Latina Reads: 13 Guatemalan And Guatemalan-American Women Authors To Make Room For On Your Bookshelves

Known as the “birthplace of chocolate,” Guatemala is home to natural beauty and a rich Mayan history that’s influenced some of the country’s most prominent writers, many of them women

This rich history coupled with political turmoil, like the Central American country’s civil war that spanned 30 years, inspired the work of early women writers and their progeny in Guatemala and the United States today.

1. Isabel de los Ángeles Ruano

Isabel de los Ángeles Ruano is a 73-year-old poet who has released six collections of poetry. Her most famous poem is dedicated to Spanish writer Luis Cernuda, who was exiled during Spain’s civil war and was open about his homosexuality despite the controversy. She published her first book “Cariátides” in 1966 and went on to receive the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature. Later in life, she began to suffer from mental health issues and has been rumored of selling her verses in the streets of Guatemala City wearing a suit and tie.

2. Ana María Rodas

(Photo Credit: Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Guatemala)

Known as the “Mother of Guatemalan Feminist Poetry,” Ana María Rodas’ poetry centers on the pain and loss of war and also includes erotic content. Rodas, 80, published her first book of poems in 1973, and in 2000 she was awarded the Guatemala National Prize in Literature. The Guatemala City-born writer, who has also had a career as a journalist, is considered one of the most prolific Guatemalan writers and became the Minister of Culture in 2015.

3. Aída Toledo

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One of Central America’s most significant writers, Aída Toledo’s work exhibits sensuality and feminism with philosophical undertones. Born in 1952 in Guatemala City, she studied literature at San Carlos University and Latin American literature and culture at Pittsburgh University. At 66, she has published six poetry books and a short story collection titled “Pezóculos,” which follows the stories of different women and the societal pressures they endure. An author and educator, she has taught at the University of Alabama, the University of Toulouse II – Le Mirail, the University of Arizona and Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala.

4. Carol Zardetto

 

(Photo Credit: Prensa)

Carol Zardetto is a versatile writer who has written scripts and novels mainly about life in Guatemala and her own experiences. Her first novel, Con Pasión Absoluta,” includes multi-generational female narratives throughout Guatemala’s political history. In 2014, it won the Monteforte Toledo prize. In 2011, Zardetto created a libretto for the Guatemalan opera Tatuana. The multi-talented writer also works as a lawyer and was vice-minister of Education and Consul General for Guatemala in Vancouver, Canada.

5. Elisa Hall de Asturias

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Elisa Hall de Asturias, born in 1900, is one of Guatemala’s most famous writers and also one of its most controversial following the publication of her 1938 book, “Semilla de Mostaza.” The book is the story of 17th century knight Don Sancho Álvarez de Asturias as he explored Spain and the then-Kingdom of Guatemala and was written with Old Spanish to maintain some authenticity to the period. The book received a lot of acclaim, but anti-feminist sentiments led many to deny it had been written by a woman. In response to the backlash, she released a second volume titled “Mostaza” in 1939, and she later compiled her sources in 1981 to provide further proof to the naysayers. She died the following year.

6. Luz Méndez de la Vega

Born in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, Luz Méndez de la Vega was a famed feminist writer, journalist, poet, academic and actress.  In 1994, she won the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Literature Prize, Guatemala’s most prestigious prize for literature, and a decade later took home the Chilean Pablo Neruda Medal, among several other literary awards.  In “Las voces silenciadas,” she wrote about how the violence, terror, injustice and misery of the war devastated women’s lives and how patriarchy enforced silence and repressed Guatemalan women and their concepts of identity and image. Her 2002 work, “Mujer, desnudez y palabras,” was considered so important that a documentary of the same name was released at the 7th National Congress of Writers in Guatemala in 2006.

7. Magdalena Spínola

(Photo Credit: Prensa Libre)

Born in 1896 and orphaned at a young age, Magdalena Spínola grew up next to one of Guatemala’s most celebrated authors, the Nobel Prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias, and similarly pursued a career in writing. She was an ardent feminist, outspoken about several political issues, and was a trailblazer in the field of erotic poetry in Central America. She performed her pieces and often published them in the leading women’s magazine of the era, Nosotras. Her first book, “Gabriela Mistral: huésped de honor de su patria,” was a biography released in 1968 on Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature, which included a preface by her childhood friend Asturias.

8. Claudia D. Hernández

(Photo Credit: Nacor Rios)

Claudia D. Hernández was born and raised in Guatemala, though she currently works as a photographer, poet, translator and bilingual educator in Los Angeles. She is the founder of the ongoing project Today’s Revolutionary Women of Color, which highlights resilient women. Her first book, “Knitting the Fog,” is set to be released in 2019 by the Feminist Press. In the book, she shares the story of her family’s migration from her homeland to the U.S. through poetry and narrative essays. She was the recipient of the 2018 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize awarded by the Feminist Press. Hernández is the editor of the photography  anthology “Women, Mujeres, Ixoq: Revolutionary Visions,” which published this year.

9. Carmen Matute

Born in Guatemala City, Carmen Matute is the author of eight poetry collections, many of them written through a feminist perspective. She is the author of  “El Cristo del Secuestro” with Elizabeth Andrade and received the 2015 Miguel Ángel Asturias National Literature Prize. Her poetry has been translated into English, French, Swedish and Italian, and her work has appeared in anthologies published in England, Spain, France, Italy, United States, Sweden, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

10. Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Mayan k’iche’ activist born in 1959 in Chimel, a small Mayan community in the highlands of Guatemala. Rigoberta spoke publicly about the plight of the Mayan people in Guatemala while in exile. In 1983, she published “I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala” and catapulted the civil war into global headlines. In 1992,  She received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.

11. Melissa Lozada-Oliva

Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a poeta whose work centers on feminism, body image and Latinidad with passion, raw honesty and her characteristic humor. Her spoken word poem “Like Totally Whatever” challenged the policing of women’s language by men, while “My Spanish,” which focuses on the struggles faced by Latinos who  don’t speak fluent Spanish, went viral. She is the author of chapbooks “Plastic Pajaros,” “Rude Girl is Lonely Girl!” and “Peluda,” which was published last year. The Guatemalan-Colombian is an MFA candidate at New York University’s creative writing program for poetry. She was also featured on our list of Colombian authors.

12. Denise Phé-Funchal

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Denise Phé-Funchal is a writer and sociologist who is currently a professor at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala where she teaches courses in composition and European literature. She is the author of the novel “Las Flores,” the poetry collection “Manual del Mundo Paraíso” and the short story collection “Buenas Costumbres.” She writes about intra-family issues and social violence, and, in “Ana Smiles,” she explores how the lives of three sisters drastically change over the course of 12 hours.

13. Ilka Oliva Corado

Ilka Oliva Corado studied psychology at the University of San Carlos de Guatemala and immigrated to the U.S. in 2003. She is the author of 12 books, including Historia de una indocumentada travesia en el desierto de Sonora-Arizona,” which was inspired by her own experiences. She currently contributes to her daily blog, Crónicas de una inquilina.

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