Author photo. Library of Congress. digital ID npcc.25733

Library of Congress. digital ID npcc.25733

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Gabriela Mistral was the pen name of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, born in Vicuña, Chile, and raised in a small rural village in the Andes. When she was a toddler, her father abandoned the family, after which they lived on the edge of poverty. She attended the primary school taught by an older sister. By age 15, she was supporting herself and her mother by working as a teacher's aide in a seaside town near La Serena.
Around that time, she published some of her early poems in the local newspaper under her pseudonym. In 1914, she won first prize in a national literary contest with Los Sonetos de la Muerte (Sonnets of Death), which established her as a poet and became one of her most famous works. Despite her lack of formal higher education, she was self-taught and able to get work as a teacher; over the years, she moved to various regions of the country. In 1921, she was named director of the new, prestigious Liceo de Niñas #6 in Santiago. The following year, she accepted an invitation to work in Mexico on a plan to reform the country's libraries and schools and start a national education system. That year she published Desolación (Despair), which brought her international acclaim. After almost two years in Mexico, she traveled across the USA and toured Europe. She returned to Chile in 1925 and retired from teaching. The next year, she went to live mainly in France and Italy, traveled widely, and made a living from writing, reporting for newspapers, magazines, and radio, and giving public lectures in the USA and Latin America. She advocated for the rights of children, women, oppressed minorities, and the poor, and for democracy and peace. She was a visiting professor at Barnard College in New York City in 1930–1931, and worked briefly at Middlebury College and Vassar College, as well as at the University of Puerto Rico. She also served as a Chilean consul from 1932 until her death, while working in cities such as Naples, Madrid, Lisbon, Nice, Petrópolis, Los Angeles, and Veracruz. She donated the proceeds from her second major volume of poetry, Tala (1938) to children orphaned by the Spanish Civil War. In 1945, she became the first Spanish American author, and the fifth woman, to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The last volume of poetry she published in her lifetime was Lagar (1954). At her death in 1957, the Chilean government declared three days of national mourning.
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