What constitutes “Puerto Rican literature”? This question is as literary as it is political, to a greater degree than it would be when considering the canon of a sovereign nation. Two reasons may be given to account for this exceptionality: (1) Puerto Rico has been the colony of two successive empires, Spain and the United States, and (2) more than half its people live in the United States, as part of a diaspora shaped sometimes by choice and, more often, by colonial (political, economic) pressures. Scholars interested in the literature of this Puerto Rican majority, which is the diaspora in the United States, should consult Edna Acosta-Belén’s entry in Oxford Bibliographies, as the present entry limits itself to criticism about literature in Spanish that has predominantly circulated within the confines of the island(s) of Puerto Rico. In fact, this geographic and linguistic split (mainland is to island, as English is to Spanish) had conditioned scholarly approaches to Puerto Rican literature throughout most of the 20th century and only began to be questioned in the 1980s by daring scholars such as Acosta-Belén herself. Moreover, this linguistic, geographic, and political split between English and Spanish reflects one of Puerto Rican literature’s most persistent topics: the call for independence from the United States, a feature that sets Puerto Rican literature apart from other literatures in Spanish. More broadly, from the 19th century onward, Puerto Rican authors have been concerned with the question of national identity within a colonial context. Only after the 1970s does this question cease to be the guiding concern of Puerto Rican authors, a rupture (and a new beginning) driven by the voices of women, queer, and Afro-Puerto Rican authors, who continue to insist on the expansion of the literary canon. While the question of national identity still exists, many contemporary authors refuse to join in this totalizing search, and prefer to write about spaces, characters, and situations that have been traditionally marginalized by the heteropatriarchal, Hispanophile literary establishment.
General Overviews and Reference Works
Rivera de Álvarez 1983 and Arce de Vázquez 1998 provide the most comprehensive overviews. Manrique Cabrera 1986 may be better suited for undergraduate students, or for scholars expecting a shorter introduction. None of these critics, however, discusses Puerto Rican literature after the 1980s; thus, readers seeking information on contemporary authors should consult Torres 2009. Pérez Ortiz 2008 (cited under Interviews) functions as the most complete (and entertaining) collection of interviews with living authors.
Arce de Vázquez, Margot. Obras completas. Vol. 1, Literatura puertorriqueña. San Juan: Editorial de la UPR, 1998.
A monumental inquiry into the lives and works of many of Puerto Rico’s most canonical authors, such as Antonio S. Pedreira and Tomás Blanco, Luis Palés Matos and Francisco Matos Paoli, René Marqués and Abelardo Díaz Alfaro. Though its exalted prose may now seem archaic, this volume does include a section on women writers that, to an extent, rectifies the heavily canonical (and metaphysical) bent of the rest of the volume.
Babín, María Teresa. Jornadas literarias: Temas de Puerto Rico. Barcelona: Rumbos, 1967.
A journey (as its title implies) through Puerto Rican literature, with emphasis on the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Unusual in its discussion of the work of other Puerto Rican female critics working at the time, such as Nilita Vientós Gastón.
González, José Luis. Literatura y sociedad en Puerto Rico: De los cronistas de Indias a la generación del 98. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1976.
Written, per its introduction, with the overt political agenda of reinserting Puerto Rico in the Latin American literary map, González’s overview emphasizes the processes of identity formation and cultural independence. Pays particular attention to 19th-century poets, politicians, and philosophers.
Jiménez Benítez, Adolfo E. Historia de la literatura puertorriqueña a través de sus revistas y periódicos. San Juan: Casa de los Poetas, 2012.
Unusual in its confection, the author tells the history of Puerto Rican literature (from the 19th century onward) by highlighting how useful ephemeral print publications were to well-regarded authors and intellectuals such as Betances, Hostos, Díaz Alfaro, and the poets from the 1970s and 80s. Includes an extensive index and bibliography of the many journals published in Puerto Rico since the 1800s.
Manrique Cabrera, Francisco. Historia de la literatura puertorriqueña. San Juan: Editorial Cultural, 1986.
Manrique Cabrera, an important poet on his own right, undertakes the literary and political project of inserting Puerto Rico into the literary map of the rest of Latin America. More concise and more overtly political than Rivera de Álvarez 1970, this history is explicitly geared toward undergraduate students, and includes writers from “the Discovery” to the 1970s, as well as a brief epilogue on Puerto Rican writers in New York.
Rivera de Álvarez, Josefina. Diccionario de la literatura puertorriqueña. 3 vols. San Juan: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1970.
To this date, these three volumes comprise the most comprehensive dictionary of Puerto Rican literature. The first volume, Panorama histórico de la literatura puertorriqueña, provides an in-depth introduction to Puerto Rican literature and history, beginning with the Spanish conquest and concluding with a brief introduction to authors from the 1970s. Organized alphabetically, the other two volumes provide biobibliographic introductions to individual authors. Includes entries on cultural institutions.
Rivera de Álvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: Su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Partenón, 1983.
A monumental, encyclopedic survey of Puerto Rican literature from pre-Columbian times to the 1980s. Most useful as a work of reference, and for its unusual inclusion of Taíno myths and folcloric oral literature, which often remain outside the bounds of the canon.
Torres, Víctor Federico. Diccionario de autores puertorriqueños contemporáneos. San Juan: Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2009.
Short biobibliographic entries organized alphabetically, without much of an introduction. As the most up-to-date dictionary of contemporary Puerto Rican literature, this one includes emergent luminaries such as Tina Casanova, Javier Ávila, and Lourdes Vázquez.
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