Manlio Argueta (November 24, 1935-) is a Salvadoran writer, critic, and novelist born in 1935. Although he considers himself first and foremost a poet, he is known in the English speaking world for his book One Day of Life.
Argueta was born in San Miguel (El Salvador) on November 24, 1935. Argueta has stated that his exposure to “poetic sounds” began during his childhood and that his foundation in poetry stemmed from his childhood imagination. Argueta’s interest in literature was strongly influenced by the world literature he read as a teenager. Argueta began his writing career by the age of 13 as a poet. He cites Pablo Neruda and García Lorca as some of his early poetic influences. Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Argueta won a national prize for his poetry around 1956, which gained him some recognition among Salvadoran and Central American poets. As he became more involved with the literary community of El Salvador, Argueta became a member of the "Committed Generation". Because of his writings criticizing the government, Argueta was exiled to Costa Rica in 1972 and was not able to return to El Salvador until the 1990s. Argueta currently lives in El Salvador where he holds the position of Director of the National Public Library.
He belonged to a literary group by the name of Generación Comprometida (Committed Generation, referring to political and social commitment), also known as Círculo Literario Universitario (University Literary Circle), created by Italo López Vallecillos (1932–1986). Other members of the group included Roque Dalton (1935–1975), Álvaro Menen Desleal (1931–2000), Waldo Chávez Velasco (1932), Irma Lanzas (1933), Orlando Fresedo (1932–1965), Mercedes Durand (1932–1998), Ricardo Bogrand (1930-2012), and Mauricio de la Selva. Members of the group were revolutionary in both their writing and their political views, though some members claim that "Generación Comprometida" and "Círculo Literario Universitario" were two different groups, it's been said that "Generación Comprometida" would be formed three or four years after the "50's Generation", a group which would be formed by those writers whom started publishing between 1950 and 1952 and had been members of the “Cenáculo de Iniciación Literaria” such as Mercedes Durand, Irma Lanzas, Orlando Fresedo, Italo López Vallecillos, Waldo Chávez Velasco, Álvaro Menéndez Leal, Mauricio de la Selva and Ricardo Bogrand. The group sought to create social change in terms of the treatment of the lower class. But they also initiated rediscovery of cultural heritage to a certain extent. Manlio Argueta and his Committed Generation were heavily influenced by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his existentialist ideas. Existentialism is an outlook on life that emphasizes the existence, freedom, and actions of the individual. This perspective tends to be atheistic and stress human freedom and experience as a definition of existence as opposed to scientific definitions. Existentialists also do not believe in the existence of objective moral values. The political and social significance of existentialism will be discussed in the next section as it relates to Argueta’s novel One Day of Life.
Some of Argueta’s works include El valle de las Hamacas (Editorial Ariel, Buenos Aires, 1977), Un hombre por la patria (poetry, Editorial Universitaria, San Salvador, 1968), En el costado de la luz (poetry, EU, San Salvador, 1968), Caperucita en la zona roja / Little Red Riding Hood in the Red Light District (Casa de las Américas Prize 1977, various editions), Un día en la vida / One Day of Life (1980), Cuzcatlán, donde bate la mar del sur / Cuzcatlán, Where the Southern Sea Beats (1986), Milagro de la Paz / A Place Called Milagro de Paz (San Salvador, Istmo Editores, 1995) Siglo de O(G)ro (San Salvador, DPI, 1997). A characteristic of Argueta’s writing style present in the majority of his works is the use of Salvadoran Spanish vernacular and slang. Argueta considers this a way to express and preserve some of El Salvador’s cultural identity.
Argueta is best known for his book One Day of Life, which has been translated into over 12 languages. The book takes the reader through one day of the life of Lupe, the main character. Lupe is a grandmother in a small village of El Salvador. Although she is not very educated, she relates her personal observations, as well accounts of friends and relatives, to paint a picture of the brutality with which the Salvadoran army treated the lower class during this time period. The following quote summarizes the sentiments of Lupe and the other peasants:
"The only thing we don’t have is rights. And as we began to arrive at this awareness, this place filled up with authorities wishing to impose order, omnipotent, with their automatics as they call them. From time to time they come to see how we are behaving, who has to be taken away, who has to be beaten to be taught a lesson."
Existentialism played a role in the novel and in Salvadoran history by counteracting religion, which had been used to oppress the masses of El Salvador. Quite the opposite of existentialist teachings, priests in El Salvador extolled the virtues of the meek and complacent. By accepting their role in life, the overworked and underpaid lower class would supposedly receive a place in heaven. But through existentialism, the peasants come to realize that what matters is how they are treated in the present, as demonstrated in the quote:
"That is awareness, José would say. The soul also exists, he would tell me. It is of little importance to know where it is going. It is the soul of the people that lives here on earth."
Because of its negative portrayal of the Salvadoran government and its perceived ability to incite rebellious activity, One Day of Life was banned from El Salvador. Argueta had to publish his work from Argentina after fleeing to Costa Rica. Despite the ban, One Day of Life could be found in Catholic bookstores and some hotels.
- Un hombre por la patria (poetry, Editorial Universitaria, San Salvador, 1968)
- En el costado de la luz (poetry, EU, San Salvador, 1968)
- El valle de las Hamacas (1970)
- Las bellas armas reales (1975)
- Caperucita en la zona roja (Casa de las Américas Prize 1977, various editions) / Little Red Riding Hood in the Red Light District (Curbstone Press, Connecticut, USA, 1999)
- Un día en la vida / One Day of Life (1980)
- Poesía de El Salvador (Manlio Argueta, Editor, 1983)
- Cuzcatlán, donde bate la mar del sur / Cuzcatlán, Where the Southern Sea Beats (1986)
- El Salvador (Adam Kufeld-photography, Arnoldo Ramos, Manlio Argueta-poetry, 1990)
- Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes/Los perros magicos de los volcanos (1990)
- Milagro de la Paz / A Place Called Milagro de la Paz (San Salvador, Istmo Editores, 1996)
- Siglo de O(G)ro (San Salvador, DPI, 1997) published as Once Upon a Time Bomb (2007)
- Poesia completa 1956-2005 (2005)
- El Cipitío (2006)
- Los Poetas del Mal (2013)
- "An Interview with Manlio Argueta" by Claudia M. Milian Arias
- "Entrevista con Manlio Argueta" by Rafael Varela
- The Oxford Dictionary of Difficult Words edited by Archie Hobson
- "Curbstone Press: Manlio Argueta"
- Manlio Argueta: Operation Möwe mit blauen Augen (Operación Gaviota de ojos azules), in: Carlos Rincón: Erkundungen. 50 Erzähler aus Mittelamerika, Berlin 1988, p. 322-325.