By Skyler Gomez | On | Comments (1)
Gabriela Mistral, born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga (April 7, 1889 – January 10, 1957), was a Chilean poet, educator, diplomat, and feminist best known for being the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was awarded “for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world.”
Born in Vicuña, Chile and raised in the small Andean village of Montegrande, her family was rather poor. Her father, Juan Gerónimo Godoy Villanueva, abandoned the family less than three years after she was born. Though he abandoned them and left her mother to support the family, he did pass down his gift for teaching.
At nine years old, Mistral attended a primary school that was taught by her older sister, Emelina Molina, but only attended for three years. By fifteen years old she was taking on the responsibility of supporting herself and her sick mother, Petronila Alcayaga, as a teacher’s aide.
She started writing poetry during her time as an educator, which is when she started using her pen pal name, Gabriela Mistral. Some of these were published in local and national magazines and newspapers years later.
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Poetry as a way to heal
At seventeen years old, Mistral met a young railway worker named Romeo Ureta and fell in love. Sadly, in 1909 he committed suicide. The only thing found in his possession was a postcard from Mistral. This horrific moment is one that would scar her for the rest of her life. There was more tragedy to come when a nephew also committed suicide. Soon after, Mistral started writing poetry that characterized her painful emotions.
The sad death of her lover influenced her to write “Sonetos de la muerte,” three of which would go on to get published and earn her a national prize for poetry in 1914.
Teaching career and recognition
After she established a poetic reputation and received her diploma in 1912, Mistral was allowed to teach secondary school and got a teaching position near Santiago. Eventually, in 1918 she became head of a secondary school for girls in Punta Arenas, which later became the inspiration for a series of poems named Paisajes de Patagonia (Patagonian Landscapes).
Growing up around poverty, she was sympathetic to the poor and was eager to help when it came to education. In 1922, she gladly accepted Jose Vasconcelos’, the Mexican minister of education, invitation to create educational programs for the poor in Mexico. As a result, she brought mobile libraries into rural areas to make literature accessible to more people. She rarely ever took a break as she went right into editing her book, Readings for Women, and traveling to other countries to study their teaching methods.
All of her hard work rightfully earned her the title “Teacher of the Nation” in 1923 by her own government.
Gabriela Mistral page on Amazon
Rise to fame and the Nobel Prize
As Mistral was rising to fame, she was asked to attend numerous conferences and give speeches. She eventually became Chile’s representative abroad for almost twenty years, which included the League of Nations, the United Nations, and more. After much traveling, Mistral decided she would settle down so she became a college professor. She taught classes at Middlebury and Barnard colleges and the University of Puerto Rico.
She became an icon for the Latin community in 1945 when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature on behalf of Latin America, making her the first Latina to do so. A year later, the United Nations turned to her in 1946 asking her to create the first worldwide appeal for funds for poor children, which is when UNICEF came to be.
Many of Mistral’s poems are written with intense emotion and direct language influenced by the modernist movement. Reoccurring themes include love, deceit, sorrow, nature, travel, and love for children as she uses her writing to tell her readers how she felt during certain points in her life.
All of these emotions create a constant internal battle that she can only express it through poetry. Her lyrical voices represent various aspects of her own personality that readers can interpret as autobiographical voices of a woman who has been hurt and betrayed numerous times.
Awards and Honors
In 1914, Mistral won a national prize in poetry for Sonetos de la muerte. She was inspired to create this collection of poems as a reflection of her deep sadness after her first lover committed suicide.
In 1923, Mistral was awarded the title “Teacher of the Nation” by her own government after studying different methods of teaching all over the world. She also assisted in educating the poor by providing them with books through mobile libraries.
In 1945, Mistral was the first Latinx writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she accepted on behalf of Latin America.
Mistral died in 1957 at age sixty-seven in Hempstead, New York. Her body was laid to rest back in the small Andean village of Montegrande. Today, her poetry is translated into other foreign languages and is talked about internationally.
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More about Gabriela Mistral on this site
- 8 Fascinating Facts About Gabriela Mistral, Latina Nobel Prize Winner
- 10 Poems by Gabriela Mistral on Life, Love, and Death
- Sonetos de la muerte (“Sonnets of Death”) – 1914
- Desolación (“Despair”), including “Decalogo del artista” – 1922
- Lecturas para Mujeres (“Readings for Women”) – 1923
- Ternura: canciones de niños – 1924
- Nubes Blancas y Breve Descripción de Chile – 1934
- Tala (“Harvesting”) -1938
- Antología: Selección de Gabriela Mistral – 1941
- Los sonetos de la muerte y otros poemas elegíacos -1952
- Lagar – 1954
- Recados: Contando a Chile – 1957
- Poesías completas – 1958
- Poema de Chile (“Poem of Chile”) -1967
- Lagar II – 1992
- Gabriela Mistral’s Struggle with God and Man by Martin C. Taylor (2012)
- Queer Mother for the Nation by Licia Fiol – Matta (2002)
- Gabriela Mistral Foundation
- The Famous People
- Distinguished Women
- Discussion of Gabriela Mistral’s works on Goodreads
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Skyler Isabella Gomez is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Black Studies. Her passions include connecting more with her Latin roots by researching and writing about legendary Latina authors.
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