Latin American Literature: History, Authors & Genres

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  • 0:04 What Is Latin American…
  • 0:47 Pre-Colombian & Colonial
  • 2:07 Resistance Literature…
  • 4:05 The Boom
  • 4:41 Contemporary Literature
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Latin American literature has a diverse history filled with brilliant authors writing in a variety of genres. In this lesson, you'll get an inside look at the history of Latin American literature and learn about major authors and popular genres.

What Is Latin American Literature?

Latin American literature refers to written and oral works created by authors in parts of North America, South America, and the Caribbean. Latin American authors usually write in Spanish, Portuguese, English, or a language native to their specific country. Latin American writers working in the United States can be classified as writing Latin American literature too.

Latin American literature has a rich history starting in the Pre-Colombian period and working all the way up to modern day. With each period of Latin American history, came a genre that dominated the field. In this lesson, we will look at the main periods of Latin American literature, the genres that fueled those periods, and authors who are well known in Latin American literature.

Pre-Colombian & Colonial

The Pre-Colombian period of Latin American literature was marked by the oral traditions of Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs. The oral literature usually had something to do with agriculture, mythology, astronomy, political history, and religion. While most of the literature was oral, the Mayans and the Aztecs created codices, folded books with a type of code and pictures that recorded many facets of their societies.

After the Spanish sailed over in the sixteenth century, the Colonial period began. The Colonial period was important because it was the beginning of the written tradition in Latin American literature. From the written first-person accounts of European explorers to the recordings made by priests, Latin American literature began to take shape. Natives, including Guaman Poma, wrote documents that recorded the way life changed after the Spanish infiltrated their lands.

As the Colonial period wrapped up in the eighteenth century, Latin America had produced its first novel, countless essays, and poetry. El Periquillo Sarniento by José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi is considered the first Latin American novel. It was published in 1816. Many of the novelists during this period wrote books that championed national independence from Spanish and Portuguese authorities.

Resistance Literature & Modernismo

Starting in the middle of the nineteenth century, a rise in literature that fought against the colonizing force and cherished the national culture took place. Resistance literature was important because it aimed to define what the identity of a Latin American person looked like, both on an individual and national level. The Resistance literature movement is closely correlated to the Modernismo period, which we will discuss next.

While many of the writers in this period were male, the Resistance period saw an explosion in the number of women contributing to Latin American literature. Like the many male writers who were writing to stand up against powers who invaded their countries, the women were writing against the patriarchal oppression of women in Latin America. Marginalization was the primary focus of the works written by authors such as Clorinda Matto de Turner, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Gabriela Mistral, and Juana Manuela Gorriti. These women paved the way for contemporary female authors to have their voices heard in a society that often failed to acknowledge that they even existed.

As we discussed, Resistance literature overlapped with the next period, Modernismo, which persisted through the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. Modernismo began with the publication of Azul by Ruben Dario in 1888, and was a movement largely driven by poetry. José Martí, a Cuban poet, was considered the 'Father of Modernismo', with his poetry and writings being such a force during the time that he was deported from his homeland several times.

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