Rosario Castellanos, Mexican Author, Poet, & Diplomat

Rosario Castellanos (born Rosario Castellanos Figueroa; May 25, 1925 – August 7, 1974), author, poet, and diplomat, was one of Mexico’s most influential literary voices of the twentieth century.

This brief biography will examine her life and work, which dealt with issues of culture and gender in her home country, and which went on to influence contemporary Mexican feminist theory and cultural studies.

Castellanos was born in Mexico City and raised near her family’s ranch in Comitán in the southern state of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border. She was quite shy as a child and never completely felt part of her family. A soothsayer once told her mother that one of her two children would die, and she screamed, “Not the boy!”

Her family, who once owned a big portion of land, lost much of it due to land reform and peasant emancipation policy enacted by President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1941. After being negatively impacted by the new land reform, Castellanos moved back to Mexico City with her parents at the age of fifteen. In 1948, both of her parents died within one month, compelling her to fend for herself.

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The death of her parents and the poem Endless Death by José Gorostiza marked the start of her writing career and becoming a cultural critic. She enrolled at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) to study law, philosophy, and literature.

Castellanos joined the National Indigenous Institute, where she wrote scripts for puppet shows. Coincidentally, the Institute was founded by the very person who took her family’s land away — President Cárdenas.

During this period, she also wrote a weekly column for a newspaper called Excélsior. After leaving UNAM, she transferred to the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. She also began spending time with Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and other Mexicans. This group would later become writers who would be known as “The 1950 Generations.” It was in 1950 that she earned her master’s degree in philosophy.

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New Beginnings 

In 1958, Castellanos married Ricardo Guerra Tejada, a professor of philosophy. Together they had a son named Gabriel Guerra Castellanos (currently a political scientist), born in 1961. Before the birth of her son, she suffered from depression after having numerous miscarriages. Gabriel’s birth was monumental and gave her a new outlook on life.

Her marriage to Guerra ended after thirteen years as a result of his unfaithfulness. By this time, she had experienced an immense amount of heartbreak and depression, but didn’t allow anything to hinder her work. She dedicated much effort to defending women’s rights, which would eventually earn her a place as an important symbol of Latin American feminism.

In addition to her writing endeavors, Castellanos held many governmental posts and was appointed ambassador of Mexico to Israel in 1971. After her divorce, she yearned for a change for her and her son, and welcomed the position.

While in Tel Aviv, Israel, she also taught Latin American Literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and published several essays, short stories, and even wrote a play.

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Themes in Rosario Castellanos’ writing

Castellanos’ poetry is deeply Catholic. She admired the work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Mexican nun-poet of the seventeenth century, and Saint Teresa of Ávila, the Spanish sixteenth-century religious activist and author.

Her poetry expresses social injustices and admiration for the creator of nature and is considered both powerful and authentic. Identity and the spirit of her home state of Chiapas are themes of her poetry, and she wrote of the women’s rights movement in Mexico.

Though all of Castellanos’ works are powerful and original, her most famous novel, Oficio de tinieblas (The Book of Lamentations) published in 1962, is regarded as her most moving piece. The novel re-creates an Indian rebellion that happened in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the nineteenth century.

Castellanos sets the story in the 1930s, the period in which her family suffered from reforms at the start of the Mexican Revolution. 

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Awards and Honors 

Rosario Castellanos was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including:

  • 1958: The Chiapas Award for her novel Balún Canán.
  • 1960: The Xavier Villaurrutia Award for Ciudad Real.
  • 1962: The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Award.
  • 1967: The Carlos Trouyet Award of Letters.
  • 1972: The Elias Sourasky Award of Letters.
  • In Mexico City, a park and a public library are named after her in the borough Cuajimalpa de Morelos.
  • In UNAM, the library of the Center of Research and Gender Studies is named after her. One of the gardens of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters is named after her as well.
  • In Colonia Condesa, Mexico City, the headquarters of the Economic Culture Fund bears her name.

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An unexpected death 

Tragically, on August 7, 1974, Castellanos died in Tel Aviv at the age of forty-nine. Though her death was determined to be an accident, some, including Mexican writer Martha Cerda, believe her death was a suicide.

Cerda wrote to journalist Lucian Kathmann, “I believe she committed suicide, though she already felt she was dead for some time.” However, there is no evidence to support the theory of suicide.


More about Rosario Castellanos

On this site

Major works 

  • Balún-Canán Fondo de Cultura Economica (1957; 2008)
  • Poemas (1953–1955)
  • Ciudad Real: Cuentos (1960)
  • Oficio de tinieblas (1962)
  • Álbum de familia (1971)
  • Poesía no eres tú; Obra poética (1948–1971)
  • Mujer que sabe latín . . . (1973)
  • El eterno femenino: Farsa (1973) (1964)
  • Bella dama sin piedad y otros poemas (1984)
  • Los convidados de agosto (1964)
  • Declaración de fe  (2012)
  • Cartas a Ricardo (1994)
  • Rito de iniciación ( 1996) 
  • Sobre cultura femenina (2005)  

English translations

  • The selected poems of Rosario Castellanos, (Magda Bogin, editor; 1988)
  • The Nine Guardians (novel, Irene Nicholson, translator; 1992)
  • The Book of Lamentations (Esther Allen, translator; 1998)
  • City of Kings (Robert S. Rudder, editor; 1993)
  • A Rosario Castellanos Reader: An Anthology of Her Poetry, Short Fiction,
    Essays and Drama
    (Maureen Ahern, editor; 2010)


  • Remembering Rosario: a Personal Glimpse into the Life and Works of Rosario Castellanos by Oscar Bonifaz Caballero, and Myralyn Frizzelle Allgood (1990)
  • A Rosario Castellanos Reader by Rosario CastellanosMaureen Ahern (Translator) (2010)

More information and sources 

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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