Gonzalo Rojas (1917-2011), considered one of the greatest Chilean poets of the 20th century, passed away this morning after a life dedicated to poetry, teaching and politics.
Rojas was born on December 20, 1917 in Lebu, a fishing town of the Bio-Bio Region of Chile, 660 kilometres south of Santiago. He was the seventh son of a coal miner. Young Gonzalo studied in Santiago and received teaching and law degrees at the University of Chile.
He was a High School and University professor at Valparaíso and at the University of Concepción. Since 1958 he organized the famous Congress of Writers in Concepción, bringing together the elite of Latin American literature. During the presidency of Salvador Allende he was a diplomat in China and Cuba. In 1973, following the military coup, he was exiled from Chile and barred from a teaching post at all Chilean Universities.
From 1973 until 1980 Gonzalo Rojas lived in exile in Germany (GDR) and Venezuela. He lived in the United States between 1980 and 1994. From 1980 to 1985, Rojas was visiting professor at Columbia University and the University of Chicago and professor at Brigham Young University (Utah). In 1994 he obtained a Guggenheim Fellowship and returned to Chile. He settled in the city of Chillán, about 400 kilometres south of Santiago, where he lived until his death.
In 1992 the poet was awarded Chile’s National Prize for Literature. The same year he received the Queen Sofia Prize of Iberian American Poetry. Among other international awards received by Gonzalo Rojas are: the Award of the Writers Society of Chile (1946), the “Octavio Paz Prize” of Mexico, the “Jose Hernandez Prize” of Argentina, and the "Miguel de Cervantes Prize" of Spain (2003) honouring his lifetime achievement as an outstanding writer in the Spanish language.
Gonzalo Rojas’ poetry has been translated into English, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, Romanian, Swedish, Chinese, Turkish and Greek.
The Chilean Minister of Culture, Luciano Cruz-Coke announced two days of official mourning. He explained to local media that the remains of the poet will receive the respects of Chilean authorities and the general public starting this afternoon in the National Museum of Fine Arts. On Wednesday there will be a solemn ceremony, after which the remains of the poet will be transferred to Chillán, where Rojas took up residence since 1995, after 22 years of exile.
President Sebastian Piñera said this morning: "I very much regret the death of poet Gonzalo Rojas who along with other great poets, such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro and Nicanor Parra, have contributed to make Chile known as a land of poets."
I have personal reasons to regret the death of poet Gonzalo Rojas. Several years ago, in the late 60s, I had the fortune and the privilege of having the famous poet as my professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Chile in Valparaíso.
The little fishing town of Lebu, by the Lebu River and the Pacific Ocean, birthplace of poet Gonzalo Rojas.