Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral
(1889 - 1957)

Chilean poet, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1945).
Of Spanish, Basque, and Indian descent, Mistral grew up in a village of northern Chile and became a schoolteacher at 15, advancing later to the rank of college professor. Throughout her life she combined writing with a career as an educator, cultural minister, and diplomat; her diplomatic assignments included posts in Madrid, Lisbon, Genoa, and Nice.

Her reputation as a poet was established in 1914 when she won a Chilean prize for three "Sonetos de la muerte" ("Sonnets of Death"). They were signed with the name by which she has since been known, which she coined from those of two of her favourite poets, Gabriele D'Annunzio and Frederic Mistral. A collection of her early works, Desolacion (1922; "Desolation"), includes the poem "Dolor," detailing the aftermath of a love affair that was ended by the suicide of her lover. Because of this tragedy she never married, and a haunting, wistful strain of thwarted maternal tenderness informs her work. Ternura (1924, enlarged 1945; "Tenderness"), Tala (1938; "Destruction"), and Lagar (1954; "The Wine Press") evidence a broader interest in humanity, but love of children and of the downtrodden remained her principal themes.

Mistral's extraordinarily passionate verse, which is frequently coloured by figures and words peculiarly her own, is marked by warmth of feeling and emotional power. A selection translated into English by Langston Hughes was published in 1957 and another selection by Doris Dana in 1971.

Mistral's life and work are discussed in Margot Arce de Vazquez, Gabriela Mistral: The Poet and Her Work (1964; originally published in Spanish, 1958); and Marie-Lise Gazarian-Gautier, Gabriela Mistral: The Teacher From the Valley of Elqui (1975; originally published in Spanish, 1973).

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