“I don’t have children, but I have a family of notebooks,” renowned Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral once told her longtime colleague Doris Dana. This was in the late 1940s when Mistral, already in her 60s, had built up an extensive catalogue publishing several volumes of poetry to widespread international acclaim. Mistral’s literary family continued to grow for several years until, at the time of her death in 1957, the celebrated Chilean poet left behind thousands of pages of work, the majority of which had never been published.
For around 50 years this rich catalogue of literature remained out of the public domain until Dana’s niece Doris Atkinson donated the collection of 18,000 documents to Chile’s National Library in 2007. Since then the collection — which is also available in digital form online — has led to several publications of Mistral’s work.
The latest book drawn from this recently rediscovered collection, Caminando se siembra, Walking sows life, is an anthology of five hundred of pages of previously unpublished prose compiled by researcher Luis Vargas. In the prologue Vargas says through this publication’s engagement with the Chilean author’s original notebooks we gain further insight into her creative process: Mistral wrote relentlessly, always by hand, sometimes not even finishing words as if driven by surges of inspiration.
Although born Lucila Godoy, Mistral was best known by the pseudonym she later adopted throughout a long and varied career working as a diplomat and an educator as well as a writer. Perhaps her greatest achievement was receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, becoming the first Latin American woman to receive the honor.
Mistral forms part of a long-running and prestigious history of poetry in Chile including fellow Nobel Prize for Literature winner Pablo Neruda and contemporary “anti-poet” Nicanor Parra.