There may not be anyone in Roslyn who remembers Gabriel Mistral (1889-1957), the Nobel Prize-winning laureate who briefly lived in the village in the years prior to her death. But the village is glad to honor her time in Roslyn. Last year marked the 70th anniversary of Mistral’s being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1946. And last week, the Bryant Library celebrated the occasion with a documentary on her life, followed by a question and answer period.
Mistral, a native of Vicuna, Chile published her first volume of verse in 1922, itself an exciting time in the mind of the imagination, with such modernists as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway also beginning their careers. Mistral promptly began her own career in teaching, writing and eventually, public diplomacy. He taught, first in her native Chile then later in Mexico. In time, the League of Nations came calling. This gave Mistral the opportunity to lecture and read poetry all around the world. According to the documentary, she now promoted Chilean culture “in every part of the world.”
Mistral’s career kept moving northward. In the 1930s, she was offered a position at Columbia University in New York. It was while she was teaching there that the Nobel committee in Stockholm came calling. The documentary featured Mistral at that world-famous event, receiving her medal from the King of Sweden. By then, the League of Nations had dissolved, victim of another world war. However, when World War II ended, another international body, the United Nations came into formation. Mistral’s experience served her in good stead as she became a valued member of that body’s cultural wing. Mistral lobbied for funds for poor children, helping to create an organization that eventually grew into the famed humanitarian body, UNICEF. Since the UN was in New York, Mistral now had a permanent home in the metropolitan area. She wisely settled on Roslyn, where she continued to write and lecture. Mistral, too, had company in the area, as the famed journalist and novelist, Christopher Morley was also living in working in Roslyn at the time.
As a poet, Mistral tackled the usual universal themes, but her native country and especially, its Monte Grande region were always on her mind. She continued to assist the young people there, setting up schools, playgrounds and most importantly, libraries where young people could discover the joys of literature as Mistral had as a young girl. As the documentary summed up, Mistral was a poet for Chile, but as a diplomat, teacher and ambassador, “she belonged to the world.”
After the documentary, Carol Clark hosted a question and answer period with Gloria Garafulich-Grabois, a Mistral scholar. The evening was also an occasion to sell copies of a bilingual edition, From Chile To The World: 70 Years Of Gabriela Mistral’s Nobel Prize, a handsome 480-page volume that was co-edited by Garafulich-Grabois and Marjorie Agosin, one that includes biographical and archival information, poems, prose, special contributions, photographs and references.
The edition is a non-for-profit publication to benefit the programs and projects of the Gabriela Mistral Foundation. It celebrates Mistral’s literary achievement,plus her humanitarian work as well as the impact her writings and thought have had in the world. The program was well-attended, proving that 59 years after her death, Mistral’s work still inspires lovers of literature.