The Best Latin American Writers of the 20th Century

By | 12 February, 2019

The 20th century is widely considered as one of the most important eras in world literature—a time when age-old conventions in literature were giving way to new approaches to writing. It is no wonder, therefore, that the 20th century literature also saw the flowering of Latin American literature. During this time, Latin America produced some of the greatest authors of all time whose contributions to world literature remain significant to this day. In this list, we look at some of the best Latin American writers of the 20th century.

1. Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957)

Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, Mistral was a Chilean poet, educator, social activist, and diplomat. Celebrated for the depth and intensity of its emotions, her poetry explored diverse themes including Latin American identity, nature, loss and grief, motherhood, and love. Although her education ended when she was 12 years old, Mistral became a life-long educator and social activist who advocated greater access to education for all classes. She also served as a diplomat for many years. A prolific writer, some of her best-known works are Sonetos de la Muerte and Tala. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

2. César Vallejo (1892-1938)

As a Peruvian poet, playwright, journalist, and novelist, Vallejo is best remembered today for the three books of poetry he published: Los Heraldos Negros, Trilce, and Poemas Humanos. In these works, Vallejo offered poems that were fresh, daring, modern, and ultimately revolutionary. They showcased the abilities of an enormously talented writer whose style was often ahead of its time. Today, Vallejo is often considered as one of the greatest poets of the modern era.

3. Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Born to an educated family, Borges was an Argentinian essayist, poet, translator, and short story writer. During his decades-long career, Borges wrote short stories that often involved philosophical and fantastical concepts and themes including dreams, mirrors, infinity, labyrinths, and mythology among others. Hailed for the intelligence and imaginativeness of his works, Borges is credited as a forerunner of magical realism, a genre that weaves magical elements into a realistic depiction of the world. Some of his works include Ficciones, El Aleph, and Labyrinths. Borges eventually influenced many significant Latin American writers who took up and further developed magical realism as a distinct feature of Latin American literature.

4. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto, Neruda was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician. Neruda is renowned today for his poetry, which is extraordinary for its sensuality and passion. Some of his works are Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Canto General, and 100 Sonnets of Love. But beyond his literary works, Neruda was also a politician and diplomat who served Chile through various capacities, most notably as a consul and as advisor to Chilean President Salvador Allende. Often considered the greatest poet of the twentieth century, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

5. Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Affectionately called Gabo, Marquez was a Colombian novelist, short story writer, and journalist. Known for writing magical realism, his works are a rich tapestry that blend together Latin American history, fantasy and the supernatural, and themes of love, family, and solitude. His most famous works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, are widely regarded as among the best Latin American novels.

6. Mario Vargas Llosa (b. 1936)

As a Peruvian writer, novelist, politician, journalist, and essayist, Llosa has had a significant impact on literature and society. His works, which derive both from the realities of Peruvian life and his own experiences, often tackle themes relating to politics and societal issues. Among his best known works are The Time of the Hero, The Green House, and Conversation in the Cathedral. Llosa received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

7. Isabel Allende (b. 1942)

Born in Peru, Chilean writer Allende is certainly among the most famous Latin American authors today and has found critical and commercial success for her novels. Allende’s most famous work is The House of the Spirits, which chronicles the life of a family set against the tumultuous backdrop of Latin American politics. Although often compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez because of her magical realist works, what sets Allende apart is her distinctly feminist voice, which is conveyed through the strength, tenacity, wisdom, compassion, and sensitivity of her female protagonists.

Conclusion

There certainly is no shortage of famous Latin American authors. With the diversity of their styles, themes, and contents, these writers have gifted the world a rich collection of works that reveals much about Latin America’s identity, heritage, and struggles. Indeed, their importance is mirrored by the extent to which their works are consumed and studied by a massive readership, from high school students to term paper service companies. But more than this, the works of the best Latin American writers of the 20th century also serve as a reflection of society in general.


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