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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

Gabriela Mistral: The Poet-Diplomat of Chile

One of the most renowned figures in Latin American literature, Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, spent the last four years of her life living in Roslyn Harbor until her death in 1957. In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we look back to our September/October 2009 newsletter article "Remembering Gabriela Mistral in Roslyn" where former archivist Myrna Sloam wrote the following on the poet's background and origins:

Gabriela Mistral, born Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga (1889-1957) in a small town in Chile, started her career as a rural schoolteacher. Using her pen name, she attracted national attention for her poetry and in 1922, Desolación, her first book of poems was published in New York. Mistral was asked to help reform the education system in rural Mexico, which began her life as a traveler, educator, humanitarian and diplomat. Through the 1930s Mistral served as Consul for Chile in a number of countries and in 1931 she came to the U.S. and taught at Barnard and Middlebury Colleges.

The article discusses Mistral's literary and diplomatic achievements and her residence in Roslyn Harbor with Doris Dana, who is widely believed to have been a romantic companion:

In 1945 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature-- the first Latin American to win this prize. In 1946 she joined the newly formed United Nations as a delegate...[Mistral] was asked to make the first world-wide “Appeal for Children,” which marked the beginning of UNICEF.... In 1953 she moved to Roslyn Harbor to live with her friend and editor, Doris Dana. According to notes in the library’s Local History Collection, the house was located at 15 Spruce Street, Roslyn Harbor.
Doris Dana & Gabriela Mistral

Though much of her work speaks to her love for children with maternal themes, her poem "Leñador" paints a careful image of its eponymous subject, often translated to "Lumberjack" or in the case of Langston Hughes' translation, "Woodcutter." Shown here is a side-by-side view of the original Spanish language composition alongside Hughes' version which takes a clean, measured approach to the poem as opposed to more cumbersome translations:

In 2015, the 70th anniversary of Mistral's Nobel Prize was commemorated through the unveiling of a special plaque bearing her likeness, which now resides in our collection:

Click here to view the Roslyn Times' coverage of the ceremony, which was attended by several local officials including Roslyn Landmark Society president, Howard Kroplick. For more details on Mistral's life and work, check out the original newsletter article from 2009, the year which marked 120 years since the poet's birth.

From the Bryant Library Local History Collection:

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month!

English translation by Langston Hughes taken from Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral


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