Cesar Vallejo, who was born just over one hundred years ago in a small town in the Peruvian Andes, seemed to always know that he was destined for fame. His friends tell the story of how, at the age of twenty, Cesar returned to his home to town for a visit and went to see a play put on at his old high school. After the play was over, Cesar climbed up on to the stage and began to read some of his poems. When he saw how poorly his poetry was being received he announced "Since you don't applaud me, I don't give a damn for your applause... One day my poetry will make me great... and I will have the pleasure of seeing America prostrated before my feet" (We dare any of you aspiring poets to do the same thing!)
Cesar's family background was pretty intense. He was the youngest of eleven children, and his grandparents on both sides were Chimu Indians and Catholic Spanish priests (this wasn't your average "Brady Bunch"). This created a deeply religious and spiritual household, an environment that could be strengthening and oppressive at the same time. In addition, it created within him a conflict between the spiritual and the worldly, a deep sense of good and evil, and sensitivity to the unfairness and inequality that greatly influenced his politics and poetry.
Another experience that had a major effect on him was a job that he held when he was 20, earning money for college. At that time, Cesar worked in the accounts department of a large sugar estate. During his year there, Cesar got to see first hand the inequality of the society in which he was living. He watched the workers laboring all day for a few cents and a bit of rice, all the while getting deeper and deeper into debt to their bosses (sound familiar?).
His personal and political idealism led him to become a Socialist, and many of his poems support the Socialist and Communist movements of the time. Cesar moved to Europe in his early 30's and was never able to return to Peru. He supported himself with various jobs in Paris, and also lived for a while in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. During his lifetime he wrote poems, novels and plays. He died in Paris in 1938, just as he said he would: I will die in Paris with a sudden shower, a day I can already remember.
Abeja and Kevin- The Food of the Gods: Our Poetry in Peru
Kavitha- Get Political, Go to Jail!
Kavitha- An American in the Alcatraz of Peru
Making a Difference- Helping Political Prisoners in Peru
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