Claribel Alegría

Nicaraguan writer (1924-2018)

Clara Isabel Alegría Vides (May 12, 1924 – January 25, 2018), also known by her pseudonym Claribel Alegría, was a Nicaraguan-Salvadoran poet, essayist, novelist, and journalist who was a major voice in the literature of contemporary Central America. She was awarded the 2006 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.


  • The art and the reality is very difficult sometimes to reconcile, but also I don’t think that the poet have to be in an ivory tower just thinking beautiful thoughts, you know, when there are so much horrible in — ‘mid you, you know, outside you. And then I think you have to go and look at that and feel it and suffer with the others and make that suffering useful.
  • I am so grateful for poetry...Poetry sustains us.
  • poetry to me is something sacred. If you want to be a poet, it’s very difficult. You have to listen to that voice, follow that voice. Never put poetry to the service of anything. No! We are at the service of poetry, and you have to read a lot to feed off of other poets. You have to get fed by other poets, to write all the time, even if it’s one line a day. You have to be disciplined and humble.
  • Before we are poets we are human beings, and we do have compromises as human beings. You get horrified at the injustices, at the violence, at all of the terrible things happening in all of the world. And that is reflected in your poetry, because it has touched you very deeply. But you are not putting your poetry in the service of politics.
  • It’s wonderful to read what we have now, fantastic, but don’t forget the classics. They have all the riches in the world, and they help us a lot.

Translation from the Spanish by David Draper Clark

  • In essence, all poets contribute to writing the great endless poem.
  • Words are sensual. They seduce us and spark our imagination, but they also express intelligence and logic in constructing towers of ideals and culture.
  • The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.
  • Among my generation in Central America, women of the leisure class had the option of marrying or controlling their husband’s purse strings or of remaining chaste and virtuous, baking cakes for their nieces and nephews.
  • Quite often I have used my poetry as a sword, and I have brandished it against my internal and external demons.

Interview with Bomb Magazine (2000)

  • I belong to this fantastic tribe, the Mayan, the Aztecs. I am proud of my Indian background. Chichen Itza in Mexico had one of the first observatories, how many years ago? Bud used to say, “Look, this is as good as the one we have in Mount Palomar.” The richness of this civilization is still not recognized, but I think it will be.
  • Times were both wonderful and terrible. You were fighting all the time, you were really thinking the country was going to have a fantastic revolution and that things were going to change for the poor. You were utopic, and so very deeply into that, that you didn’t have much time to look deeper into your psyche, or your culture.
  • I talked about what had happened in my country and the horrible assassination of Monsignor Romero. And soon after that, my cousin, Vides Casanova, then Minister of Defense, sent word that I should never come back to El Salvador, otherwise, he would not be responsible for what happened to me. That was a forced exile. I did not go back for 11 years.
  • I will tell you one anecdote that was shattering to me: Right after the peace agreements Bud and I went to El Salvador and I wanted to go to Guasapa—one of the guerilla strongholds. I met an old lady there who said to me with tears in her eyes, “So why all of these wars? I lost my husband, I lost two of my children, I lost my son-in-law, for what?” I cried with her. I didn’t know what to tell her. As you said, she was wounded. That’s why people don’t want to talk about it. But this refusal to speak about it is transitory. Sooner or later we have to face it. We have to reach inside ourselves, and inside our people, too. It’s a lot of work, but something great is going to come from it. Maybe I will not be alive to see it.
  • I was a child, seven years old, when the 1932 massacre began. I carried it with me as a terrible wound. It wasn’t until years later that I decided to write Ashes of Izalcowith Bud in order to exercise myself from that time. Martinez won and he stayed in power until 1944 when our people ousted him. And then more dictators and more dictators until, we thought, This is it! We are going to be free. Look—we didn’t even win the revolution. Maybe I am stupid, because I am utopic, but I don’t think El Salvador will be the same even though our revolution didn’t win. The people aren’t going to be the same anymore. Something has happened. When I was writing Don’t Take Me Alive I interviewed many peasant women who told me they were never going to be as they were before. Now they know how to read and write, they know they are not inferior to men, they have done beautiful things right there with the guerrillas. It’s a step forward, and will help the other generations. I don’t think everything is lost. I don’t think El Salvador and Nicaragua are going to be what they were 20 years or 30 years ago.
  • What do I hope for this next century? That the human race thinks deeply and puts aside hate, that we end all discrimination.
  • I would love Central America to be one country. We are the same everywhere. We belong to this beautiful cosmic race and it is the cosmic race that is going to reign in this next century. It is the mixture of races that is so beautiful...We have to accept each other, if we mix fantastic. Why not? Not to make you marry someone that is not of your race; but if you want to, so what? I believe in the mixture. All of us have a gift to give. All of us.
  • I hope we go back into our Indian roots in the next century, bring them to the surface, study them. There is only an elite that knows of the great richness and wisdom in the Popol Vuh (The Book of the Dawn of Life), we are going to get as much from this as we do from our Spanish heritage.
  • many more people know more about El Quijote than about the Popol Vuh. Why? Because the Spaniards destroyed so much.
  • For me, Spanish is one of the greatest heritages the Spaniards gave us, I adore my Spanish language. It would not be honest if I were to start writing in Nahuatl. I was born with the Spanish language; I was fed by the Spanish language. I could not write in any other language, Spanish is my mother language—I think in Spanish. When I am mad, no matter where I am—I would express myself in Spanish. (laughter) I would really like to study Nahuatl and I haven’t, which is my fault; it’s a beautiful language, but I could not incorporate it; I would not write in Nahuatl. But I would like our children to learn from this other richness of ours and take advantage of it. We have always submerged the Indian.

Quotes about

  • Hers was sometimes a blunt vision, as in “Documentary,” a poem about El Salvador that includes these lines: "Besides the coffee/They plant angels/In my country./A chorus of children/And women/With the small white coffin/Move politely aside/As the harvest passes by." “I wrote that poem a long time ago, and some people said it was a political poem,” she told Bill Moyers for his book “The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets” (1995). “I laughed. To me it was a love poem for my country, and I wanted everybody to come and see what I was seeing. I wanted them to see why it was such a desperate situation.”
  • She has been an indefatigable advocate for human rights throughout her life, and her work has made an impact around the world because she has unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.
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