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Arts, Literature

Mariano Azuela, Juana Ines, Mexican literature, Nueva Espana, Octavio Paz

Mexican literature boasts a long and distinguished history. Notable pre-Columbian works include the Maya Chilam Balam and Popol-Vuh, which provide many insights into the origins of the myths and legends of the Maya. The Spanish conquest is described by Hernan Cortes in Cartas de Relacion (first translated into English as Letters from Mexico in 1908), a collection of letters he wrote to the Spanish crown in the early 1500s. A detailed history of the conquest of Mexico, Historia Verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva Espana (True History of the Conquest of New Spain) was written by Spanish conqueror and author Bernal Diaz del Castillo in the 16th century. The book—started in 1568, published in three volumes in 1632, and translated into English in 1800—is famed for the objectivity of the writing. During the colonial period, Juana Ines de la Cruz, a female intellectual of considerable talent, contributed an extraordinary array of work, including lyrical poetry, plays, and mythology.

It was during the revolutionary period, however, that important groups of intellectuals, poets, and novelists began to develop significant literary movements in Mexico. The “generation of 1915” was one of the most important; many of this group became distinguished figures in public life. Mariano Azuela, a physician who participated in the Mexican Revolution under General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, authored the most widely read novel of that violent period: Los de Abajo (1916; translated as The Underdogs in 1929). The book portrayed the revolution in discouraging terms and is widely considered to be the best Mexican novel of that era.

Mexico has produced numerous writers, essayists, and poets of international renown, including Octavio Paz, who in 1990 became the first Mexican to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Carlos Fuentes is another Mexican writer whose fiction is widely read in Europe and the United States. He often writes about social issues in contemporary Mexico, but his best-known work deals with the decades that followed the Mexican Revolution.



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