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Rosario Castellanos (25 May 19257 August 1974) was a Mexicanmarker poet and author. Along with the other members of the Generation of 1950 (the poets who wrote following the second world war, influenced by Cesar Vallejo and others), she was one of Mexico's most important literary voices in the last century. Throughout her life, she wrote eloquently about issues of cultural and gender oppression, and her work has influenced feminist theory and cultural studies. Though she died young, she opened the door of Mexican literature to women, and left a legacy that still resonates today.


Born in Mexico Citymarker, she was raised in Comitánmarker near her family's ranch in the southern state of Chiapasmarker. She was an introverted young girl, who took notice of the plight of the indigenous Maya who worked for her family. According to her own account, she felt estranged from her family after a soothsayer predicted that one of her mother's two children would die shortly, and her mother screamed out, "Not the boy!"

The family's fortunes changed suddenly when President Lázaro Cárdenas enacted a land reform and peasant emancipation policy that stripped the family of much of its land holdings. At fifteen, Castellanos and her parents moved to Mexico Citymarker. One year later, her parents were dead and she was left to fend for herself.

Although she remained introverted, she joined a group of Mexican and Central American intellectuals, read extensively, and began to write. She studied philosophy and literature at the National Autonomous Universitymarker, where she would later teach, and joined the National Indigenous Institute, writing scripts for puppet shows that were staged in impoverished regions to promote literacy. Ironically, the Institute had been founded by President Cárdenas, who had taken away her family's land. She also wrote a weekly column for the newspaper Excélsior.

In addition to her literary work, Castellanos held several government posts. In recognition for her contribution to Mexican literature, Castellanos was appointed ambassador to Israelmarker in 1971.

On 7 August 1974 Castellanos died in Tel Avivmarker from an unfortunate electrical accident. Some have speculated that the accident was in fact suicide. Mexican writer Martha Cerda, for example, wrote to journalist Lucina Kathmann, "I believe she committed suicide, though she already felt she was dead for some time.". There is no evidence to support such a claim, however.


Throughout her career, Castellanos wrote poetry, essays, one major play, and three novels: the semi-autobiographical Balún Canán and Oficio de tinieblas (translated into English as The Book of Lamentations) depicting a Tzotzil indigenous uprising in Chiapas based on one that had occurred in the 19th century. Despite being a ladino – of mestizo, not indigenous descent – Castellanos shows considerable concern and understanding for the plight of indigenous peoples. "Cartas a Ricardo," a collection of her letters to her husband Ricardo Guerra was published after her death as was her third novel,"Rito de iniciacion." Rosario Castellanos said of the collection of her letters in "Cartas a Ricardo"that she considered them to be her autobiography. "Rito de iniciacion" is about a young woman who comes to Mexico City and discovers her vocation of a writer.

Selected bibliography

  • Balún-Canán (1957)
  • Poemas (1953-1955) (1957)
  • Ciudad Real: Cuentos (1960)
  • Oficio de tinieblas (1962)
  • Album de familia (1971)
  • Poesía no eres tú; Obra poética: 1948-1971 (1972)
  • Mujer que sabe latín . . . (1973)
  • El eterno femenino: Farsa (1973)
  • Bella dama sin piedad y otros poemas
  • Los convidados de agosto
  • Declaración de fe
  • La muerte del tigre
  • Cartas a Ricardo (1994)
  • Rito de iniciación (1996)

English translations

  • The Nine Guardians: a Novel (1992), trans. Irene Nicholson
  • The Book of Lamentation (1996), trans. Esther Allen

Additional reading

  • Ahern, Maureen."Rosario Castellanos". Latin American Writers. 3 vols. Ed. Solé/Abreu. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989: III: 1295-1302.
  • ___. "Rosario Castellanos". Spanish American Woman Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book. Ed. Diane E. Marting. Westport/London: Greenwood Press, 1990: 140-155.
  • Anderson, Helene M. "Rosario Castellanos and the Structures of Power". Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America. Ed. Doris Meyer & Margarite Fernández Olmos. NY: Brooklyn College Humanities Institute Series, Brooklyn College, 1983: 22-31.
  • Bellm, Dan. "A Woman Who Knew Latin." The Nation. (26 June 1989): 891-893.
  • Brushwood, John S. The Spanish American Novel: A Twentieth Century Survey. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1975., pp. 237-238.
  • Castillo, Debra A. Talking Back: Toward a Latin American Feminist Literary Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
  • Juarez Torres, Francisco. La poesia indigenista en cuatro poetas latinoamericanos: Manuel Gonzalez Prada, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda y Rosario Castellanos. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1990.
  • Kintz, Linda. Title: The Subject's Tragedy: Political Poetics, Feminist Theory, and Drama. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1992.
  • Medeiros-Lichem, María Teresa. "Rosario Castellanos: The Inclusion of Plural Languages and the Problematic of Class and Race in Texts Written by Women". In Reading the Femine Voice in Latin American Women's Fiction: From Teresa de la Parra to Elena Poniatowska and Luisa Valenzuela. New York/Bern: Peter Lang, 2002: 84-99.
  • Melendez, Priscilla. "Genealogia y escritura en Balun-Canan de Rosario Castellanos" MLN 113.2 (March 1998) (Hispanic Issue): 339-363.
  • Meyer, Doris. Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay: Women Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Austin : University of Texas Press, 1995.
  • Schaefer, Claudia. Textured Lives: Women, Art, and Representation in Modern Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.
  • Schwartz, Kessel. A New History of Spanish American Fiction. Vol. 2. Coralal Gables: University of Florida Press, 1971: 299-301.
  • Turner, Harriet S. "Moving Selves: The Alchemy of Esmero (Gabriela Mistral, Gloria Riestra, Rosario Castellanos, and Gloria Fuertes)". In the Feminine Mode: Essays on Hispanic Women Writers. Eds, Noël Valis and Carol Maier. Lewisburg: Bucknell University press, 1990: 227-245.
  • Ward, Thomas. La resistencia cultural: la nación en el ensayo de las Américas. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2004: 269-275.

Links:Rosario Castellanos reading some of her poetry. Rosario Castellanos at www.palabravirtual.comMusical versions of Rosario Castellanos' poetry.


  1. Cordite Poetry Review Archives at

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