As part of Women’s History Month and World Poetry Day, we highlight five of Chile’s leading lights who are upholding our country’s good name. We spoke with some of them about the collective spirit and other characteristics that unite our nation’s female poets.
However, before continuing with the list, it is important to get to know the current scene in which the female literary world finds itself. Although exponents such as Marta Brunet and María Luisa Bombal are no longer with us, the following generations maintain a connection to their texts, as highlighted by the Pablo Neruda Prize-winning writer, Rosabetty Muñoz. “The thing about the women who are writing today, from my experience, is their solidarity and collective spirit. A certain way of working, from not receiving the recognition that is due to each of their works; so, the ties of sisterhood between us are reinforced,” the poet explains.
The Chilean writer Soledad Fariña also views the “excellent” literary scene with optimism, noting that today there are “many women writing, publishing, being translated and winning prizes here and abroad.” She states that the union that exists between women in literature “was born with the intention of supporting each other, to be read while on a difficult journey, with attacks on our work by academics, critics and male authors.” The J.S. Guggenheim Scholarship-holder continues, “we, the older ones, the ones from the congress (Latin American Women’s Literature Congress 1987) who came out supporting each other, are always supporting and admiring what comes next, the expansion of these writers towards novel themes and forms.”
Below is a list of five Chilean female poets who have earned worldwide recognition.
Rosabetty Muñoz was born in Ancud, Chiloé in 1960. Since graduating as a Spanish teacher, she has taught in different educational establishments in Chiloé, and has actively participated in the cultural development of southern Chile. She has published Canto de una Oveja del Rebaño (Song of a Sheep from the Flock), Ediciones Ariel, Santiago (1981); En Lugar de Morir (Instead of Dying), Editorial Cambio (1987); Hijos (Children), Ediciones El Kultrún, Valdivia (1991); Baile de Señoritas (Ladies’ Dance), El Kultrún (1994); La Santa, Historia de su Elevación (The Saint, Story of her Elevation), LOM Ediciones (1998); Sombras en el Rosselot (Shadows in the Rosselot), LOM Ediciones (2002); Ratada (Outbreak of Rats), LOM Ediciones (2005); En Nombre de Ninguna (On Behalf of No One), Ediciones El Kultrún, Valdivia (2008); Hijos (Children), Ofqui Editores (2016); Ligia, LOM Ediciones (2019); Técnicas para Cegar a los Peces (Techniques for Blinding Fish), Ediciones UV (2019); Misión Circular (Circular Mission), LUMEN (2020); Santo Oficio (Holy Office), UDP Ediciones (2020); La Voz de la Casa (The Voice of the House), Ediciones Universidad Católica del Maule, open access (2021); La Voz de la Casa (The Voice of the House), Ediciones Universidad Católica del Maule, print edition (2022).
She has received various awards for her work, including the Pablo Neruda Award for her body of work (2000); the Fundación Andes Scholarship (2000); the National Book Council Award for Sombras en el Rosselot, as best unpublished work (2002); the Regional Art and Culture Award (2012); the 2013 Altazor Award for Polvo de Huesos (Bone Powder); Member of the Chilean Academy of Language (2014); the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded by young poets and Fundación Neruda; the Manuel Montt Award from the Universidad de Chile for Ratada (2018); Candidate for the 2020 National Literature Award; the 2021 Critics Circle Award for Misión Circular (2020); the Santiago Municipal Poetry Award for Técnicas para Cegar a los Peces (2020-2021); the 2021 Atenea Award for Santo Oficio; and the Jorge Teillier 2022 National Poetry Award.
Soledad Fariña Vicuña was born in Antofagasta in 1943. She studied Political and Administrative Sciences at the Universidad de Chile, Philosophy and Humanities at Stockholm University, Sciences of Religion and Arabic Culture at the Universidad de Chile, and a Master’s in Literature at the Universidad de Chile. Between 1973 and 1977 she was exiled to Sweden. She has published El Primer Libro (The First Book), Santiago (1985), Buenos Aires (1991); Albricia (Good News), (1988-2010); En Amarillo Oscuro (In Dark Yellow), (1994); Narciso y los Arboles (Narcissus and the Trees), (2001); Otro Cuento de Pájaros (Another Bird Tale), (1999-2021); La Vocal de la Tierra (The Vowel of the Earth), Santiago (1999), Madrid (2007), Chiapas (2019); Donde Comienza el Aire (Where the Air Begins), (2006); Se Dicen Palabras al Oído (Words Whispered in the Ear), Madrid (2007); the collection of essays and articles El Deseo Hecho Palabra (Wish Made Word), (2021); and the translations Ahora Mientras Danzamos (Now While we Dance), a version of the poems of Sappho (2012); Nurse Lugton’s Curtain, by Virginia Woolf (2020); and Poemas Místicos (Mystic Poems), by al-Hallaj (from the French) (2021).
She was co-founder of Radio Tierra, a women’s communication project, in 1991. She has also taught children’s literature classes at the Universidad de Chile and directed creative writing workshops at the Universidad Diego Portales, the Universidad Finis Terrae and the Universidad Mayor. She has participated in meetings, poetry festivals, book fairs and recitals in various cities in Chile, as well as in Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona, Soria, Washington, New York, La Paz, Medellin, Bogota, Guayaquil, Quito, Buenos Aires, Lima, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Morelia, Tuxtla and San Cristobal de las Casas. In 2006, she received the J.S. Guggenheim Scholarship. In 2017, she was nominated for the Altazor Award. In 2018, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Fundación Neruda. In 2022, she received the Municipal Literature Award in the essay category for El Deseo Hecho Palabra (Wish Made Word).
Carmen Berenguer is a poet, chronicler and visual artist who was born in 1946 in Santiago de Chile. Her literary career began during the military dictatorship in the 1980s. She became one of the first poets to call attention to the repression carried out by the Pinochet regime, publishing her works Bobby Sands Desfallece en el Muro (Bobby Sands Collapses on the Wall), (1983); Huellas de Siglo (Traces of the Century), (1986); and A Media Asta (At Half Mast), (1988). Her works demonstrate a social commitment, developing themes such as the city and its problems, with special emphasis on those linked to politics and the market, the female gender and the signs that establish links between the body and language. In 1997, she won the prestigious Guggenheim Scholarship, with which she developed her well-known work Naciste Pintada (You Were Born Made Up). Throughout her career she has won different international awards, including being the first Chilean winner of the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2008). She has also participated in important literary events, such as the Latin American Women’s Literature Congress (1987) and the Guadalajara International Book Fair (2012).
Gloria Dünkler was born in 1977 in Pucón, La Araucanía Region. She comes from a family of artisans, musicians and fishermen. Her work addresses the first settlements of German colonists in southern Chile, making a contrast between European and Mapuche culture. Among her most important poems are Quilaco Seducido (Quilaco Seduced); Füchse von Llafenko (Foxes of Llafenko); and Spandau. This latter poem would win her the Santiago Municipal Literature Award. In 2015, she released her fourth book of poems, Yagatán, which won the Pablo Neruda Award the following year. Her writing has been translated into different languages, including German, Polish and Catalan, and her poems have appeared in Chilean and Argentinian anthologies. She has represented Chile at different literary events, such as the Larinale in Germany (2013) and La Mar de Músicas Festival in Spain (2015).
Norma Cecilia Vicuña Ramírez was born in 1948 in Santiago to a family of artists and sculptors. She studied Pedagogy in Visual Arts at the Universidad de Chile, and later obtained a postgraduate degree at University College London, England, where she settled for several years after being forced into exile following the 1973 coup. In 1967, at the age of 17, she founded Tribu No (No Tribe), and wrote the “No Manifesto” together with writers such as Claudio Bertoni, Coca Roccatagliata, Marcelo Charlín and Francisco Rivera. During her time in exile, she decided to move to Bogota, Colombia, where she further developed her writing, with an emphasis on politics and Chilean indigenous culture. In 1979, she entered the Eduardo Coté Lamus national poetry competition, where she was denied a prize due to her erotic and revolutionary tone, a situation that made her well-known in Colombia’s public sphere. In 1992, she published her book Unravelling Words & the Weaving of Water, which allowed her to undertake international poetic performance tours in renowned institutions in Latin America, the United States and Europe. In 2022, she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 59th Venice Art Biennale. Three years earlier, she would also win the Velázquez Prize for Plastic Arts.