Miguel Angel Asturias

Miguel Angel Asturias
(1899 - 1974)

Guatemalan poet, novelist, and diplomat, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967 and the Soviet Union's Lenin Peace Prize in 1966. His writings, which combine the mysticism of the Maya with an epic impulse toward social protest, are seen as summing up the social and moral aspirations of his people.
In 1923, after receiving his degree in law from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, Asturias settled in Paris, where he studied ethnology at the Sorbonne and became a militant Surrealist under the influence of the French poet and literary theorist Andre Breton. His first major work, Leyendas de Guatemala (1930; "Legends of Guatemala"), describing the life and culture of the Maya before the arrival of the Spanish, brought him critical acclaim in France as well as at home.

On his return to Guatemala, Asturias founded and edited El diario del aire, a radio magazine. During these years he published several volumes of poetry, beginning with Sonetos (1936; "Sonnets"). In 1946 he embarked upon a diplomatic career, continuing to write while serving in several countries in Central and South America.

It was during this period that Asturias' talent and influence as a novelist emerged, beginning with El senor presidente (1946; The President), an impassioned denunciation of the Guatemalan dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera. In Hombres de maiz (1949; Men of Maize), the novel generally considered his masterpiece, Asturias depicts the seemingly irreversible wretchedness of the Indian peasant. Another aspect of that misery--the exploitation of Indians on the banana plantations--appears in the epic trilogy comprised of the novels Viento fuerte (1950; The Cyclone), El papa verde (1954; The Green Pope), and Los ojos de los enterrados (1960; The Eyes of the Interred). From 1966 to 1970 Asturias served as Guatemalan ambassador in Paris, where he took up permanent residence.

Asturias' writings are collected in Obras Completas, 3 vol. in various ed. (1967). Richard J. Callan, Miguel Angel Asturias (1970), introduces Asturias's life and works.


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