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Ecuadorian Literature

Before the Spanish conquest, literature was an oral affair in Ecuador. I wasn't until the colonial period that the written tradition began. One notable work of that era is Elegía a la muerte de Atahualpa, written in Quichua and attributed to cacique Jacinto Collahuazo (18th century).

In the years leading up to the Independence, several important writers emerged on the scene: Eugenio Espejo (1747-1795), the country’s first journalist, and poet José Joaquín de Olmedo (1780-1847), who wrote Canto a Bolívar and Canción del 9 de octubre, which would become Guayaquil’s anthem.

In the mid-19th century two of Ecuador’s most important writers emerged: Juan Montalvo (1832-89) and Juan León Mera (1832-94). Montalvo was principally an essayist who wrote about social, political, historical and cultural issues. His works include Cosmopolita, Geometría moral, Las Catilinarias and his masterpiece, Siete Tratados.

A collection of his oeuvre, published by Arizona State University, is available in English. Mera is credited with writing the first Ecuadorian novel, Cumandá (1879), a Romantic genre story set in Ecuador’s jungle. This writer was also a musician, and composed the lyrics of Ecuador’s national anthem.

The next important Ecuadorian novel was written by Luis A. Martínez (1869-1909). His work, A la costa, launched the Realism movement in the Andean country. This novel vividly displays the social changes that Ecuador experienced at the end of the 19th century. In the same genre is Plata y bronce (1927) by Fernando Chávez, which examines race and social class relations between the Indigenous and whites.

Chavez’ work ushered in Ecuador’s next literary movement: Social Realism. Its most famous representative is Jorge Icaza (1906-79), who penned Huasipungo (in English, The Villagers, 1934). This controversial Indigenismo novel portrays the Indigenous struggle against exploitation. It is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant works in contemporary Latin American literature.

Another noteworthy work of this period is Los que se van (1930) by Joaquin Gallegos Lara (1911-1947), Demetrio Aguilera Malta (1909-1981) and Enrique Gil Gilbert (1912-1973). This collection of stories focuses on the social reality of Ecuador’s Indigenous and Montubio peoples. These three writers, along with José de la Cuadra (1903-1941) and Alfredo Pareja Diezcanseco (1908-1993), formed the Guayaquil Group. All became famous in their own right.

Contemporary Ecuadorian writers continue to focus on social and political issues. Jorge Carrera Andrade (1903-1978) is considered to be one of Latin America’s most important 20th-century poets; most of his works have been published in English. Jorge Enrique Adoum (1926-2009) wrote Entre Marx y una Mujer Desnuda (1976), which is not yet available in English; it was turned into a movie by Camilo Luzuriaga in 1995. An English collection of Adoum’s poetry, Disinterred Love, was released in 2012 by Salt Publishing. Demetrio Aguilera Malta is widely translated into English. His magi-surrealist novels include: Don Goyo (1980), Seven Serpents and Seven Moons (1981) and Babelandia (1985).

Influential Afro-Ecuadorian writers are Nelson Estupiñán Bass, (1912-2002), Antonio Preciado (1944-) and Adalberto Ortiz (1914-2003), who wrote Juyungo (1942) which appears in English.

Other 20th and 21st century wordsmiths from this Andean nation worth checking out are: Abdón Ubidia, Alicia Yánez Cossío, Eliécer Cárdenas, Enrique Gil Gilber, Mariana Falconí, Nuria Rengifo and Raúl Pérez Torres. The books of these and many others may be purchased at the bookstores of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, which has branches throughout the country.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Art and Painting in Ecuador, Quito's Street Food, Culture in Ecuador and Oswaldo Guayasamín.








By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

09 Oct 2013






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