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Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon Paperback – October 28, 2014
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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"In this magisterial study Pérez Rosario brings to blazing life one of the most courageous and important Puerto Rican diasporic artists of the 20th century. An indispensable book that presents Julia de Burgos in her extraordinary plenitude." --Junot Díaz
"Perez Rosario interrupts the dominant narrative of Latina tragedy, showing us instead a resilient Julia de Burgos who struggled against gender discrimination, poverty, and racism… Perez Rosario's rewriting of Burgos as Latina highlights the poet's fight for self-determination and recognition, autobiographical writing style, and political commitment to decolonization and social justice."--Women's Review of Books
"Becoming Julia de Burgos is a smart and original study of this important poet and cultural figure. Vanessa Pérez Rosario is an astute and insightful reader of Burgos' poetry, letters and journalism. Pérez Rosario is also a talented cultural historian: in addition to readings that yield political and aesthetic dimensions of Burgos' writing, Pérez Rosario also contextualizes Burgos' life transnationally, placing her at the center of debates among Puerto Rican intellectuals about gender, colonialism and cultural identity. An important study from an exciting and talented new critical voice."--Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War I
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The beginning of this book was perfect – setting up and explaining to the (potentially) unfamiliar reader some of the Puerto Rican struggles with history, place, identity, and destiny. It then moved into a brief but substantial overview of literary (and political) responses to the struggles of the island nation. As a US citizen, I’ve been exposed to very little of this history or viewpoint, and I found it educational and tragic. Especially saddening was the fact that I knew so little about the Puerto Rican paradigm.
The book then moves into the strictly biographical portion of the text. All told, this was probably about half of the total length of the text. Initially I found this troubling, because I expected (wanted) a hefty biography about an individual – but this book does something a little different, which also is an important undertaking.
Even as we learn about the specifics of the life of de Burgos, we are also looking at the more general situation of immigrants in the US, using the eyes and experiences of de Burgos as our lens. Especially important in this book is the specific situation and personal experience of de Burgos, but also the wider experience of Latino/as and African Americans in New York City. There are following sections of the book looking at her work, particularly her poetry (for which she is most famous), and her writings as a journalist (which seems to get very sparse critical attention, though speaks very powerfully).
The final sections of the book view the different ways that de Burgos has been taken up as a role model by later generations of writers, performers, and visual artists. Interesting to track is the way she has been used not only by Latino/a and African American artists, but also by other groups which have faced persecution and marginalization, particularly LGBTQ and feminist groups. I thought a lot of this section was weaker than other parts of the book, seeing that Rosario (the author) pulls largely from other writers and ideas to fill out her perspective – but as I continued to think about it after my reading was finished, I also realized that this section of the book was not only informative, but was also important for understanding the development of (especially) minority LGBTQ and feminist writers of color in the US. This last section of the book ended up being very good, and supporting the author’s larger purpose (I just selfishly wanted the end purpose to be shining more light on de Burgos – but her larger goals were just as important).
My final wrap-up and thoughts…this was definitely more of an academic approach to the life and works of Julia de Burgos than a personal/traditional biography (which makes sense, given the publisher). It puts her firmly in a particular place on the Puerto Rican pantheon of writers and thinkers. Though academic, this is a highly readable book, giving the reader ample background and context, as well as providing quality translations of de Burgos’ writings (also includes the Spanish-language original texts). There is a good deal of analysis of her poetry, which is also contrasted with what her predecessors and contemporaries were writing, as well as the writings of those who followed in her footsteps. We also get quite a glimpse into the related politics, since she was heavily involved in political commentary and protests.
“Fashioning the Self” was my favorite section of the book, which traced her own struggles with societal expectations versus what she wanted for her self…expectations versus personal ideals. I left straight from my reading of this book to dive into the poetry of Julia de Burgos