Latina Reads: 11 Panamanian And Panamanian-American Escritoras You Need To Add To Your Reading List Ahora Mismo

Panama is often associated with the famous canal, but the southernmost country of Central America also has a rich literary history. Though small, Panama is home to fierce women who use their words to share their patriotism, their pain and passions.

The women featured on this list include those who broke barriers and their descendants who continue to showcase the immense talent to come from an underrepresented nation in the literary world.

1. Amelia Denis de Icaza

She may be Panama’s first published woman poet, but what really resonates with readers of Amelia Denis de Icaza’s poetry is her patriotism. The part-Panamanian, part-French writer was born in Panama City in 1836 but lived several years in Nicaragua and Guatemala. When she returned home, the Panama Canal was under U.S. control, causing her much grief. Her most famous poem, “Al Cerro Ancón,” conveyed her sadness over the loss of Ancón Hill, which was used for administration of the canal. A poet of the romantic era, de Icaza’s works showcased her love for her country, social justice and the melancholy that came with the political changes in her homeland. One of the most celebrated Panamanian writers, a bronze statue of de Icaza now sits atop Ancón Hill.

2. Veronica Chambers

Panamanian-born and Brooklyn-living Veronica Chambers’ 1996 memoir, “Mama’s Girl,” received critical acclaim, and she continues to thread her Afro-Latina heritage into her works. A prolific writer, she edited “The Meaning of Michelle,” a collection of essays about former first lady Michelle Obama, co-authored the award-winning memoir “Yes Chef” with chef Marcus Samuelssonand and has written several YA and children’s books with Afro-Latina leads, including “Marisol and Magdalena,” “Quinceañera Means Sweet 15” and “Celia Criz, Queen of Salsa.” Most recently, she released the young adult novel titled “The Go-Between.” An admired author and editor, Chambers is also a 2017 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

3. Gloria Guardia

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Born in Venezuela in 1940 but raised in Panama, Gloria Guardia has received international acclaim for her novels and is one of Panama’s most famous writers. Her famous “Maramargo” trilogy depicts Panama’s political turmoil, including guerilla warfare and dictatorship rule. The books in the saga include “El último juego,” which won the Central American Prize for Novels, followed by “Lobos al anochecer” in 2006 and “El Jardín de las cenizas” in 2011.  Adding to her awards collection are the Ricardo Miró Prizes (novel and essay), Panama’s national literary awards, for her novel “Despertar Sin Raices” along with her essay Orígenes del Modernismo. In 2006, she was elected the vice president of PEN International and president of the PEN International Ibero-American Foundation. She resides in Colombia and Panama.

4. Sigrid Nunez

Sigrid Nunez is a New York-born author of seven published novels, with much of her work focusing on language, memory, identity and class. The German-Chinese-Panamanian writer is behind acclaimed reads like “A Feather on the Breath of God,” “The Last of Her Kind,” “Salvation City” and, most recently, “The Friend.” She also authored “Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag.” Nunez, who previously taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University and the New School, has won several awards, including a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

5. María Olimpia de Obaldía

(Image Credit: Obaldia Mango)

Born in Dolega, a province of Chiriqui, Maria Olimpia de Obaldía is known as “La Alondra Chiricana” for her beloved poetry. She generally wrote about love and motherhood, with her most famous poem being “Ñatore May,” which is about the suffering of the indigenous women of the Ngöbe Buglé people. She published her first poetry collection, “Orquídeas,” in 1926 and became the first female member of the Academia Panameña de la Lengua in 1951.

6. Gwen Ifill

Award-winning journalist Gwen Ifill is most known for her work as a television newscaster, but the late Afro-Latina was an author as well. Born in Queens, New York and of Panamanian and Barbadian descent, she wrote “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which analyzed a historic moment in politics for Black Americans, in 2009. The book, published by Random House, was a New York Times best-seller. Ifill died of breast and endometrial cancer on November 14, 2016 at age 61.

7. Annabel Miguelena

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Author, actress and lawyer Annabel Miguelena is one of Panama’s most promising young writers. The 33-year-old has published three books, including “Punto Final” in 2005, “Pedacito de Luna” in 2009 and “Amo tus pies mugrientos” in 2011. She was also the writer, producer, actress and composer of the 2010 play “Ana Mia,” which dealt with the problems of a young anorexic girl. The play won two Escena Awards in Panama, including best original work written for theater.

8. Linda Martín Alcoff

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Linda Martín Alcoff is a Panamanian-born professor, philosopher and author. Specializing in the areas of epistemology, feminism, race theory and existentialism, the New York-based scholar has authored texts like “Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self,” about the historical formation and political implication of race and gender, and “The Future of Whiteness,” which looks at the impending demographic shifts in the U.S. The part-Panamanian, part-Irish Alcoff is a professor of philosophy at Hunter College, City University of New York and the president of the board of directors of Hypatia, Inc., the nonprofit that owns the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia.

9. Rosa María Britton

Cerramos nuestro especial de #MujeresConVisión con la panameña Rosa Maria Britton. Doctora especialista en obstetricia y oncología y además autora de 15 obras literarias en los géneros de cuento, novela y teatro; Britton es considerada la escritora más internacional del país y ha recibido premios y reconocimientos por su labor literaria. A lo largo de su carrera ocupó el puesto de Directora del Instituto Oncológico Nacional, Vicepresidenta de la Asociación Nacional para el avance de la Ciencia (APANAC), Presidenta de FLACSA (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Cancerología) y Presidenta de la Fundación pro Biblioteca Nacional de Panamá. ¡Panameñas al poder! #FemaleEmpowerment #MujeresConVisión #RosaMaríaBritton #PuroTalentoPanameño #WomanPower #woman #female #mujeres #literatura #book #medicina #panamá #pty #panameñas

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Rosa Maria Britton is a double threat, working as an OB/GYN and writer who has published 15 works. She’s one of the most notable authors from Panama, winning the prestigious Ricardo Miró Prize six times. Her debut novel, “Ataúd de Uso,” was published in 1981, and it centers on her own family history in honor of her mother. Her latest, “The New Panama Canal: A Journey Between Two Oceans,” is a collaborative effort with photographer Edoardo Montaina about the construction of the canal.

10. Cristina Henríquez

Mailing our sincerest thanks to author Cristina Henriquez for sharing literary wisdom and encouragement with the authors of our 2017 Young Authors Book Project, which unites @amundsen_hs in Andersonville and Emiliano Zapata Academy in Little Village through handwritten correspondence. . We’re releasing these letters in a beautifully-bound book at @printersrowfest and a special release party at @ovationchicago in June, so stay tuned >> #sincerely826chi . . . . . . . . #cristinahenriquez #cristinahenríquez #bookofunknownamericans #thebookofunknownamericans #chicagopublicschools #chicago #volunteer #volunteering #nonprofit #publishing #creativewriting #getinvolved #giveback #makeadifference #fieldtrips #literacy #studentauthor #chicagopublicschools #correspondence #writemoreletters #letterwriting #feedyourmailbox #nationalletterwritingmonth #littlevillagechicago #andersonvillechicago #prlf17 #publishingfest #psbook

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Born in Delaware, Cristina Henríquez grew up spending summers in Panama, where her father is from. There, she picked up a language, culture and warmth that would set the tone for her future writing. Henríquez, 40, published her debut novel, “The World in Half,” in 2009, which is about a young woman living in Chicago who goes to Panama to find her family ties. Her latest novel, “The Book of Unknown Americans,” follows the stories of various Latinos immigrating to the U.S. intertwined with the love and tribulations of Panamanian Mayor Toro and Mexican Maribel. Most recently she published a short story in the New Yorker called “Everything is Far from Here.” The Chicago-based writer, who has published stories in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar and more, is also a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.

11. Stella Sierra

(Image Credit: Panama Poesia)

Born in Aguadulce, Panama in 1917, Stella Sierra’s works center on love, whether it be for nature, relationships or life itself. Her 1942 debut, “Sinfonía jubilosa en doce sonetos,” and the one that followed, “Canciones de mar y luna,” cemented her place as one of the most talented poets in Panama. She went on to release six more collections of poetry while teaching at various schools, eventually becoming deputy director of the Education Ministry’s Department of Culture from 1946 to 1951. Her first book won first place in the Ricardo Miró competition, and she frequently judged submissions from 1951 to 1980.

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