Gonzalo Rojas, poet of the south
One of the best-known figures in modern Spanish-language literature, Rojas, who died in April 2011, played a key role in the Chilean surrealistic vanguard.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
The news of the Chilean poet’s death drew reactions from across the literary world in Latin America as well as foreign media.
Gonzalo Rojas is one of the pillars of modern Latin American poetry, singled out by Mexican literary luminary and close friend Octavio Paz as the most important contemporary poet in the Spanish language.
In the course of his career, Rojas was recognized with the Reina Sofia Prize in Ibero-American poetry in 1992, the Chilean National Literature Prize in the same year, and the Cervantes Prize in 2003, among others.
His verses, “full of eroticism and mortality,” according to the Washington Post, captivated readers around the world:
What do we love when we love, my God: the terrible light of life or the light of death?
What do we look for, what do we find, what is this: love?
Rojas was born in 1917 in the city of Lebu, a small coastal city in southern Chile. Despite his many years abroad, Rojas and his verses forever bore the mark of his motherland’s relentless rain and cold.
Son of a coal worker, he was first educated in the nearest major city, Concepción, where he overcame his stutter, and later in the far desert north, in the port city of Iquique.
He moved to Santiago to pursue his university degree in law and pedagogy where he joined the vanguard of Chilean surrealist literature. He formed part of the “Generation of 38,” along with Eduardo Anguita, Francisco Coloane, Colodia Teitelboim and other writers of the period. In 1948 he published his first book, The Misery of Man, one of his best-known works to this day.
During the ‘60s and ‘70s he became active in the Chilean political left and was named Ambassador to Cuba under the government of former president Salvador Allende, but following the 1973 military coup he was forced into exile, initially in West Germany and afterward in Venezuela. He spent many years on university faculties in the United States and Europe. In 1979 Rojas won a Guggenheim Grant and returned to Chile, where he settled in the city of Chillán.
His global reputation grew throughout this period. In 1977 he published Dark, which had a major impact in Latin America. He followed this with Transtierro in 1979, Brief Anthology and 50 Poems in 1980, From the Lightning in 1981 and The Lighting in 1986 amongst others.
Rojas died at dawn on April 25, 2011 due to complications from a cerebro-vascular incident that had placed him in critical condition several weeks earlier. The news of the Chilean poet’s death drew reactions from across the literary world in Latin America as well as foreign media.
In order to preserve Rojas’ legacy, his family has spoken publicly about the possibility of transforming the poet’s house in Chillán into a museum in his memory. The house already contains a priceless collection of poems, books, letters, photos and more than 100 paintings, mostly by his close friend, renowned Chilean visual artist Roberto Matta.