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Literature and Writing

Latin American Literature

Native American languages, Garcia Marquez, early explorers, Romance languages, Neruda

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>  The Colonial Period

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>  Drama

Latin American Literature, any literature in the Americas written in one of the Romance languages, primarily Spanish, Portuguese, and French, from the 15th century to the present. These languages were brought to North, Central, and South America by European settlers who began to arrive at the end of the 15th century. Some studies of Latin American literature also include writings in the indigenous languages of Central and South America, dating from before the European conquest to the present.

Latin American literature is tremendously varied in its scope. It encompasses narratives by early explorers and settlers, which tell of their encounters with the land and people of the New World; satiric writings that comment on colonial society and its imitation of European trends; and works that incorporate Native American themes and imagery in an effort to express an experience that is uniquely Latin American. A continuing dilemma for writers arises from the desire to define a distinct Latin American identity while not appearing narrow or provincial in terms of European literary standards.

Latin American writing can be divided into three broad periods: colonial literature, from the time of European conquest to independence; the literature of independence, which began in the early 1800s in most of Latin America; and modern literature, which began in the late 1800s and was accompanied by the realization of a distinctive national voice, sometime in the 1900s. Additionally, a native tradition, which began before the European conquest, consists of literature in Native American languages.


Latin American literature enjoys international recognition today. Extensive translations into English and many other languages have contributed to the awareness of Latin America’s cultural richness, both as a whole and as individual societies. Nobel Prizes awarded to four Latin American authors—Mistral, Neruda, Garcia Marquez, and Paz—have acknowledged this richness and identified important facets of this literature. It is unfortunate that Borges, perhaps the most influential writer Latin America has yet produced, did not receive such recognition. Finally, a growing exchange between Latin America and the United States, which has a huge Spanish-speaking population with Latin American affiliations, will undoubtedly continue to contribute to the considerable impact Latin American writing now enjoys in the United States.


Foster, David William, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Regents' Professor of Spanish, Humanities, and Women's Studies, Arizona State University. Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures. Author of "Gay and Lesbian Issues in Latin American Literature".

Article key phrases:

Native American languages, Garcia Marquez, early explorers, Romance languages, Neruda, Mistral, colonial society, modern literature, colonial literature, Borges, European settlers, Latin American literature, Nobel Prizes, settlers, narratives, realization, Paz, imagery, people, South America, United States, Assessment, Spanish, New World, century, desire, present, English, land, Americas, effort, North, end, encounters, writings, experience, languages, writers

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