Latina Reads: 12 Puerto Rican Writers Whose Books You Need To Add To Your Reading List

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With 270 miles of beaches, Puerto Rico is without a doubt la isla bonita with as much beauty as it has talented writers. Its complicated history as a U.S. territory is an inspiration for many of the women on this list. Some of these escritoras are part of the Nuyorican literary movement while others are pioneers who helped pave the way for contemporary Puertoriqueñas and Boricuas to dominate in both the Island and the States.

Esmeralda Santiago

Esmeralda Santiago is one of the most prominent Puerto Rican authors in the U.S. who is best known for her memoir “When I was Puerto Rican”. She’s also published a second memoir “Almost a Woman” and a novel “America’s Dream” with themes including self-discovery, immigration, working-class immigrant experience, and biculturalism.  Her assimilation into American culture without losing her Puerto Rican identify is a source of inspiration for her readers as well as a running theme in her works.

Julia de Burgos

Considered one of Puerto Rico’s literary luminaries and pioneers of the Nuyorican movement, poet Julia de Burgos established herself with her poems on feminism and social justice. Though she lived a short life – she died at the age of 39- she’s known for her activism championing Puerto Rican nationalism and identity through her writing. She self-published her first collection of poetry, “Poema en veinte surcos” (“Poem in Twenty Furrows”) in 1938, when she was 24 and went on to write two more collections of poetry in addition to  “El mar y tú: otros poemas” published posthumously in 1954.

Ivelisse Rodriguez

Ivelisse Rodriguez’s debut collection of short stories, “Love War Stories,” follows generations of Puerto Rican women pursuing love. Born in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez founded The Contemporary Puerto Rican Literature Project and is currently a writer for the Feminist Press while working on her next novel, “The Last Salsa Singer,” about ‘70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico.

Gabby Rivera

Editor, writer and activist Gabby Rivera made history as the first queer Latina writer for Marvel Comics.  She’s contributed to the comic series for Marvel’s first queer Latinx superheroine, America Chavez. Her young adult novel “Juliet Takes a Breath” won the 2017 Silver IPPY Award for Best LGBTQ Fiction and she’s currently an editor at Autostraddle, an online magazine for, about and written by LGBTQIA+ women.

Iris Morales

Iris Morales is best known for her activism specifically through her work with the Young Lords, a social justice Puerto Rican organization in the U.S. She also helped to create an organization and newsletter called la Luchadora that advocates feminist concerns of Puerto Rican women. Morales told the story of the Young Lords history in her 1996 documentary, ¡Palante Siempre Palante! Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords, 1969-1976.  One-third of the Young Lords were women and Morales was the first female member who published a book of the same name in 2016 recounting the rise of Young Lords and women’s roles in the group.

Giannina Braschi

Born in San Juan in 1953 and based in New York, Giannina Braschi is a poet, essayist, and novelist. Braschi is part of the Nuyorican poetry scene starting in the 1980s with her spoken word performances and eventually publishing several poetry collections including “Asalto al tiempo” and “El imperio de los sueños”. According to her website, she “dedicates her life’s work to inspiring personal and political liberation.”

Aurora Levins Morales

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Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet Aurora Levins Morales is known for her works on identity, feminism and homeopathic activism.  Her acclaimed book, “Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriqueñas” published in 1998,  centers on medical folklore and curanderismo and curanderas erased from history. Her other books include “Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios” and her upcoming “Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals” inspired by her own struggles with chronic illnesses.  “Because I have very little physical energy and a lot to contribute, I look for the one or two most potent molecules of what I’m thinking about, the particles that could help wake up our individual and collective immune systems. Then I potentize them through art, through metaphor, through storytelling, through posing questions and suggesting possibilities,” she said on her website.

Rosario Morales

Author and feminist poet Rosario Morales is best known for her book “Getting Home Alive” co-written with her daughter Aurora Levins Morales in 1986. The collection of essays focuses on identity specifically growing up Jewish in a Catholic society and their love for Puerto Rico in poems like “Happiness is a Coqui”. In her poem “I am What I am” she states: “I am Puerto Rican I am U.S. American… I am Boricua as Boricuas come… I am naturalized Jewish American… I am what I am. Take it or leave me alone.”

Mayra Santos Febres

CREDIT: Mayra Santos Febres/ Facebook

Multi-award winning writer Mayra Santos-Febres, 52,  is one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated authors. Her acclaimed 2000 debut novel “Sirena Selena Vestida de Pena” is about the world of drag queens in the Caribbean, later translated to English and published as “Sirena Selena.” Her ability to adeptly take on complex subjects is also evident in “Pez de Vidrio,” a collection of short stories exploring relationships involving race, sex, policial and social status in the Caribbean, which won the 1994 Letras de Oro literary prize. Even more, she founded the “Festival de la Palabra” with the goal being the “Internationalization of Puerto Rico and to promote reading and a better understanding of ourselves through literature.” Her more recent works include “La amante de Gardel” and “Nuestra Señora de la Noche” about Puerto Rican women in the context of power and sensuality.

Arlene Dávila

Arlene Dávila is a professor at New York University who has published five books focusing on cultural politics in Puerto Rico and the public images of Latinos among other topics. Her 2008 book “Latino Spin” provides arguments against the negative depictions of Latino immigrants and the concept that they don’t contribute to society. In 2010 it was selected as the best book in Latino Studies by the Latin American Studies Association. In “Barrio Dreams” she writes about the Puerto Rican experience in New York specifically regarding race and social status.  

Marta Moreno Vega

Marta Moreno Vega was born in East Harlem in 1952 and is a prominent Afro-Latina activist and artist. Her 2001 book “The Altar of My Soul” about her journey to becoming a Yoruba priestess in the Santería religion. She also directed and co-produced the documentary When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio and wrote a memoir of the same name.  Moreover, she’s also the founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and chief editor of Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora.

Aya De Leon

Acclaimed author and poet Aya de Leon is known for her feminist heist book series “Justice Hustler” that features diverse women of color. The series includes “Uptown Thief”, “The Boss” and “The Accidental Mistress” which came out earlier this year. The first book in the series won first place in both the Independent Publisher Awards and the International Latino Book Awards. She is the Director of June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, teaching poetry and spoken word at UC Berkeley.

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Read: Latina Reads: Nicaraguan Escritoras Whose Works You Won’t Be Able To Put Down

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