José Santos Chocano

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José Santos Chocano
The Singer of Americas
José Santos Chocano Gastañodi

May 14, 1875
DiedDecember 13, 1934(1934-12-13) (aged 59)
Known forPoet, writer, journalist, diplomat and entrepreneur
Notable work
Iras Santas, Alma de América, Fiat Lux.
AwardsGold medal from El Ateneo De Lima

José Santos Chocano Gastañodi (May 14, 1875 – December 13, 1934) was a Peruvian poet and political activist, whose work was widely praised across Europe and Latin America. Chocano interacted with major Spanish poets, as well as statesmen from many different regimes, where he was treated as a poet laureate. He claimed to have rediscovered Latin America through verse in his 1906 collection 'Alma América', which carried an introduction by the distinguished philosopher-poet Miguel de Unamuno. Chocano was involved in many violent feuds with other intellectuals, and was jailed for shooting a journalist who had criticised him. In his turn, Chocano was stabbed to death on a tram in Santiago de Chile by an unknown assailant.

Life and work[edit]

Born in Lima, Peru, Chocano was admitted to the National University of San Marcos at the early age of 14 years[1] After a short term in jail for political activism, he relocated to Madrid in the early 20th century. In this city his poems were first recognized by the Spanish literary and artistic circles; many notable artist and writers invited him to recite his poems at their reunions. This allowed Chocano to interact with prominent Spanish and Latin American intellectuals and artist such as: Juan Gris, who become known by this pseudonym incidentally by signing the series of modernist style illustrations that he created for Chocano's books entitled Alma América and Poemas Indoespañoles (Soul America: Indo-Spanish poems) in 1906.[2] Miguel de Unamuno, who wrote the prologue for his book "Soul America"; Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, and Rubén Darío and thus his name reached a prominent status not only in Spain, but in France and all over Latin America. His 1906 poetry collection, Soul America, was offered and taken as a "New World" corrective to the purportedly cosmopolitan modernismo of Ruben Darío. Chocano as a sophisticated writer, whose metrics and creativity was sought by many statesmen, who contracted his services as a writer and adviser for many years, thus Chocano worked for different regimes and traveled a decade and a half through Latin and Central America, where he thanks to his status as a prominent and skillful writer, befriended an astonishing variety of political figures from different points on the ideological spectrum, such as: Pancho Villa in Mexico, Manuel Estrada Cabrera in Guatemala, and evenly Woodrow Wilson in the USA, with whom he struck up a correspondence.[3] After the coup which deposed Estrada Cabrera in 1920, Chocano was briefly imprisoned, and subsequently returned to Peru, where he became associated with President Augusto B. Leguía. On November 5, 1922, Chocano was recognized by the government of Peru as a most notable poet of Peru, he was laureated as "The Poet of America" in a ceremony featuring Leguia himself, various ministers, delegates from all the provinces of Peru, and a number of young and established writers.

Three years later, Chocano became embroiled in a dispute with Mexican intellectual José Vasconcelos; when Peruvian students sided with Vasconcelos, Chocano phoned the journalist Edwin Elmore to complain about his recent article on the polemic; insults and threats quickly followed. Elmore dashed off an article detailing Chocano's attack on him, and hurried to his office at the newspaper "El Comercio" to insert it. Unfortunately, as Elmore left the building, Chocano arrived at it, and after Elmore slapped Chocano, the latter pulled a gun and shot the young journalist in the stomach. Elmore died soon after.

Released after two years in jail, Chocano moved to Santiago de Chile, where he lived in dire poverty while preparing a new collection of poetry, Primicias de Oro de Indias. He was stabbed to death on a streetcar in 1934; reports are divided as to whether his assassin was a stranger, a madman, or a rival in a love affair. It is thought that his murder had to do with his political positions.


Chocano is considered one of the most important leaders of the Latin-American Modernism, sharing this distinction with Ruben Darío (Nicaragua), Manuel González Prada (Peru), José Martí (Cuba), Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (México), José Asunción Silva (Colombia) and others. However, Chocano's style is difficult to classify exactly, since it is very diverse and copious, for instance some experts state that his writing is nearer to the romanticism that to modernism; while others, like the American critic, Willis Knapp Jones, have denominated Chocanos' work as "novomundista", i.e., a poet writing about the "new World" or America. Chocano was a very prolific poet, who also wrote epic and lyric poems.


Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article:


External links[edit]