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Gabriela Mistral. Photo: La Tercera.
Gabriela Mistral. Photo: La Tercera.

Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American Nobel Prize winner

Mistral was a traveler and cosmopolitan woman who received a Nobel Prize and died in New York full of accolades.

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When Lucila de María Godoy Alcayaga, better known as Gabriela Mistral, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, she was already a veteran writer. Born in Vicuña (Chile) on April 7, 1889, she was soon associated with the poetic modernism led by Rubén Darío. Darío himself invited her to collaborate in the magazine Elegancias, which the master edited in Paris. 

Her pseudonym was used for the first time in 1908, at the head of her poem "Del pasado," a composition she published in the newspaper El Coquimbo. It came from the names of her two most admired authors: Gabriele D'Annunzio and Federic Mistral. 

She started writing around 1904, and 10 years later, won the Chilean National Poetry Prize for Sonetos de la muerte. Mistral's signature became a regular feature in the newspapers as he collected the poems that would form Desolación (1922). This book was followed by Ternura (1923), Tala (1938) and Lagar (1954). In 1923, she also published an anthology, Lecturas para mujeres destinadas a la enseñanza de la lengua (Readings for Women for Language Teaching).

Mistral's concept of education, which she pursued with great dedication, was not revolutionary, emphasizing the importance of the family unit, and considering that boys and girls should be educated separately. What was innovative was her insistence that girls receive a solid literary education. 

Nor were her aesthetic preferences avant-garde; she always preferred naturalness to stridency. Even so, she was a well-traveled and cosmopolitan personality. In 1924 she was invited to Mexico to participate in the educational reform that was being promoted there, and she began her travelling career by visiting Europe and the United States.

She shone especially brightly during the 1930s, a decade in which she did not stop travelling and receiving distinctions from many different countries. She taught at various American institutions (Bernard College, Vassar College and Middlebury College). In 1933 she was appointed Chilean consul in Madrid, and the following year she was proclaimed an adopted daughter of Puerto Rico. During those years she traveled extensively: Lisbon, Guatemala, Brazil, France, Mexico and Italy. Wherever she went she left a warm memory. 

Tala was dedicated to the Spanish child victims of the civil war. Gabriela Mistral survived the Nobel Prize by 12 years, won the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 1951 and died in 1957 in New York, surrounded by world fame and full of recognition. In New York she had been Chile's consul since 1953, and was also a delegate to the United Nations Assembly. 

Gabriela Mistral's work, of worldwide scope, has been translated into more than twenty languages. 

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