This article presents an overview of some of the most representative and influential writers and works from Venezuela in the genre of novel, poetry, short story, and essay, from the 19th to the 21st century. Although Venezuela has a rich literary culture and critically acclaimed authors—such as Rómulo Gallegos, Arturo Uslar Pietri, and Miguel Otero Silva—whose works have become Latin American classics, the country’s literature has remained for the most part underread and understudied outside its frontiers. The reasons for this relative invisibility have been the focus of many debates among intellectuals both inside and outside Venezuela, who have pointed—not without criticism—to the writers’ almost exclusive reliance on national publishing houses, the impossibility of a recognizable literary identity, and the lack of noteworthy innovation as some of the reasons behind it. Nevertheless, since the mid-1990s, a renewed interest in Venezuelan literature has become palpable; international publishing houses have awarded prestigious awards to works by Venezuelan authors (Alberto Barrera Tyszka’s novel Patria o muerte was the winner of the XI Premio Tusquets Editores de Novela, and Rafael Cadenas’s extensive poetic work won him in 2016 the Premio Internacional de Poesía Federico García Lorca, to mention but a few), several new anthologies have been published, and symposiums and conferences drawing scholars from all over the world have been organized on the topic by prestigious international universities and organizations. This has partly been due to the political events that have taken place in the country since the arrival to power of Hugo Chávez, which have made Venezuela—and thus the literature written there—a “hot topic” among academic circles, both national and international. Furthermore, recent waves of emigration have brought Venezuelan authors to many universities abroad, where they have given the country’s literature more exposure, in many cases with the help of social media and other online platforms. In light of these events, this article offers a chronology of Venezuelan literature as a whole rather than constructing a separate chronology for each genre, and thus serves as an introduction to the authors and works that critics consider fundamental in the evolution of the country’s literary history. While theater has been excluded from this selection, two references have been included that give an overview of Venezuela’s abundant theatrical production and the important role it has played in shaping the country’s cultural and political identity.
Several overviews of Venezuelan literature have been published since the mid-1990s; the ones included in this section are the most complete to date and provide analyses on individual authors and works, as well as more general studies regarding the topics and trends that have become particularly relevant in the 20th and 21st centuries. Medina and Becco 1993 constructs a historiography of Venezuelan literature and establishes connections between themes and literary trends in different authors from the first ninety years of the 20th century. Arráiz Lucca 2009 opens with overviews that present the literature of the 20th century in relation to topics such as death, the city, and postmodernity, and then discusses the main authors in each genre. Barrera Linares, et al. 2006 provides essays that look at literature from colonial times to the early 21st century and explore literature’s role in the process of constructing the nation, while Delprat 2002 focuses on authors and themes that connect Venezuelan literature to the rest of Latin America. Kohut 2004 examines the sociopolitical dimension of contemporary Venezuelan literature, and includes essays by renowned authors about their own work as well as scholars who consider the reception of Venezuelan literature in Latin America. Pantin and Torres 2003 establishes a chronology of literary works written by women and highlights the need to increase the visibility of those authors in anthologies and critical works. Armellada and Bentivenga de Napolitano 1975 offers an overview of the understudied topic of indigenous literatures in Venezuela, including a commentary on metaphors and grammar as well as songs, rituals, and interpretation of dreams. In regard to theater, Azparren Giménez 2014 includes some of the classic pieces along with an introduction that traces the evolution of Venezuelan theater, while Piñango Sequera 2009 includes essays that look at the main trends, authors, and works in each time period, along with samples of some of the most representative plays.
Armellada, Cesáreo de, and Carmela Bentivenga de Napolitano. Literaturas indígenas venezolanas: Visión panorámica actual de las literaturas indígenas venezolanas. Caracas, Venezuela: Monte Ávila Editores, 1975.
A most necessary compilation on the topic of indigenous literary production in Venezuela. It includes samples in Spanish of metaphors, popular sayings, dream interpretations, songs, spiritual invocations, and short stories, as well as commentaries regarding the cultural performances that sometimes accompany the oral transmission of the legends, and reflections on the etymology of certain words and the grammar of certain indigenous languages. A good introduction to a significantly understudied topic.
Arráiz Lucca, Rafael. Literatura venezolana del siglo XX. Caracas, Venezuela: Editorial Alfa, 2009.
A comprehensive study of the most representative works of 20th-century Venezuelan literature. The author includes all-encompassing analyses of the literary production of the century as a whole, along with reflections regarding particular works by authors such as Arturo Uslar Pietri, Rafael Cadenas, and Elizabeth Schön, among others. The text examines novels, essays, short stories, and poems, and engages with topics such as death, the city, and the image.
Azparren Giménez, Leonardo, comp. Clásicos del teatro venezolano. Vol. 1. Caracas, Venezuela: Bid & Co. Editor, 2014.
An anthology that compiles some of the most representative works in the genre of theater in Venezuela, from the 19th to the 21st century. It opens with an introductory essay that presents a chronology of theater productions along with relevant details regarding the main authors and their work. It includes seminal plays by Domingo Nava Spínola, Rafael Agostini, Adolfo Briceño Picón, and José Ignacio Lares, among others.
Barrera Linares, Luis, Beatriz González Stephan, and Carlos Pacheco, eds. Nación y literatura: Itinerarios de la palabra escrita en la cultura venezolana. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Bigott, 2006.
An anthology of essays by well-known and emerging scholars and writers that explore the country’s literary and cultural production from colonial times to the early 21st century. The anthology is divided into five sections, each focusing on key moments in the process of constructing the nation, and it includes works that examine narrative, essay, and poetry in connection with political discourse, technology, and urban development.
Delprat, François. Venezuela narrada: Narrativa e identidad cultural en Venezuela. Mérida, Venezuela: El Otro, el Mismo, 2002.
A compilation of essays by established scholars that examine seminal texts in the genre of narrative, essay, and poetry. It includes works by authors such as Rómulo Gallegos, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Salvador Garmendia, and Teresa de la Parra, and it touches on topics such as identity, race, and modernism, among others.
Kohut, Karl, ed. Literatura venezolana hoy: Historia nacional y presente urbano. Caracas, Venezuela: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2004.
A volume that compiles essays by renowned scholars who examine the sociopolitical dimension of contemporary Venezuelan literature. It is divided into several sections, each presenting different historical, critical, and theoretical perspectives that put literature in connection with topics such as ideology, history, and memory. It includes a section in which Venezuelan writers discuss their own work, and its last essay reflects on the reception of Venezuelan literature in Latin America.
Medina, José Ramón, and Horacio Jorge Becco. Noventa años de literatura venezolana (1900–1990). Caracas, Venezuela: Monte Ávila Editores, 1993.
Originally published in 1969, this is one of the most comprehensive histories of Venezuelan literature. It includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an author index, as well as updates to the first edition that bring in new facts and critical perspectives. A good introduction to the most relevant authors and texts of the 20th century.
Pantin, Yolanda, and Ana Teresa Torres, eds. El hilo de la voz: Antología de escritoras venezolanas del siglo XX. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Polar, 2003.
A compilation of the works of sixty-seven Venezuelan female writers born between 1886 and 1968. It includes an introduction that puts the works of these writers in connection with the political, historical, and literary landscape of the 20th century, along with a fairly comprehensive bibliographical index of over one hundred writers and essays that discuss works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
Piñango Sequera, Nancy. Visión panorámica y muestrario del teatro venezolano: Compilación. Caracas, Venezuela: Fondo Editorial Tropykos, 2009.
A compilation that examines the most important moments in the history of Venezuelan theater. It includes essays that look at the main trends, authors, and works in each time period, and samples of some of the most representative plays, which appear alongside brief commentaries that discuss their historical relevance. A good introductory overview of the origins and evolution of Venezuelan theater.
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