March – April 1988

The last half of the Twentieth Century has witnessed the emergence of Latin American literature as one of the great literatures of the western world. This vibrant, fertile art reflects the experiences of writers from many countries, displaying diversities and similarities in a plurality of themes and styles. It is a multi-layered vision, showing the gamut of realities from the specific details of daily life in a small town to the universal realm of fantasy and myth. While often focusing on political and social problems, many writers have applied to these concerns unbridled imaginations and technical innovations.

Modern Latin American poetry is difficult to summarize because of its large volume and variety, its constant, rapid evolution, and national differences. Many of the poets emphasize surrealistic imagery, free association, and the use of bold metaphors drawn from the subconscious. Introspective themes such as solitude, alienation, and anguish over the passing of time are conveyed in styles ranging from the simple and direct to the abstract and obscure. Some are in a more realistic vein, attacking social evils and calling for reform. Others work with primitive myths, the absurd or the grotesque. Among the noted poets are Pablo Neuda, Octavio Paz, and Gabriela Mistral.

Three writers were particularly influential in the development of modern Latin American fiction. Jorge Luis Borges provided self-confident cosmopolitanism and a concentration on form, creativity, and coherence. Miguel Angel Asturias drew on pre-Columbian traditions in order to portray the myths and realities of the people of Guatemala. Alejo Carpentier was the first proponent of what has often been labeled “magical realism,” a powerful blend of the real and the fantastic.

The decade of the 1960s was one of the most important changes in the cultural atmosphere. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 had a profound political and symbolic impact on Latin America and acted as a catalyst for bringing writers together. A Cuban agency, Casa de las Americas, organized conferences and awarded annual prizes in each genre. International publishing ventures were also launched in several countries to disseminate books and critical reviews to a rapidly expanding Latin American readership. The major writers of this so-called “boom” period are Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortazar, Jose Donoso, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In the 1980s attention finally began to focus on the contribution of the many Latin American women writers who until now have been largely ignored. Elena Poniatowska, Clarice Lispector, and Isabel Allende, among others, are gaining a larger Spanish and Portuguese readership and have begun to be translated and to acquire an international reputation.

Since World War II, the communications revolution and an increased flow of translations have helped to create a wide audience for the rich and diverse literature of Latin America. In the United States, this literature has had an increasing popularity since the early 1960s. In colleges and universities, and non-academic circles as well, the achievements of Latin American authors have been acknowledged and acclaimed. Courses on modern Latin American literature are attracting many students at the University of Iowa and on other campuses across the country. English translations of the works of Latin American writers and reviews and articles in publications such as the New York Times and Saturday Review have exposed the general reader to an increasing array of talented writers.

The collections of the University of Iowa Libraries reflect the important place of Latin America in the field of literary studies. This exhibition contains a selection from the Libraries’ holdings of works by prominent Latin American authors. The authors selected are: Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Marta Traba, Manuel Puig, Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos, Elena Poniatowska, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claribel Alegria, Jose Lezama Lima, Alejo Carpentier, Severo Sarduy, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Jose Donoso, Isabel Allende, Maria Luisa Bombal, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Clarice Lispector, Joao Rosa, Moacyr Scliar, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and Jorge Amado.

One section of the exhibition features some of the English translations that have helped make Latin American literature accessible to, and popular with, a wide audience. Selected critical studies have also been included to indicate the broad range of scholarly interest in modern Latin American writing.

This exhibition was prepared by Lucia Marino and Rijn Templeton with the assistance of Ann Kelley, Jim Julich, Harlan Sifford, Rick Cooper, and Jan Saxton of the University Libraries.