiago in 1924, Mercedes Valdivieso became famous for her work, “La Brecha.” The novel does away with the notion that a women’s life is tied to a man with the heroine realizing her own happiness and self-worth in the end. Valdivieso co-founded and directed Adan, a men’s magazine, and Breakthrough, a feminist publication in Houston named after her famous book. She taught literature at multiple universities throughout Texas and had a stint teaching at the University of Peking in Beijing. She died at the age of 69 in Chile.
Martina Mercedes Eugenia Barros Borgoño
A forerunner of feminism in Chile, Martina Mercedes Eugenia Barros Borgoño gained fame when she published a translation of “The Subjection of Women” by John Stuart Mill in 1872. The then 22-year-old released it with the title “La esclavitud de la mujer” in the Santiago Journal. She received backlash from fellow women who called her a “dangerous girl” for her support of such radical ideas about a woman’s place at that time. While she did not write extensively, she published her memoir “Recuerdos de mi Vida” in 1942, two years before her death, where she alluded to the importance and value of the liberation of women to aid in the progress of Chile itself.
Poet, artist, activist and filmmaker Cecilia Vicuña, 70, has published 22 art and poetry books with themes on decay, cultural homogenization and eco-feminism. Born and raised in Santiago, she has been in exile since the early 1970s living in London, Colombia and New York City. In 2009 she co-edited the “The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry: 500 years of Latin American Poetry” and released “Selected Poems” last year. She was the Messenger Lecturer 2015 at Cornell University and most recently had an exhibition entitled “Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu,” at the Brooklyn Museum. She now splits her time between Chile and New York.