Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American writer and the first woman in the Ibero-American world to receive the Nobel Prize in 1945. She was born in the remote Chilean Valle de Elqui – a place that has always accompanied her in her literature. In my study Poetik des Hummingbirds I trace , how Gabriela Mistral became a traveler who got to know Latin America both as a writer and as a diplomat and who comprehensively portrayed these experiences in her prose.
Gabriela Mistral’s travels began in 1922 when the young teacher left for Mexico to participate in a comprehensive educational reform initiated by the then Mexican Minister of Education, José Vasconcelos. In the course of this stay, the school book Lecturas para mujeres was created, which I am also examining in my study. This textbook was intended for girls at a Mexican school. In addition to numerous works of world literature compiled by Gabriela Mistral, it contains many of her prose writings.
Mexico in particular, as already indicated, plays an important role in Gabriela Mistral’s writing. In my research, I therefore focus on various prose writings in which the Chilean author turned to the landscape and the people of the country. The recado, a new form created by the Nobel Prize winner and often declared the highlight of her prose, also plays a special role.
Today, Gabriela Mistral is best known, if at all, for her poetry, for which she received the Nobel Prize. Her large body of prose is only occasionally recognized in research, although it is precisely through this that she has been able to reach a wide audience throughout Latin America. Last but not least, the newspaper played a role as a place of publication. When she received the Nobel Prize in 1945, Gabriela Mistral was in Petrópolis, Brazil, the former summer residence of the Brazilian Emperor, not far from Rio de Janeiro. Her contacts there included the previously deceased Stefan Zweig. After receiving the Nobel Prize, Gabriela Mistral would settle in the United States, where she died of cancer in 1957.
In my study I assign procedures to the individual authors. For Gabriela Mistral, it is visualization that I identify as the central writing process in her short travel prose. My thesis is that the author also succeeds in making the continent a sensual experience through her prose. The residents should be able to grasp the continent both visually and audibly through texts.
I derive the metaphor of the hummingbird, which also adorns the title of my study, from Gabriela Mistral’s oeuvre. The small travel prose resembles the compact bird not only in terms of size, but also in mobility and speed of writing. However, the fact that the hummingbird also plays an important role in the autochthonous cultures of the continent is one of the tracks that I trace in this chapter.
Links and resources related to Gabriela Mistral
My book Poetik des Kolibris
Latin American travel prose by Gabriela Mistral, Mário de Andrade and Henri Michaux. Book available free of charge as a PDF file (open access)
Gabriela Mistral in Mexico
Guest lecture on May 12, 2021 as part of the seminar "Gabriela Mistral: Aesthetic, political and gender-theoretical perspectives"
The prose of Gabriela Mistral
Guest lecture on June 21, 2021 as part of the lecture "History of Spanish and Hispano-American Literature" at the University of Giessen
Book Lecturas para Mujeres
Gabriela Mistral's textbook is available free of charge as a PDF file on the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile website (public domain)
Portraits of 14 women writers. Book available free of charge as a PDF file on the De Gruyter website (open access), contains an article on Gabriela Mistral
Conference Vögel aus Federn
Lecture "Latin American hummingbird poetics", conference Birds made of feathers: Written versions of the bird since 1800, 7.-8. May 2021 at the University of Münster