Claribel Alegría 1924–
Nicaraguan-born Salvadoran poet, novelist, short fiction writer, biographer, essayist, editor, nonfiction writer, translator, and author of children's books.
Alegría is best known for writings in which she depicts the concerns, histories, and traditions of the peoples of Nicaragua and El Salvador. Mixing geographical, historical, political, and cultural references in her poetry and prose, Alegría attempts to create a literature of social and political awareness from a Latin American perspective.
Born in Estelí, Nicaragua, in 1924, Alegría lived there until she was nine months old. Due to her father's support of Nicaraguan guerrilla leader Augusto César Sandino, Alegría's family was forced into exile by Anastasio Somoza, a Nicaraguan politician who later became commander-in-chief of the Nicaraguan army and eventually the nation's president. The family settled in Santa Ana, a small town in El Salvador that became the setting for much of Alegría's writing. In 1943 she traveled to the United States to study at George Washington University. While in America, Alegría married Darwin J. Flakoll, who became her frequent collaborator and later translated many of her works into English. Beginning with the 1948 publication of her first volume of poetry, Anillo de silencio, Alegría produced diverse works of poetry, fiction, biography, and history, yet her work remained untranslated until 1978, when she was awarded the Casa de las Americas poetry prize for Sobrevivo. She returned to Nicaragua for the first time in 1979 after the Sandinista Front for National Liberation overthrew the Somoza government. She continues to comment on Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran politics as well as write collections of poetry and nonfiction work. She has resided in recent years in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mallorca, Spain.
Alegría's stated aim as a writer is to illuminate the political situation in Central America. War and its consequences are an integral feature of her poetry. In "Estelí," a poem appearing in Sobrevivo, Alegría addresses the effects of civil war on El Salvador, focusing on the image of the river that runs through the small town of her birth: "your channel has been filled. / With mud and blood / it has been filled / with empty cartridges / with shirts / pants / and corpses / sticking like algae / to the rocks." Latin American history also pervades her writings. In the bilingual poetry collection Flores del Volcán / Flowers from the Volcano, Alegría uses powerful imagery and language to dramatize the imperialistic forces that have exploited Latin America for centuries. A provocative mix of verse and narrative, Luisa in Realityland is considered a prime example of magic realism and one of Alegría's best known works. As the document of a young girl's upbringing in a family of "fabulous liars" who are able to convince themselves and others of the validity of their invented stories, Luisa juxtaposes personal perspectives and historical events. The work collapses the distinction between inner and outer worlds, emphasizing the importance of spiritual growth in the context of political struggle.
Throughout her poetry, Alegría emphasizes the value of individual experience, and the memory of that experience, in the face of political turmoil, military campaigns, and civilian massacres. It is this focus on her own experience that makes her poetry at once so intimate and so universal. Critics frequently talk about Alegría "bearing witness" or "offering her testimonial" to events in Central America. Recent critics note her deft treatment of feminist issues such as collectivity and continuity. Because of her interest in political issues, some commentators have asserted that she has neglected aesthetics aspects of her verse. However, recent critics, most notably the commentator Jo Anne Engelbert, reconcile this question by placing Alegría's poems in the European tradition of elegy—poetry that affirms the value of life in the face of death.