A school teacher, diplomat and poet, Lucila Godoy Alcayaga was born on 7 April 1889 in the city of Vicuña, in the Elqui Valley, one of the areas of northern Chile that is currently home to some of the world’s most modern telescopic observatories.
Partly inspired by her father Juan Jerome and her sister Emelina her literary inclination was evident from a young age, when she collaborated in the local press. Her teaching inclination was also evident in her work as a self-taught primary teacher, a career that she later studied and graduated in Santiago.
In 1913, Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío agreed to publish her creations in a magazine he issued in Paris. After winning an important contest in Chile with Sonetos de la Muerte, she finally adopted the pseudonym taken from her favorite poets: the Italian Gabriele D’Annunzio and French Frédéric Mistral.
Without abandoning her literary creation, Gabriela Mistral directed high schools in the cities of Punta Arenas, where she instituted, among other things, night school for adults, and Temuco, where she met a then young Naphtali Reyes Basoalto, who would later be acclaimed as Pablo Neruda.
While working in Mexico on the improvement of the educational system with philosopher José Vasconcelos, her book Desolación (Desolation) (1924) was edited by the Instituto de las Españas de Nueva York; and two years later her second collection of poems called Ternura (Tenderness), was released. She also made countless journeys around the United States, Europe and Latin America delivering conferences.
She was named in 1926 Adviser to the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation and settled in France, where she met intellectuals such as Paul Rivet and Miguel de Unamuno. It would be the first of many positions outside her country before being invested with a life-long consular position in 1935 by the Chilean authorities.
Mistral became the first writer in Latin America to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945, which would be followed by tributes around the world. Affected by diabetes and pancreatic cancer, she died in the United States in 1957, leaving her work Poema de Chile (Poem of Chile) practically ready for publication and a good part of her inheritance was donated to her nation’s most disadvantaged children.