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Gabriela Mistral


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Chilean poet and diplomat who in 1945 became the first Latin-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The daughter of a schoolteacher, Gabriela Mistral herself began teaching at the age of fifteen in rural schools in northern Chile and in 1912 became headteacher of the Los Andes School in Punto Arenas, southern Chile. She began writing poetry as an expression of her grief following the suicide of her first love in 1909. In 1914 she published Sonetos de la muerte and in 1922 Desolaçion. Her verse, characterized by an emotional intensity and lyrical beauty, was to return to the themes of death and mourning, religious experience, maternal yearning, and social deprivation addressed in these first volumes. In 1922 the Chilean government sent her to Mexico to study educational and library facilities with a view to improving Chile's own system. On her return in 1924 she was honoured for her ‘outstanding cultural work’; that same year she published a collection of songs for children, Ternura.

In 1925 Mistral represented Chile at the League of Nations and the following year became chair of the Institute of International Intellectual Co-operation in Paris, a post she retained until the outbreak of World War II. Made an honorary consul by the Chilean government, Mistral served in Madrid, Lisbon, Nice, Rio de Janeiro, and Los Angeles. Diagnosed with diabetes in 1944, she settled in the USA and was a delegate to the United Nations.

Mistral's other collection of poems include Tala (1938) and Lagar (1954). Much of her writing for children was translated in Crickets and Frogs (1972).

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