"Placita de noche" by Antonio Broccoli Porto,



 Sobre la Literatura Puertorriqueña en Estados Unidos / About US Puerto Rican Literature:
bulletMi introducción a la literatura puertorriqueña en EEUU  (Thesis Dissertation introduction)
bullet Puerto Rican Literature in the United States: Stages and Perspectives by Juan Flores
bullet Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Identity and Modernization in Nuyorican Texts By Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé
bullet Puerto Rican Literature in the United States, Bibliography compiled by Edna Acosta-Belén

bullet  Historia literaria de Puerto Rico (Thesis Dissertation pp. 21-51)
bullet US Latinos: Their Culture and Literature by Marc Zimmerman
bullet The Literature of the Puerto Rican Migration in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography by Edna Acosta Belén
bullet Selección de obras de la Biblioteca Pública de Nueva York
bullet"Female Invisibility and Literacy Representations of Puerto Ricans in the United States," Introduction to Kissing the Mango Tree: Puerto Rican Women Rewriting American Literature by Carmen S. Rivera
bullet "Breve Panorámica de las letras puertorriqueñas en Estados Unidos," por Alfredo Matilla



Mi bibliografía /My bibliography on US Puerto Rican Literature



Puerto Rican Literature


Puerto Rican Literature has been deeply influenced by Puerto Rico’s history of colonization and by massive migration during the 20th century. The development of national identity in Puerto Rico has implied a series of contradictions which are reflected in its literature.  Many critics have pointed out that Puerto Rican literature is split between two shores: Puerto Rican literature written by island authors and the more recent Puerto Rican literature written in the United States by the sons and daughters of the different migratory waves along the twentieth century.  Puerto Rican literature on the island has been characterized by a number of recurrent themes concerning the definition of cultural and national identity as a way to solve the contradiction of being Latina American but U.S. citizens, of being a Caribbean nation which is still US territory yet culturally and linguistically different. 

Under the Spanish colonial power, Puerto Rican literature did not emerge as such until the second half of the nineteenth century with works like El jíbaro (1849) by Manuel Alonso where a distinct local culture was presented. The island would also become a beloved patria in the poetry written with a nationalist urge by José Gautier Benítez (1851-1880).  The 1898 events and the arrival of North Americans after the Spanish-American wear brought new difficulties to the emerging Puerto Rican identity.  Writers like Manuel Zeno Gandía wrote about the decline of an island and its people under a new colonial power in landmark works like the trilogy Crónicas de un mundo enfermo.  New anti-assimilationist figures appeared after 1898 reaffirming a distinct Puerto Rican heritage, culture and language, among them José de Diego (1866-1959) and Luis Llorens Torres (1878-1944), and the modernist Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959) with his afro-caribbean poetry. The literature written in Puerto Rico during the 20th century has been marked by the prominent issues of cultural and national identity and migration. The deep transformations that the island suffered in the first half of the century –the creation of the Estado Libre Asociado, the island industrialization, the decline of rural economy, cultural and linguistic assimilation policies and the growing migration to the United States– were the subject of works by writers belonging to the 40s generation such as José Luis González, Pedro Juan Soto, René Marqués and Emilio Díaz Valcárcel. A new generation of novelists and short story writers continued dealing with these issues in the sixties and seventies but they showed new literary techniques that left behind the previous realist tradition to explore a more experimental writing closer to the magical-realist Latin American tradition. Writers like Luis Rafael Sánchez, Rosario Ferré, Ana Lydia Vega, Manuel Ramos Otero, Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá and Magali Garcia Ramis among others, have shown a compromising attitude towards the cultural and political situation of Puerto Rico and the effect of massive migration on Puerto Rican identity. 

From the 1940s onwards a distinction can be drawn between the literature that is written and published in Puerto Rico and the literature produced in the United States. These two branches of a same tree have developed simultaneously providing a representation of the complex experience of Puerto Ricans.  The beginnings of Puerto Rican literature in the United States can be traced back to the 40s with the production of works like Memorias de Bernardo Vega and Puerto Rican Sketches and other Stories by Jesús Colón. Both works represent the experience of Puerto Ricans from the inside of the community and transmit the feeling of belonging to the new space and a new language as in the case of Sketches. But it is not until the 1960s and 1970s when a consolidated literature written by and about Puerto Ricans in the United States can be found.  This new literature, widely described by many critics as NUYORICAN LITERATURE (even though some authors like Piri Thomas do not identity as part of the movement) has a deep concern for the social and economic situation of Puerto Rican immigrants and also explore the identity crisis that emerges for second-generation Puerto Ricans in the United States. The publication of DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS (1967) by Piri Thomas marks the beginning of a literature dealing with life in the Barrio and the living conditions of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Nicholasa Mohr publishes in 1973 NILDA which describes the Puerto Rican urban experience from the perspective of an adolescent girl and provides a different vision of the Puerto Rican experience not limited to street gangs, drugs, and violence. Both authors, Piri and Mohr, are prolific writers who are still publishing and collaborating with their communities.

During the 1980s an important group of writers, mostly poets and playwrights, emerge in the New York area with a strong political voice.  Connected to the Nuyorican Poets Café and to the social and political movement of the Young Lords, they produced a socially compromised literature. Some outstanding figures of this literary movement are Lucky Cienfuegos, PEDRO PIETRI, Felipe Luciano, MIGUEL PIÑERO, TATO LAVIERA and MIGUEL ALGARÍN. Nuyorican poetry is especially remarkable for its originality as a new street poetry based on the spoken word and with strong ties to jazz and salsa music (Laviera). It is a poetry which is created and read for the community (usually presented at the Café) and which pursues to move the reader towards an understanding of Puerto Rican experience in the Barrios, their obstacles and troubles and also interethnic relationships.  The roots of this poetic language are street language, music and the two languages, Spanish and English, which become vehicles for poetic expression and experimentation at the same time that their combination (spanglish) gives unity to a fragmented Puerto Rican identity.

One of the best known Puerto Rican poets is Victor Hernández Cruz. His poetry is a wonderful product full of contrasts between Puerto Rican and American cultural forms and also full of symbolic contradictions, of ironic plays on words between Spanish and English and of a constantly present Latin rhythm. His poetic language emerges from the urban mode and symbols to go deep into the images and the experience of bicultural individuals.  The experimentation with words, images , sounds and languages from both cultures is represented in the term “tropicalization,” also the title of his 1976 collection, that is the representation of a subversive process by which different elements of Latin American culture penetrate American culture as an aesthetic response by Latinos and Latinas living in the United States. Many expressions can be found where the poet plays with the reader as in “the world could blow up but you tranquil” or the poem “Puerto Rican Joke Riddle Told in English” whose only sentence reads “Can he take the can,” an elaboration of the phrase “dar la lata.” 

The urban experience of Puerto Ricans is also represented in US Puerto Rican theatre. MIGUEL PIÑERO, stands out as one of the best known Puerto Rican playwrights.  His work Short Eyes, winner of the New York Drama Critics Award for Best American Play in 1974, is a dramatic representation of Puerto Rican survival in American prisons and the difficult relations with other ethnic groups. Other Puerto Rican playwrights in the northeast area are Federico Fraguado, Cándido Tirado, Richard Irizarry, Ivette M. Ramírez, Alberto Sandoval and Carmen Rivera.  Puerto Rican theatre in the 80s and 90s is especially concerned with common realities and the daily experience of racism, crime, poverty and drugs. More contemporary plays explore the psychological dimension of characters and the complexity of relationships within the community and with other ethnic groups.

During the last decades, a more diverse number of Puerto Rican writers have continued producing autobiographical novels about growing up Puerto Rican in the Barrios and fiction works about the development of a US Puerto Rican identity. Some of these writers are Edward Rivera (Family Installments, 1983), Esmeralda Santiago (When I was Puerto Rican, 1993), Ed Vega (Mendoza’s Dreams, 1987), Judith Ortiz Cofer (The Line of the Sun, 1989), Abraham Rodríguez Jr. (Tales of the South Bronx: The Boy without a Flag, 1992) and Ernesto Quiñonez (Bodega Dreams, 2000). They have very different perspectives on Puerto Rican identity depending on their own experience but most of them include in their works the role of the island as an important element of their cultural past and the need to find a new “home”/identity as US Puerto Ricans in the United States.  Puerto Rican identity is for these writers something complex they have to explore and redefine all the time but it is also something new and full of life and energy as a product of the interaction of cultures on American soil.  However, there are still some recurrent concerns such as racism, ethnic stereotyping, social discrimination and isolation, and lack of respect and understanding by mainstream society.


Further Reading:

Antush, John V. ed.  Nuestro New York: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Plays.  New York: Mentor, 1994.

Babín, María Teresa ed.  Borinquen: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Literature.  New York: Vintage, 1974.

González, José Luis.  Literatura y sociedad en Puerto Rico: de los cronistas de indias a la generación del 98.  México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1976.

Hernández, Carmen Dolores.  Puerto Rican Voices in English. Interviews with Writers.  Wesport and London: Praeger, 1997.

Manrique Cabrera, Francisco.  Historia de la literatura puertorriqueña.  Río Piedras: Editorial Cultural, 1969.

Mohr, Eugene V.  The Nuyorican Experience. Literature of the Puerto Rican Minority.  Wesport, Connecticut and London, England: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Sánchez González, Lisa.  Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora.  New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Santiago, Roberto ed.  Boricuas. Influential Puerto Rican Writings. An Anthology.  New York: Ballantine, 1995.

Turner, Faythe ed.  Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the USA.  Seattle: Open Hand Publishing, 1991.


Antonia Domínguez Miguela

University of Huelva, Spain




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 © Antonia Domínguez Miguela. Site last updated: 3 November 2015