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Julia De Burgos: La Poeta (1914 - 1953)

Updated: Jan 17

Julia de Burgos is one of the best-known and most celebrated poets in Puerto Rican culture. Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Julia Constanza Burgos García was also a teacher, activist and journalist. She was the oldest of 13 children to parents Francisco Burgos and Paula García. Her family was poor - her father was a farmer and her mother often sacrificed in order to ensure that her daughter would be able to attain an education.

When Julia was 14 years old she attended University High School at the University of Puerto Rico. She received a scholarship and in 1931 she was able to enroll in college at the University of Puerto Rico where she would study to become a teacher. In 1933 Julia earned her teaching certificate from UPR. She was an expectional student who excelled in literature. She was also skilled in mathematics and was an outstanding athlete.

Soon after college Julia became a teacher at an elementary school in the rural town of Naranjito. Here she would pen her most famous poem “Río Grande de Loíza" inspired by the beautiful landscape of the Central Mountain Range. Not only did she hone her poetic skills in Naranjito but she also became general secretary of Frente Unido Femenino where she delivered speeches, wrote letters, and advocated for the release of imprisoned Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos.

Her poems engaged themes of Blackness, feminism, love, migration, nationalism, social justice and nature and ultimately helped birth the 1960s Nuyorican movement. She wrote many poetry collections such as “Poemas exactos a mi misma” (1937), “Poema en veinte surcos” (1938), “Canción de la verdad sencilla” (1939), and “El mar y tú: otros poemas” (1954). She was a prolific writer and published over 200 poems in her short life. In 1987, the Hispanic Studies department of the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao posthumously honored Julia de Burgos by granting her a doctorate in Human Arts and Letters.

Julia de Burgos suffered much in her life. Facing unemployment and political persecution, in 1940 she moved to New York City. There she lived with Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, a relationship recreated in her book “Canción de la Verdad Sencilla.” They moved to Cuba, where she studied philosophy at the University of Havana. There, she got to know prominent leaders and writers. In 1942, Pablo Neruda wrote, in one of his biographies, that “Julia will be one of the three or four best poets of the Americas.”

Julia returned to New York City around 1945, after ending her relationship with Jiménes Grullón. Here she worked as a journalist for the Spanish-language socialist weekly newspaper Pueblos Hispanos. Burgos expressed solidarity with Harlem’s African Americans and participated in cultural, literary and political events that affirmed her commitment to social justice.

Burgos eventually married journalist Rubén Rodriguez Beauchamp and later musician Armando Marín. She began adding “de” before Burgos in 1937 as a defiant feminist act to reclaim herself.

Julia de Burgos lived in New York City until she died in Harlem Hospital of pneumonia on July 6, 1953. She was buried in Carolina, Puerto Rico fulfilling a wish for her bones to “fortify worms from there” and not on US soil.

For her work Burgos won Institutos de Literatura and Cultura Puertorriqueña poetry prizes (1939, 1946). After her death, Burgos garnered a UPR honorary doctorate (1987), 44¢ US stamp (2010), and streets, schools, parks, and cultural centers adopted her name.

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