Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa: The Novelist of Afro-Puerto Ricans
The New York-based Puerto Rican writer just published 'A Woman of Endurance,' a historical novel about slavery on Puerto Rico.
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Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was born in 1949 in a Black community in Carolina, Puerto Rico, but when she was still a child her family emigrated to New York, where she still lives today. Despite the many years she has lived in the United States, her status as Puerto Rican and Afro-Latina are two labels that have greatly marked both her personal and professional life.
"You can't separate my being Puerto Rican from my being of African descent. This, in one way or another, ended up leading me to become a writer, since everything I write has to do with the Afro-Puerto Rican world," Llanos-Figueroa said in a recent report in The Washington Post, where she detailed the controversy generated among her schoolmates in New York that she was Latina and at the same time Black and bilingual that sported Afro hair, as if they were incompatible things.
"I think in general people want to simplify things. You're either this or you're that. They don't like complications," she told The Washington Post. "And the reality is we're all complicated, we're all nuanced. And it may take a little bit longer to understand that this person can span two worlds."
She first triumphed in 2009 with her first novel, Daughters of the Stone, in which she traces the history of five generations of an Afro-Puerto Rican family.
Llanos-Figueroa just published her second novel, A Woman of Endurance, which focuses on Pola, an enslaved woman in 19th century Puerto Rico.
Pitched as a historical novel, A Woman of Endurance forces the reader to confront the brutal history of slavery in Puerto Rico, as well as the ways in which enslaved communities ensured their human dignity despite the violence. These stories, largely silenced or erased, are the result of archival research on Puerto Rico's slave plantations, as well as oral tradition and conversations with people in her community.
Raised for a time with her grandparents in Puerto Rico, Llanos-Figueroa had the opportunity to learn about the traditions of rural Puerto Rico, including storytelling by the women in her family, especially the elderly. Much of her work is based on her experiences during this time.
Before becoming a writer (her first novel was published when she was 60 years old), Dahlma worked as a creative writing and language and literature teacher in a New York public school and later as a librarian.
In 2021, Dahlma announced the creation of the Figueroa Sisters Fellowship and the Figueroa Sisters Fellowship, two fellowships in honor of her mother and aunts. The first is aimed at helping women writers over the age of 50, and the second is for Puerto Rican students interested in literature.