The Dominican Republic has created a literary heritage of great scope that spans from the time of the discovery of the Americas to the 21st century. The poetry, novel, story, essay and history are expressions of the political, social, and economic development of the country that has been imbued with multiple currents of thought, especially European and American.
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“Literature in the Spanish language begins for Santo Domingo with Columbus’ diary of his voyage, in the excerpt of Father Bartolomé de Las Casas, and with the letters to the Catholic kings in which he narrates the discovery.” – Pedro Henríquez Ureña.
The works that described and collected information about the new territories began to be written and transmitted early. Andalusian doctor Diego Álvarez Chanca sent the first descriptions of the flora and fauna of the Hispaniola island to the council of Seville in 1493-1494.
Friar Ramón Pané gave Columbus his “Relación de las Antigüedades de los Indios,” the first ethno-linguistic document written on the island and on the American continent, around 1498.
The following works of the chroniclers would follow: Historia de las Indias and Apología, by Bartolomé de las Casas, and Historia General y Natural de las Indias, by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo.
The first Creole writers born on the island began to emerge in the sixteenth century, trained in the European culture of the conquerors. In poetry, historians mention Leonor de Ovando, as the first poet. A Nun of the Regina Angelorum congregation born in Santo Domingo in the sixteenth century, her devotional poems exalt the Catholic faith in which she was raised.
The majority of the writers of that time were religious, like Friar Alonso de Espinosa, Canon Cristóbal Liendo, Friars Alonso Pacheco, Diego Ramírez, and P. Cristóbal de Llerena.
Few writings from the seventeenth century have survived; however, the names of many writers are known, such as Tomás Rodríguez de Sosa, Luis Jerónimo de Alcocer, Baltasar Fernández de Castro, Friar Diego Martínez, Tomasina de Leiva, and Pedro Agustín Morel, according to Henríquez Ureña in his essay “Literatura de Santo Domingo” (1941).
The important writers emigrated in the following two centuries, due to social and political convulsions, among them, José Francisco Heredia, Antonio Del Monte y Tejada, José Núñez de Cáceres, Esteban Pichardo, and Francisco Muñoz Del Monte.
Historians speak of an actual Dominican literature from the time of the foundation of the Republic in 1844, which in its different genres has reflected the social, political and cultural experiences of more than four centuries of convulsed history.
“The poetry, novel, story, essay and history have expressed the political, social and economic development of the country, which, since the feat of discovery, has been imbued with multiple currents of thought, especially European and American,” according to Basilio Belliard, essayist, anthologist, poet and literary critic.
The poetic genre is considered one of the most robust in Dominican literature, with prominent exponents in the 19th and the 20th centuries. Those who have been called “major gods” of Dominican poetry are José Joaquín Pérez, the first romantic; Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, “neo-classical in the style of Quintana and Gallego,” according to Mariano Lebrón Saviñón; Gastón Fernando Deligne, modernist, deemed the most original of the Dominican poets by Pedro Henríquez Ureña.
Other prominent poets of that time were intellectuals, such as Francisco Gregorio Billini, César Nicolás Penson, Federico Henríquez y Carvajal, Federico García Godoy, Emilio Pru’homme, Enrique Henríquez, Amelia Francasci, Encarnación Echevarría, Josefa Perdomo, Federico García Godoy, and Emiliano Tejera.
The modernists came after the traditionalist poets in 1912, beginning with Otilio Vigil Díaz, “introducer of the avant-garde into Dominican literature, and a great innovator of our lyric influenced by French symbolism,” as essayist Belliard notes in Funglode’s dominicanaonline web pages.
The books “Góndolas,” of 1912, and the “Galeras de Pafos,” of 1921, place Vigil Díaz as a pioneer of the free verse and prose poetry.
Postumismo was another notable movement, created in 1921 by Domingo Moreno Jiménez, Andrés Avelino, and Rafael A. Zorrilla.
Moreno Jiménez favored self-expression, unaffected poetry anchored in the land, in what is Dominican, and on the environment. It broke with the metrical pattern verse and the combinations and substitutions accepted at that time.
Hector Incháustegui Cabral, Manuel del Cabral, and Tomás Hernández Franco are three independent writers whose prominent poetic work made important contributions in the forties.
Also, the Poesía Sorprendida movement, formed in October 1943 by Franklin Mieses Burgos, Antonio Fernández Spencer, Manuel Rueda, Aida Cartagena Portalatín and Freddy Gatón Arce. Contrary to the “postumistas,” they favored “a national poetry nourished by what is universal… creation without limits, without borders.”
Another poetic surge was that of the “Generation of the 48,” considered by Spanish poet Leopoldo Panero Torbado, as one of the “most promising in the Spanish-speaking poetry.” (Lupo Hernández Rueda, “La Generación del 48 en la Literatura Dominicana.”)
Hernández Rueda, Máximo Avilés Blonda, Luis Alfredo Torres, Guarocuya Batista del Villar, Víctor Villegas, Alberto Peña Lebrón, Abelardo Navarro, and Rafael Lara Cintrón are poets who belong to that movement.
Besides poets, this group included playwrights, storytellers, historians and politicians, who made an art “of indirect, and sometimes obscure, expression,” to protect themselves from reprisal from the Trujillo dictatorship.
“The physical and moral captivity of the artists” ended with the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1961. From there, as Hernández Rueda points out, “writing became open, objective, conceptual.”
New poets and writers emerged, who would have to “live and participate in a radically different time,” according to poet and essayist Ramón Francisco in his book “Literatura dominicana 60.”
“Literary fury led to action” for Antonio Lokward, Miguel Alfonseca, Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, Ramón Francisco, René del Risco, Jeannette Miller, and others.
The same happened for post-civil war poets Soledad Álvarez, Mateo Morrison, Andrés L. Mateo, Enriquillo Sánchez, Tony Raful, and Enrique Eusebio.
The poetic work of Cayo Claudio Espinal came later; he received the Siboney national poetry prize in 1978 for his work “Banquetes de Afflicción.” He is the founder of the Contextualist Movement, which proposes the rise of a new humanism. A year later, the prize was awarded to José Enrique García, PhD in Philology, for his collection of poems “El Fabulador.” In 2001 he received the National Poetry Prize, and the following year, the National Prize for Children’s Literature.
Another generation of poets would break away from the previous one at the beginning of the eighties, “by disregarding the ideological and the historical circumstance, creating a poetry of thought and reflection on other subjects,” as essayist and literary critic Basilio Belliard points out.
Among the renowned authors of that time are José Mármol, Plinio Chaín, Dionisio de Jesús, Medar Serrata, Víctor Bidó and José Alejandro Peña, among others. In the 80s, the circle of women poets was made of Carmen Imbert Brugal, Dulce Ureña, Carmen Sánchez, Chiqui Vicioso and Martha Rivera-Garrido, great-granddaughter of poet Gastón Fernando Deligne.
In the late twentieth century, Basilio Belliard published “Diario del Autófago” (1997), “Flights of Memory” (poetry and essay 1999), and other works. “Sueño Escrito” won him the 2002 National Poetry Prize. His poems have been translated into French, Italian, and Portuguese.
Poet Fausto Leonardo Henríquez, Belliard’s contemporary, was a priest from La Vega, winner of the 2009 Federico Rielo Mystic World Poetry Prize, in Rome. Also, José Acosta, winner of the Salomé Ureña Poetry Prize for his first book entitled “Territorios Extraños.”
The 21st century opens with new poets that enlarge the distance with the turbulent past. Literature themes and styles are renewed, the nation and the way of life changed. Focused on contemporary realities, the production by new poets and writers expresses global themes: violence, drug trafficking, sexuality, immigration, urban alienation.
Some of the outstanding new poets are Frank Báez, the 2009 Salomé Ureña National Poetry Prize for his work “Postales;” Ariadna Vásquez, 2012 National Poetry Prize, for her collection of poems “Debí Dibujar el Mar en Alguna Parte;” Argénida Romero, winner of the Young Poetry Grand Prize for the work “Arriaga;” and, Juan Dicent, author of “Poemarios,” “Poeta en Animal Planet,” and “Monday Street.” Also, Mario Dávalos, another Salomé Ureña National Poetry Prize, and the author of “El Libro de las Inundaciones,” “Canto al Hogar Encendido,” and “Una Casa Azul,” among others.
“… The storyteller must have the soul of a tiger to throw himself on the reader, and the tiger’s instinct to select the subject and calculate exactly how far away his prey is and the force to hurl himself at it… in the hidden plot of that difficult art… the reader and the subject have the same heart.”
This is what Juan Bosch, the distinguished Dominican storyteller, wrote in his “Apuntes Sobre el Arte de Escribir Cuentos.”
“Master of the genre in Latin America” (Belliard), the University of Chile inaugurated in August 2010 the Cátedra Juan Bosch, Estudios del Caribe.
The Dominican short narrative is more than 162 years old, from the first documented story, “El Garito,” written by Francisco Javier Angulo Guridi.
Literary historians consider that the short stories written before the second half of the 19th century are of Spanish tradition.
The greatest exponent of the 19th century Creole short story was César Nicolás Penson, author of “Cosas Añejas,” which reflects the Dominican customs and traditions based on oral tradition.
The modern short-story of the 20th century begins with Virginia Elena Ortea, Fabio Fiallo, Manuel Cestero Tulio, and José Ramón López, Ramón Marrero Aristy, Hilma Contreras, José Rijo, Ramón Lacay Polanco, Tomás Hernández Franco, Néstor Caro, and Virgilio Díaz Grullón.
Juan Bosch’s three collections of short narratives, “Cuentos Escritos Antes del Exilio,” “Cuentos Escritos en el Exilio,” and “Más Cuentos Escritos en el Exilio,” became more popular upon his return to the country in 1961. The writer and Dominican politician guided the group of young writers who gathered around him, among them storytellers Miguel Alfonseca, René del Risco, Iván García, and others, who were developing their own voices.
Armando Almánzar, Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, Efraín Castillo, Rubén Echavarría and José Manuel Sanz Lajara stood out during the sixties. René Rodríguez Soriano, Roberto Marcallé Abreu, Pedro Peix, and Carlos Esteban Deive, who was born in Spain, belong to the next decade, but all his activity as writer and anthropologist took place in the Dominican Republic.
René Rodríguez Soriano, Ángela Hernández, Rafael García Romero, José Acosta, Avelino Stanley, César Zapata, Pedro Camilo, Pastor de Moya, Manuel García Cartagena, Ramón Tejada Holguín, and Pedro Antonio Valdez stand out in the eighties and the nineties.
Short stories continue to be actively cultivated in the twenty-first century by a new generation of writers who are starting to be recognized internationally. Among those already recognized are Rey Emmanuel Andújar, Rita Indiana Hernández, Frank Báez, International Youth Short Story Prize of the Book Fair; Juan Dicent, Ariadna Vásquez, and Isidro Jiménez Guillén, winner of the Youth Short Story Grand Award, in 2013.
Also, Nan Chevalier, Fai Rosario, Rubén Sánchez, Eugenio García Cuevas, Osiris Vallejo and Justiniano Estévez Aristy, among others who begin to open new paths for Dominican short story writing.
As an overall assessment, poetry and short story have beat the novel, but this genre picks up in production and recognition in the twenty and twenty-first centuries with the contributions of novelists of different generations.
The past marked the future of the Dominican fiction novel for a long time. Several scholars attribute its lag to two fundamental reasons: 1) a royal decree dated on April 4th, 1531, which prohibited books of “romance, vain or profane stories on the island.” On the other hand, road stories were allowed, which ended up being the most disseminated source; 2) the lack of socio-cultural conditions to produce works of fiction, including the lack of academia and publishers.
Perhaps the absence of external referents in a small island population explains why the first Dominican novels of the nineteenth century were written abroad, where their authors came into contact with the literary styles and trends of the moment.
“Los Amores de los Indios” is, in chronological order, believed to be the first novel written by a Dominican, Alejandro Angulo Guridi, and published in 1843 in Villa Clara, Cuba, where his family lived in exile.
The novel “El Montero,” by Pedro Francisco Bonó, came out in Paris, in 1856, in the form of brochures that appeared in El Correo de Ultramar, a French newspaper on political, literary, mercantile and industrial issues.
“Los Fantasmas de Higüey,” by Francisco Angulo Guridi, was published in Havana in 1857.
Twenty-three years later, in 1879, the first part of “Enriquillo,” by Manuel de Jesús Galván, was published by Santo Domingo’s religious printing house San Luis Gonzaga. The author lived in exile during the years prior to the novel. The publication of the complete work took place in 1882 by the García Hnos. printing house, located in the capital city. This emblematic novel in the historical legend category, has documentary value for critics, and has been regarded as well written, considering its publishing date.
The first Dominican novelist, Amelia Francasci, who wrote under the pseudonym of Francisca Amelia de Marchena Sánchez, is a Galván contemporary. She wrote some seven novels, the first of which, “Madre Culpable,” was published in 1892. Educated in Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles, she focused her romantic works, typical of her time, on foreign scenarios.
“Baní o Engracia y Antoñita,” by Francisco Gregorio Billini Aristy, is one of the classic novels of costumbrismo published that same year.
The historical novel continues with Federico García Godoy and Tulio María Cestero in the twentieth century. In his works “Rufinito” (1908), “Alma Dominicana” (1911), and “Guanuma” (1914), García Godoy evokes episodes of the first and second Republic. Cestero, in turn, concentrates on the tyranny of Ulises Heureaux in “La Sangre” (1913).
The Dominican novel of the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, in the words of Belliard, has “three important moments, according to its type and theme.” The theme of sugar cane, explored by Moscoso Puello in “Cañas y Bueyes” in 1935; by Marrero Aristy, in “Over”, in 1939; and by Pedro Pérez Cabral (Corpito) in “Jenjibre”, in 1940. The biblical theme, explored by Esteban Deive, in “Magdalena” (1964); Veloz Maggiolo, in “El Buen Ladrón”, in 1960; and Ramón Emilio Reyes, with “Testimonio”, in 1961; And the third is the theme of Costumbrismo, expressed in “La Cacica,” by Rafael Damirón, in 1944; in “La Mañosa,” by Bosch, in 1936; and in Billini’s work.
The production of the Dominican novel has not stopped in its modern stage. 151 novels and 160 short narratives were published from 1961 to 1990, according to statistics compiled by historian Frank Moya Pons.
Some of the creative voices of that period are: Aida Cartagena Portalatín, whose novel “Escalera para Electra” (1970) was a finalist in the Biblioteca Breve Award by Seix and Barral Publishing House, of Barcelona, Spain. Other authors who have marked the era with their productions are: Roberto Marcallé Abreu, Andrés L. Mateo, Pedro Peix, Antonio Lockward, Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, Manuel Rueda, Juan Bosch, and Virgilio Díaz Grullón.
The works of Veloz Maggiolo, Antonio Valdez and Pedro Vergés stand out in the current panorama of the Dominican novel, in terms of literary quality and international projection.
Veloz Maggiolo, author of a dozen novels, won the William Faulkner Prize, from the University of Virginia, United States, for his novel “The Good Thief.” In 2006, he received the José María Arguedas extraordinary award for narrative for his novel “La Mosca Soldado,” presented by Casa de las Américas to relevant Latin American writers.
He has won the National Novel Award four times, the 1998 National Literature Award, and the 1997 National Book Fair Award.
The work of writer Pedro Vergés “Sólo Cenizas Hallarás” (Bolero), with characters staged in the months after the murder of Trujillo, underscored the Dominican novel abroad, when his author received the Spanish narrative critics award in 1981 and the 15th Blasco Ibañez novel award.
The novel “El Carnaval de Sodoma,” by Pedro Antonio Valdez, was adapted to film in Mexico and in Spain in 2006, by one of the best Latin American directors, Mexican Arturo Ripstein.
Valdez won the 1998 National Novel Prize for “Bachata del Ángel Caído,” and he received the Alberto Gutiérrez de la Solana International Prize from the United States that same year for his book “Paradise.”
The novelists of the new generation – almost all born in the mid and late seventies – began to make their contributions to Dominican literature, including those who lived outside of the country and those who write in English about Dominican issues.
While many novelists from the distant and recent past portray the Dominican world from a historic perspective, present-day authors write influenced by the cultural molds traced by the global world of post-modernity.
The predominant themes for the writers that began to publish starting in the year 2000 are: public and underground violence, marginal life, drugs, consumerism and pornography.
The young people who lead the millennium are liberated both from “the narrative and aesthetic currents that preceded them, as from the identity presuppositions around “Dominicanidad” … they present an attitude of disengagement that allows them to act in a lucid and experimental way,” states scholar Fernanda Bustamante, in her book “Escritura del Desacato: A ritmo desenfadado” (2015, Cuarto Propio Publisher, Santiago, Chile.)
One of the most successful narrators of that generation is Rey Emmanuel Andújar, author of “Los Gestos Inútiles,” first prize winner at the VI Concurso Latinoamericano y Caribeño, in 2015. He also wrote the novels “Candela” (Alfaguara 2007), that received the Penn Club Award of Puerto Rico, and “El Hombre Triángulo” (Isla Negra 2005).
Likewise, Rita Indiana Hernández’s literary and musical circuit extends internationally. In her short novel “La Estrategia de Chochueca” and her other narratives, “she addresses the alienation of the market, the schizophrenia of society, the breaking of heteronormativity and the desecration of the body and space,” says Fernanda Bustamante in her book.
The themes are not homogeneous. Writer José Acosta won the 2015 Casa de las Américas Award with his novel “Un Kilómetro de Mar,” an adventure journey of two teenagers.
Another novel, “El Dedo Mayor de la Realidad que me Saluda,” the first by Joan Prats, launched in 2011 by Santillana, is a humorous story of a young Dominican who studies in Barcelona.
It is worth mentioning the contribution of Dominican-American novelists that have won awards abroad, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, Julia Álvarez, and Nelly Rodríguez.
Also, the novel of a poet and academic of another generation, Miguel Angel Fornerín, who premiered in 2011 his “Tu siempre crees que viene una guagua,” an agile and refined narrative about a group of children who enter adolescence in a time of uncertainties tinged by corruption and political assassinations.
As in the other genres of literature, Dominican essayists go back to the mid-nineteenth century. Since then, internationally renowned authors enrich Dominican writing with literary, historical, sociological, political, and scientific themes.
The most outstanding Dominican essayist of international scope was Pedro Henríquez Ureña. In addition to the merits of his Dominican work, he is considered a cultural influence in Argentina, where he lived and formed a family.
Federico García Godoy, one of the most educated literary critics of his time, wrote essays that were disseminated in Revue Hispanique of France and in magazines in Spain and Latin America.
Juan Bosch is another noted essayist, whose work transcended Dominican borders and expanded to Latin American and Caribbean nations, such as Chile, Venezuela and Cuba, where he has been honored.
Marcio Veloz Maggiolo has a wide and respected work as an essayist, and his works have been published abroad, including “Arqueología pre-histórica de Santo Domingo” (Singapore, New York, Mc Graw Hill, 1972), which is considered “the most complete compendium of Dominican archeology.”
Other great Dominican essayists were Rafael María Moscoso Puello, “the first Dominican scientist who studied the national flora;” Américo Lugo, José Ramón López, Manuel Arturo Peña Battle, Joaquín Balaguer, and Juan Isidro Jiménez Grullón, among a long list.
In addition to Veloz Maggiolo, other current essayists are Federico Henríquez Gratereaux, Manuel Núñez, Carlos Esteban Deive, Andrés L. Mateo, Bruno Rosario Candelier, Diógenes Céspedes, José Mármol, Odalis G. Pérez, and Miguel Ángel Fornerín, who received the Pedro Henríquez Ureña National Essay Prize in 1995, for his work “La Escritura de Pedro Mir.”
Did you know? Dominican Leonor de Ovando is considered the first woman to write poetry and sonnets on this side of the world, the first female poet of the Americas (sixteenth century.)
Did you know? There are many male writers and poets that are politicians in the history of Dominican literature, such as Juan Pablo Duarte, Father of the Nation, Juan Bosch, and Joaquín Balaguer.
Ángela Hernández, 2016 National Literature Prize, received the Cole Prize, for her novel “Mudanza de los Sentidos;” the 1997 National Short Story Award, for “Piedra de Sacrificio;” the 2005 Annual Poetry Prize for her book “Alicornio,” and the 2012 Annual Short Story Prize for her work “La Secta del Crisantemo.”
Roberto Marcallé Abreu, winner of the 2015 National Literature Prize for his contribution to the Dominican narrative in short story and novel. He won the UC Novel Award in 2012 for “Las Calles Enemigas.” Some of his works are: “Las Dos Muertes de José Irino,” “El Minúsculo Infierno del Señor Lukas,” and “Sábado de Sol Después de las Lluvias.”
Tony Raful, won the 2014 National Literature Prize. His numerous works cover the genres of poetry, essay and history. University Professor and former Minister of Culture, among his books and recent essays are “De Trujillo a Fernández Domínguez y Caamaño,” “La Pasión por la Libertad” and “El Asesinato del Presidente de Guatemala Ordenado por Trujillo.”
José Mármol, winner of the 2013 National Literature Prize. Poet and essayist, founder of the Ergo collection of Dominican poetry. In 1987 he won the Salomé Ureña National Poetry Prize; in 1992 the Pedro Henríquez Ureña poetry prize; in 1994 the Casa de Teatro prize, and second prize in the 1994 Eliseo Diego international prize, of Plural magazine.
Armando Almánzar, winner of the 2012 National Literature Prize in recognition for his 45 years of literary work as a writer, poet, short story writer, art critic and journalist. His first book, “Límite,” was published in 1979 by Alfa y Omega. His stories are included in Antología del Cuento Latinoamericano Contemporáneo and in the book “Narradores Dominicanos,” by Venezuelan publisher Monte Ávila.
Jeannette Miller, winner of the 2011 National Literature Prize. Essayist, poet, storyteller and novelist. Outstanding figure of the generation of the sixties. The following poetry books are among her works: “El viaje” and “Fórmulas para Combatir el Miedo.” Author of several essays, a book of Dominican art in two volumes and the novels “La Vida es Otra Cosa” (2005) and “A mí no me Gustan los Boleros” (2009).
Pedro Henríquez Ureña National Library
Escritores Dominicanos (Dominican Writers)
Latin Art Museum. Web page developed by Fernando Ureña Rib
Los-poetas.com. Web page developed by Humberto C. Garza
La Palabra Virtual (The Virtual Word). Web page developed by Blanca Mateos, with the collaboration of Dina Posada
Mi cuaderno azulito. A Portal by René Rodríguez Soriano
Biblioteca Rafael Herrera Cabral. Dominicanos Destacados.
Portal del Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas
A media voz
Hispaniola online. Quarterly magazine of PUCMM of Santo Domingo
Hispanic Culture Review. Vol. III, Number 2-3, Fall 1996 – Spring 1997