6 little-known writers of color who transformed their country

6 little-known writers of color who transformed their country

The 19th and 20th centuries were marked by upheavals. In the 1800s, slavery still existed in many parts of the world; Europe was in political and social chaos, from the Napoleonic wars at the turn of the century to the Russian flu at the end of it; and many countries were struggling for independence from colonial powers. With the 1900s came the abolition of slavery in some countries and freedom for many colonized nations, but also other massive world-changing events, from World War I and the Great Depression to the World War II and the Cold War, as well as everything in between.

Amidst the chaos, writers of color emerged whose work was so powerful and influential that they transformed their home countries, but although their contributions were immense, many are not well known outside the borders of their country. Here are six that deserve more recognition.

Eugenio María de Hostos was a Puerto Rican writer, educator, and advocate who supported the liberation of the Dominican Republic (which was controlled by Spain in 1863), Cuba, and Puerto Rico from Spanish colonial rule. His father actually worked for Queen Isabella II of Spain, and in 1852 Hostos was sent by his parents to study in Bilbao. A few years later, he continued his studies in Madrid, where he became interested in politics. His most famous work, The Bayoan pilgrimage, was published there in 1863; the novel is written in diary form and manages to romanticize the three colonies while describing their mutual suffering from Spanish colonization.

Hostos left Spain after the country refused to grant Puerto Rico self-government in 1869; he went to the United States and became editor of The revolution, A newspaper devoted to Cuban independence. He spent the rest of his life working to liberate the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and used journalism, plays and books as a space to challenge colonization and influence revolution.

Cuba and the Dominican Republic eventually became independent, but Puerto Rico did not – after the Spanish–American War ownership reverted to the United States. Although Hostos’ goal of full independence for the three colonies was not achieved, it still succeeded in, among other things, transforming the conversation around Caribbean identity and politics.

Anna J. Cooper.

Anna J. Cooper. /Library of Congress // Public Domain

Born into slavery in North Carolina in 1858, Anna J. Cooper became a writer, educator, and activist whose 1892 book, A southern voice by a southern black woman, led her to be dubbed the “mother of black feminism.”

In addition to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, Cooper was the fourth black American woman to receive a doctorate. (she studied history at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, graduating in 1925). She has also contributed in the field of sociology, arguing, in the words of the National Park Service, “that black women had a unique vantage point from which to observe and contribute to society”, and arguing that the education of black women would make them “both the lever and the fulcrum to elevate the race,” she explained in A Voice from the South.

Cooper was a pioneer in talking about intersectionality before the term even existed (it was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989), influencing future thought, theory and practice around equal rights for women. blacks and the distinctive problems that affect them.

It makes sense that Haitian novelist, intellectual and advocate Jacques Stephen Alexis would enact change – he was a descendant of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution, and the son of Stephen Alexis, who was the ambassador of Haiti in the United Kingdom, representative of Haiti at the United Nations, and author of an important biography of the great Haitian general Toussaint Louverture.

Influenced by this rich lineage, Alexis publishes his first writing, an essay, at the age of 18 with great success. In his novels, including Compere General Soleil (General Sun, my brother1955) and The space of a blink (In the flicker of an eyelid1959), he not only defended the poor but contextualized them, their realities and experiences, and called for the unity of all Haitians regardless of class.

As a communist, Alexis’ works accompanied and were motivated by his political work. He created a left-wing political group in 1959, which led to his exile by then Haitian President François Duvalier soon after. He returned secretly to Haiti in 1961, was captured and subsequently killed.

Alexis’ writings influenced contemporary Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, who is one of today’s leading voices for Haitian immigrants and their experiences.

Filipino revolutionary and poet, Jose Rizal

Jose Rizal. / History/GettyImages

The writings of this Filipino polymath (who studied medicine, philosophy and languages) helped inspire the movement that led the country to colonial freedom from Spain (although he technically advocated reform of the Spanish domination, not an immediate liberation from it). Rizal moved to Europe to continue his education in 1882 and completed his first novel, Noli Me Tangere-a brutally honest account of the atrocities of Spanish colonization in the Philippines – while living in Berlin. The novel was published in 1887 and quickly banned in the Philippines. After a brief return to Manila the same year in an antagonistic atmosphere (Rizal is even tailed by the police), he decides to leave. He publishes his second novel, the buccaneeran extension of noli but with a heightened revolutionary approach, in 1891. This book barely reached the Philippines, and all the copies that did were burned.

Rizal continued to write about the Filipino experience during the colonial era in everything from poetry to plays, and he advocated for social reforms to give Filipinos a voice within the colonial structure. He formed La Liga Filipina in 1892, an organization whose goal was to directly include people in the process of legal reform; this political activity led to his internal exile. Eventually he left to work as a military doctor in Cuba, but along the way he was sent back to Manila to stand trial for sedition. He was executed in 1896.

The liberation of Spain finally took place in 1898, but the country was not free: it was taken over by the United States. The Philippines did not gain full independence until 1946. A decade later, a law was passed in the Philippines requiring students from most universities to take Rizal courses.

Born in Tehran, Iran, to a strict military father and housewife mother, Forugh (also Forough) Farrokhzad began writing poetry at a young age, but she immediately destroyed her poems for fear that his father does not find them. At that time, women were expected to fulfill conventional gender roles by taking care of the household and the family; they were not encouraged to be thinkers.

Farrokhzad became a housewife herself at the age of 16 when she married a much older man, but continued to write whenever she finished her housework. She publishes her first collection of poetry, The Captivein 1955. A poem, “Sin”, was published in a literary magazine along with a photo, a biography, and under his real name – all unusual for an Iranian poet of any gender at that time.

Farrokhzad’s poems were divisive due to their erotic tones; she received mixed reviews but also gained their recognition. There were other consequences as well: “Sin” openly admitted that she had had an affair during her marriage; according The Parisian magazine, while men could have as much business as they wanted, “an adulteress took her life in her own hands – she could be killed for her transgression and her murderers hardly punished”. Farrokhzad was not killed, but when she divorced her husband, she lost custody of her son, Kamyar.

Farrokhzad continued to write about the intimate world of women and made a documentary before his untimely death in a car accident at the age of 32. She is still praised today for standing up for women and their freedom.

Gabrielle Mistral

Gabrielle Mistral. / History/GettyImages

The Chilean poet and diplomat who would become the first Latin American writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in Vicuña, Chile, in 1889, and grew up in the small village of Monte Grande.

She first found inspiration close to home: Mistral’s father (who practically abandoned the family when she was young) was a poet and teacher, and her religious grandmother was a lover of literature and poetry. . But it wasn’t until she left Monte Grande at the age of 11 to study in Vicuña that she began to write about the hardships she experienced away from home, as well as the realities women, children and the poor (whom she defended throughout her life) encountered in the world. For her writings – which included newspaper articles, short stories and poems – she used a pen name that was probably assembled from the nicknames of two other poets (although another theory has it that the name came from Archangel Gabriel and a French wind [PDF]).

Poems like Poems of the saddest mother, inspired by the abuse of indigenous peoples, earned his recognition, but it was works like desolation, sonnets of deathAnd Tenderness who made his legacy. Mistral’s works had a huge impact on conversations about femininity, motherhood, and other societal issues at a time when women weren’t supposed to talk about such things.


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