- “I have only you in this world”Gabriela Mistral’s Letters to Doris Dana
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This work is a translation of selected correspondence between the Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral (born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, 1889–1957) and her companion and executor, the North American writer Doris Dana. These letters — the vast majority by Gabriela Mistral — were written between the years 1948 and 1956, ending a few months before the poet’s death in January 1957. Doris Dana (1920–2006), thirty-one years younger than Mistral, had hidden the letters for almost fifty years. After her death in 2006 Dana’s niece and executor, Doris Atkinson, donated them, along with Mistral’s other papers, to the Chilean National Library. The letters recount details of Gabriela Mistral’s creative work process and tell of her personal life, her work as a Chilean diplomat, and her views on international politics and human rights. The letters also reveal that the women had a romantic relationship, which Doris Dana had always denied.
Gabriela Mistral is not well known in the English-speaking world, especially when compared to her compatriot and fellow Nobel Prize–winner Pablo Neruda. While a significant amount of Neruda’s work is available in English, this is not as true for much of Mistral’s poetry, political writing, and correspondence. These translated letters, then, will give an English-speaking audience a better understanding of her life and its impact on her literary production. The letters also are of great significance because they help dispel the “Santa Gabriela” myth of the poet’s life. For many years the Chilean government and some scholars had portrayed Mistral as a sad, religious spinster whose poetry mirrored her tragic life, marked by the suicide of her boyfriend when she was a young woman. According to this perspective, her literary work focusing on women and children reflected her thwarted desire for a husband and children. In recent years [End Page 595] a few scholars speculated about Mistral’s sexuality and its impact on her poetry, but there was no evidence to counter the traditional view of her life and work. These translated letters now show that the poet was not a chaste, traditionally Catholic spinster: Mistral was in love with Doris Dana and never expressed a desire for a heterosexual relationship. Instead, Mistral reveals her own fluid sexual identity, at times using male self-referential language, as in the letter dated April 14, 1949.
Gabriela Mistral was a brilliant writer but she always needed help. She didn’t cook or do housework, she could never manage her own finances, she couldn’t organize her papers, and she couldn’t stand to be alone. Thus, she was always surrounded by a group of women who took care of all these tasks. In addition to Doris Dana the letters include references to Palma Guillén, Emma Godoy, Consuelo Saleva, and several other women. Doris Dana, a Barnard graduate and sister of the actress Leora Dana, was from a wealthy New York family. Palma Guillén was a Mexican educator and diplomat who was Mistral’s romantic partner for about fifteen years. She and Mistral adopted Juan Miguel Godoy, known as Yin-Yin, together in the mid-1920s. Guillén managed her bank accounts, took care of her properties in Brazil, and provided constant emotional support. Emma Godoy was a Mexican writer, poet, and radio personality. Consuelo Saleva, Mistral’s student when she taught at Middlebury, College in Vermont, was from Puerto Rico and had also been the poet’s romantic partner. These women, like others associated with the poet over the years, were highly educated and accomplished in their fields. They were drawn by Mistral’s talent, charisma, and friendship, and were rarely compensated for their work.
Gabriela Mistral spent the last nine years of her life with Doris Dana. During this time she worked on her last two books of poetry, Lagar (Winepress) and Poema de Chile. Mistral was a member...