Puerto Rican Literature


The first three centuries after Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus were empty of literary expression. The low level of population and the degree of abandonment by Spain created an dry desert in terms of our literature. The only writings that came out of the island were those of the Spanish cronists like Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Fray Tomás de la Torre, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, and others. These writings, however, were mainly done for the purpose of keeping the Spanish king aware of what was happening in his colonies.
There was, however, oral manifestations of literature in the way of popular coplas and decimas, yet it was not until the XIX century that written literary production began in Puerto Rico. The first book to be published was Ocios de la Juventud by the Spanish poet Juan Rodríguez Calderón in 1806 and, slowly but surely, with the growth of the population came the need for its own literary expression.
In 1849, Manuel Alonso Pacheco, publishes the cornerstone of Puerto Rican literature, El Gibaro, a book part prose and part poetry . However, the first author to achieve literary prominence was Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (1826-1882), mainly a playright. His plays include Roberto D'Evreaux (written when he was 21 years old), Bernardo de Palissy, La Cuarterona, Camoens and others.
The first poet of prominence was José Gautier Benítez (1851-1880), who was probably the most complete romantic poet of Puerto Rican literature. His love of country and romantic love were the favorite themes throughout his work. Another of the poets of this era, although not a romantic, was José Gualberto Padilla, also known as "El Caribe".
Other literary figures of the nineteenth century were Pachín Marín, Lola Rodríguez de Tió, José de Jesús Domínguez, and Ramón Emeterio Betances, a revolutionary and fighter for the independence of Puerto Rico from Spain. Salvador Brau (1842 1912), was a historian, sociologist, poet, novelist, playwright, newspaperman and politician and one of the main figures of the XIX century. It is with Eugenio Maria de Hostos, however, that political and philosophical thought reached its zenith in the XIX century in Puerto Rico. He was a man of the Antilles, an educator and writer that influenced not only the politics and culture of Puerto Rico, but is still revered throughout Latin America all the way to Chile. His greatest work was Peregrinación de Bayoán.
The next period was the generation of '98, who flourished during and after the change of rule from the Spanish to the American. Many of the writers and poets of this and other periods were also the political and cultural leaders. Men like José de Diego, Luís Muñoz Rivera, Luis Bonafoux and others. Probably the greatest name of this period was Manuel Zeno Gandía, Puerto Rico's greatest novelist. His works include La Charca, Garduña, El Negocio, and Redentores. Other names of the period include Federico Degetau, Cayetano Coll y Toste, whose work on the Puerto Rican leyends and traditions are on sale just about anyplace a tourist might enter.

The years following the invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 were very rich in literary output. Many poets were produced of the modernist school in the way of Ruben Darío, the Nicaraguan poet who started the modernist movement in the Spanish language, being this the first time that an ex-colony of Spain took the leadership away from Spanish literature. Puerto Rico produced poets like Virgilio Davila, Luís Llorens Torres, Luís Palés Matos, and essayists like Nemesio Canales. Puerto Rico felt and was influenced by all the isms, such as Noism or transcendentalism, and the flow of literary production continued.

We have in the modern period many cherished authors, such as Julia de Burgos. We have produced thinkers such as José Luís González, archeologists of renown such as Ricardo Alegria. Men like Luíz Muñoz Marín who aside from being the father of modern Puerto Rican politics was also a poet of some quality. Other poets such as José Antonio Davila and the best poet of his generation Juan Antonio Corretjer.

We can't end without mentioning Antonio S. Pedreira and his monumental (in thought but not in size) work Insularismo. This essay, although written in the 30's, is so profound in its analysis, that it can be applied to the modern Puerto Rican society in its entirety.

Most of the authors here are poets, and that is for two reasons. First, Puerto Rico has produced more poets than writers of other genre. Secondly, it's my limitation of space. There are many others that can be added easily to this small list, many that have given a lot of joy to the reader.