Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. She was born in Vicuña in northern Chile in 1889. Her parents were Petronila Alcayaga, a school teacher of Basque descent and Jeronimo Godoy Alcayaga Villanueva, a vagabond poet and school teacher of Indian and Jewish ancestry. Mistral's birth name was Lucila Godoy Alcayaga. Lucila and her older sister Emelina were raised in Montegrande by their mother after the father deserted them when Lucila was three years old. At the age of nine, Lucila started attending school, but did so for only three years. At school she discovered her love of poetry and started writing her own poems. She also assumed the name Gabriela Mistral. She continued her education at home with the help of her sister who was a teacher and who encouraged Gabriela to become a teacher as well. At age sixteen she moved to La Cantera to take a job and fell in love with a young railway worker. The relationhip didn't last and two years later the young man committed suicide. The only item found in his posession was a postcard from Mistral. This affected her deeply and she wrote Sonetas de la Muerte (Sonnets of Death) to express her feelings. After receiving a diploma in 1912 which allowed her to teach secondary school, Mistral obtained a teaching position near Santiago. Soon she was able to publish some of her poems in various periodicals and entered Chilean literary circles. She published three poems from Sonnets of Death in 1914 for which she won a national prize in poetry. In 1918, she was appointed director of a secondary school for girls located in rural Punta Arenas. The rough terrain of Punta Arenas became an inspiration for a series of poems entitled Patagonian Landscapes. In 1922 Mistral accepted the invitation of Jose Vasconcelos, the Mexican minister of education, to start educational programs for the poor in Mexico. She introduced mobile libraries to rural areas to make...
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