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Rare Books & Special Collections

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

The Department of Special Collections possesses a collection of 24 letters of Pablo Neruda addressed to his editor at Editorial Losada in Buenos Aires, Andrés Vazquez. The letters offer a window into Neruda's concern for every detail concerning the publication of his books, from typographical errors, to typefaces and paper qualities. Spanning a period of nearly 12 years from 1956 to 1968, they include reference to the production of Neruda's Obras Completas and Memorial.

Biographical Information

Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto was born in the agricultural region of Parral, Chile, in 1904. While a youth, his family moved to Temuco, a rainy region that later figured in his poetry. During these early years of his life, he came to know Gabriela Mistral, who was then head of a local girls' secondary school. He started publishing poetry at the age of fourteen under the pseudonym Pablo Neruda (later adopted as his legal name in 1946), and the following year enrolled in the Instituto Pedagogico in Santiago with the aspiration of becoming a French teacher.

From 1924 to 1926, Neruda attended the University of Chile. During that time, he published Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), which became a popular best-seller, and which some consider his transition from symbolist to surrealist poetry.

In 1927, Neruda made the first of several trips to Spain and the Far East as a consul for Chile. One fruit of these journeys were the collections of poetry he published under the title Residencia en la tierra (Residence on Earth). When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Neruda embraced the anti-Fascist cause.

Neruda was recalled from foreign diplomatic service in 1943 and he returned to Chile after a sojourn in France in 1944. In 1946 he was elected to the Chilean Senate, where he protested the anti-communist stance of the government. Neruda published letters in the Mexican and Venezuelan press accusing Chile's president, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, of betraying national interests in collusion with the United States government. He was subsequently indicted for treason and forced to leave his homeland as a political exile. During the next few years he traveled extensively and worked on revisions to his epic Canto general de Chile, a collection of 340 poems written in a populist style commenting on Chile's natural, cultural, and political history.

During the early 1950s, Neruda received the Stalin Prize for literature as well as the Lenin Peace Prize. He was permitted to return to Chile in 1953 and put forth as the Communist party nominee for the presidency of Chile in 1970, though his nomination was subsequently withdrawn in the interest of maintaining a leftist political alliance. A year later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, after Gabriela Mistral, the only Chilean to receive that honor.

Neruda died of leukemia in 1973 in Santiago, Chile, just twelve days after the coup that overthrew the Allende government.

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Description of Archival Collection (MSH/SCL 1242-1 to 1242-24)

The collection contains 24 letters from Neruda to Andrés Vazquez, an editor at Editorial Losada in Buenos Aires, dated from 3 Septemeber 1956 to 6 June 1968. The letters address details of the publication of several of Neruda's works from the period covered, including his Obras Completas and Memorial. Three letters are from Neruda's secretary, Homero Arce, one from his second wife, Matilda Urrutia; the remaining are handwritten or signed by Neruda. The letters were acquired from Lame Duck Books in August 2001 through the generosity of Robert E. O'Grady.

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