Peruvian Rebel: The World of Magda Portal, with a Selection of Her Poems

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As the Left reawakens in Latin America following widespread disillusionment with neoliberal efforts to apply “shock therapy” to local economies, this story of the exemplary life of a major Peruvian activist and literary figure of an earlier era is particularly timely. Magda Portal (1900–1989) played a historic role in the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), which began as a Marxist-inspired but non-Communist radical movement with cells based in both Europe and Latin America in the 1920s before it became a full-fledged political party in Peru in 1931. Often in exile abroad, in prison, or in hiding in Peru to escape arrest, Portal was the leading female organizer for the Apristas until her break with the increasingly Right-leaning party after World War II. As APRA’s national secretary for women’s affairs, Portal worked tirelessly for women’s rights within the framework of a broader fight for social justice. A close colleague of revolutionary leaders José Carlos Mariátegui and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, she sided with the latter in the schism that erupted between the two in 1928, but ended up denouncing Haya de la Torre in 1950, accusing him of compromised relationships with the powers of neocolonial capitalism.

Already an acclaimed poet by the age of twenty-three, Portal struggled throughout her life to balance her artistic with her political ambitions, at times abandoning her literary pursuits. This conflict is itself a fascinating part of this biography of a woman now regarded as one of the pioneer feminists of Latin America. A substantial selection of Portal’s poetry is offered, with accompanying translations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this exceptional book on Magda Portal, Weaver creates a rich tapestry of some of the most important Latin American intellectual and political activists from the first half of the twentieth century. In Portal’s collaboration with such outstanding personalities as Vallejo, Haya de la Torre, Mariátegui, Vasconcelos, Rivera, or Modotti, the reader can recognize the contributions of this foundational figure—a true example of political activism and commitment in the avant-garde—to the cultural and political processes of APRA and more generally of the Latin American Left.”
—Mihai Grünfeld, Vassar College

“Drawing on extensive sources in the Benson Collection at the University of Texas, Kathleen Weaver draws a deft portrait of the Peruvian poet and political activist as a leader of the populist Aprista Party. The author casts Portal as an early Peruvian and Latin American feminist and highlights her struggle with the male-dominated APRA leadership to expand women’s rights both within and outside the party. A worthy addition to mid-twentieth-century Peruviana.”
—Peter Klaren, George Washington University

“Weaver’s translation of Portal’s poems is superb, and the rich historical and contextual material gives the reader a vivid picture of APRA’s goal of creating a new Peru that would bring the displaced and exploited indigenous peoples into full citizenship. Present, too, is the dream of creating a bonded Latin America. The book is a ground-level view of the hard choices Portal made in difficult circumstances, and it provides a glowing tapestry against which to read her brilliant poetry. The photos are contemporary, adding to the historical verity of the book. This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of the struggles of peoples in any part of the world, of the Americas, and of the ways in which poetry is generated and expressed. It is a profound reading experience.”
—Francesca Miller, author of Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice

“Kathleen Weaver’s biography of Magda Portal brings to life a woman too long lost from our histories—an extraordinary fighter for women’s rights and social justice in Peru, as well as a gifted poet. She is one of the key figures in the twentieth-century struggles of oppressed people in Latin America, and her life story should inspire as well as educate readers of this fine biography.”
—Howard Zinn, Boston University

“This is a highly recommended biography of Magda Portal for audiences in the United States, Latin America, and Peru. Weaver’s work pieces together diverse materials to provide a great picture of Portal’s life course. This book brings to the fore a great political and feminist leader previously overlooked in Peruvian history.”
—Erika Busse-Cardenas, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“General readers seeking acquaintance with Portal’s life and times will find Weaver’s book both useful and interesting.”

—Pamela S. Murray, Hispanic American Historical Review

From the Publisher

“General readers seeking acquaintance with Portal’s life and times will find Weaver’s book both useful and interesting.”

—Pamela S. Murray, Hispanic American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271035499
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2009
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Weaver has translated four books from Spanish, including Omar Cabezas’s Fire from the Mountain, with an introduction by Carlos Fuentes (1985), and Julio Cortázar’s Nicaraguan Sketches, with her own introduction (1989). She also co-edited The Other Voice: Twentieth-Century Women’s Poetry in Translation (1976) and The Penguin Book of Women Poets (1978).

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations



1. Beginnings (1900–1919)

2. Entering the Vanguard (1920–1927)

3. First Exile (1927–1930)

4. In the APRA: The “Heroic Years” (1931–1944)

5. A Dream Disintegrates (1945–1957)

6. Later Years (1958–1989)

Selected Poems



Selected References


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