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Fernando Alegria.

Fernando Alegria, scholar, humanist, critic, poet, novelist, essayist, a professor of Spanish American literature and a Chilean to his marrow, whose commitment to Chile, the land and the myth, emerges constantly in his writings, was born in Santiago on September 26, 1918.

As a youth, he was strongly drawn to letters. He was about thirteen when his first writings were published in La Nacion, Santiago's daily newspaper. Later, at age sixteen, he wrote an essay, "El Paisaje y sus Problemas," which was published in the journal Atenea of Concepcion University. Two years later he wrote, and published, the historical novel Recabarren, named for a prominent Chilean labor leader. This early work was the genesis of what became one of his favorite literary subjects--the hero in his different forms: the forgotten or discredited hero, the unknown hero, and the antihero. In those years he also wrote comedy in the form of brief theatrical pieces for university presentations.

In 1940 he decided to come to the United States to study psychology. It was with that intention that he enrolled in Bowling Green University, in Ohio. But he soon changed direction and discipline, and enrolled in the English department, receiving his bachelor's degree in July 1941. His great interest in Spanish American literature took him to the University of California at Berkeley which had professors of high prestige on its faculty, including Arturo Torres Rioseco and the great cervantean scholar Rudolph Schevill.

That was also the year the United States entered World War II. Alegria, who had been thinking of traveling to Europe and then returning to Chile, decided to stay in the United States. While at Berkeley he met Carmen Letona Melendez, a highly intelligent and charming Salvadoran medical student whom he married in 1943. The couple then spent some time in Central America and in Washington, D.C. When Alegria decided to continue his doctoral studies, they returned to Berkeley. He received his doctoral degree in 1947 and that same year he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to write a book about the American poet Walt Whitman. Fellowship in hand, he went to Chile, where he stayed for a year and completed the project; the book was published in Mexico in 1954 under the title Walt Whitman en Hispanoamerica.

The University of Berkeley then offered him a post as an instructor of Spanish American literature. He accepted the post and returned to the United States, where he has lived ever since but with frequent travel to Chile. In 1967 he left Berkeley and accepted a teaching post in the same subject on the faculty of California's Stanford University, where some years later he became Sadie Dernham Pater Professor of Humanities, one of the many honors bestowed upon him in the course of his life. He was recently nominated for the 1992 Cervantes Prize in Spain.

Alegria's literary career has been punctuated by the publication of many works, notably Lautaro, Joven Libertador de Arauco, 1943; El Poeta que se Volvio Gusano y Otras Historias Veridicas (a storybook), 1951; Caballo de Copas, 1957; Amerika, Amerikka, Amerikkka, Manifiestos de Viet Nam, 1970; El Paso de los Gansos, 1975; Coral de Guerra, 1979; an anthology of poetry: Instrucciones para Desnudar a la Raza Humana, 1979; and Allende, mi Vecino el Presidente, 1989, the English translation of which will be published in early 1993.

Broadly speaking, Fernando Alegria's writings could be described as engage literature, a literature of commitment to the human being, above all to the forgotten, the oppressed. His mastery of language is extraordinary. His style is sober, elegant, concise, and sometimes sparkles with a refined wit. We often find in his poetry an intimate, withdrawn tone, evasive and hard to interpret. In addition to his commitment to humanity and his celebration of the hero, whether mythical or real, his preferred subjects are his Chilean homeland and impassioned outrage at social and political injustices, which he argues but does not march against, for Alegria is first and foremost an intellectual artist of literature.

Among his many talents, he is an excellent lecturer and an outstanding teacher. He has traveled through almost all of North, Central and South America as well as Europe, lecturing on literature, culture and civilization. In addition, he served as Cultural Counsellor at the Embassy of Chile from 1970 to 1972. Though Alegria retired from Stanford not long ago, he is still much sought after at symposia, conferences and other cultural events, which indicates that this important Chilean man of letters will remain a member of the academic world for all his life.
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Title Annotation:Chilean academic
Author:Donahue, Moraima
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Biography
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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