Last month, in honor of the centennial celebration for Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, Mayra Santos Febres presented her new book Yo misma fui mi ruta—La maravillosa vida de Julia de Burgos (2014). The book was commissioned by Jose Carlos Aponte Dalmau, mayor of Carolina, the poet’s birthplace.
According to an article by Tatiana Pérez Rivera, (El Nuevo Día) Santos Febres, who began reading the poet at age thirteen, notes that Julia de Burgos has usually been viewed “as a martyr of love.” However, Santos Febres considers it best to refer to the poet’s life story as a “history of women’s entry into modernity, with all that it entails.” Santos Febres adds, “Julia goes from being a subject in the paternal landed society to become a professional woman through her scholarship. She manages to be a teacher, journalist, and translator, and she wanted a different relationship, one with more equality with men and her society. She had no models that taught her how to do it; she had a different concept of being a woman in a quite paternalistic era.” The author highlights that the poet’s aspiration—in addition to her desire to work, study, publish, and engage in political and social causes of the day—”were not understood.”
The fictionalized biography has received mixed reviews. Many celebrate the refreshing, modern, and feminist perspective of Yo misma fui mi ruta—La maravillosa vida de Julia de Burgos. Other critics, such as Marcos Reyes Dávila and Ivonne Acosta Lespier, decry the book’s all-too-familiar emphasis on de Burgos’s alcoholism and dismal details of her private life. Reyes Dávila believes that this perspective would have been understandable in the mid-nineteenth century, adding that the book constitutes “a misrepresentation that distracts through its deceptions, that clings to [the poet’s] final years morbidly, like vultures do, to judge her in terms of a domestic and obsolete morality.” [So now, I’ve got to read it and see for myself!]