Journalist, lawyer, writer, poet and politician. He dedicated himself to the cultural development of Puerto Rico and to preserving Puerto Rican traditions through his writing..
He was born in the municipality of Dorado on July 17, 1886. He attended elementary school in his hometown and high school in Barceloneta. As an adolescent, he took painting classes with Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller. Some of his paintings were exhibited at the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and he won awards and honorable mentions. In 1901, he earned his diploma as a teacher and he taught for several years. Later, he attended Valparaiso University in Indiana, where he earned a law degree in 1908. After returning to Puerto Rico, he was a judge in the municipalities of Santa Isabel, Salinas and Manatí.
Because of his interest in literature, he began participating in the literary talks at the Spanish Casino in Manatí, along with recognized poets such as José de Jesús Esteves, Luis Antonio Miranda, Clemente Ramírez de Arellano and Enrique Zorrilla, among others. From then on, his work began to get published in various anthologies of poetry, as well as in local magazines. Some of his poems won awards in various contests.
In politics, Alegría was active in the Union Party, of which José de Diego, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Luis Muñoz Rivera were also members. The party was formed from a diverse group that included former autonomists, republicans, labor unionists and other groups that rejected the Spanish colonial regime. The party proposed that Puerto Rican should be the ones to decide their political future in regards to the United States, whether annexation, autonomy or independence. After the deaths of two of the unionist leaders, Luis Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego, the unionists advocated for independence and separated from the party. Although some historians differ about the exact date, in about 1918, Alegría and others in favor of independence founded the Pro-Independence Association. The nationalists, meanwhile, under the leadership of José Coll y Cuchí, founded the Nationalist Association of Puerto Rico.
In 1922, the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party was founded when the Pro-Independence Association, the Nationalist Association and the Nationalist Youth (founded in 1919 by José Paniagua) merged. Alegría, who served as its first vice president, was part of the nationalist faction that preferred to retain the option of having some kind of tie with the United States. In 1930, when Pedro Albizu Campos assumed the presidency of the Nationalist Party and the organization took a more radical line, Alegría left the party.
In 1930, the Puerto Rican Liberal Party was founded under the leadership of Antonio R. Barceló. The party aspired for the island’s independence from the United States. Alegría joined the party and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1936 to 1944, also serving as chairman of the Island Parole Board.
Alegría’s writings are known for his depictions of, and defense of, Puerto Rican traditions. In 1918, he published the Antología de poetas jóvenes de Puerto Rico along with poet Evaristo Ribera Chevremont, with a prologue by José de Diego. The same year, he also presented Pancho Ibero encadenado, a collection of short political essays affirming his patriotic feelings. He also wrote journalistic essays. He contributed to the newspaper El Mundo and founded and directed the monthly literary magazine Vida Moderna, which was only published for a short time (1923-1925).
In 1938, he accepted the post of editor at the magazine Puerto Rico Ilustrado, a job he held for twelve years. He also wrote about literary topics. He published a series of articles called Crónicas frívolas and Cartas a Florinda in the magazine. The articles were collected in books of the same title that were released in 1938 and 1958, respectively. Among his articles were “El Puerto,” about the nostalgia that seamen have for distant loves; “Un rey para la operetta,” in which the author comments on the drama of the love between Prince Edward VIII and the divorced American Wallis Simpson, and “El abanico se jubila,” “El cabello corto” and “Parque Borinquen,” chronicles contrasting the past and the present. The books also include vignettes of traditions and customs such as Christmas Eve, New Years and Three Kings Day.
Retablos de Aldea (1949) is a collection of stories in which Alegría returns to portraying traditions and customs, a topic widely written about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this collection, Alegría portrays his town and the characters who live in it: Father Luis; Carlos, the doctor; Bartolo, the businessman; Pancho, the coachman; Diego, the postman; Eufemio, the clerk, who brings to mind his leanings toward independence; Cecilia, the seamstress; Rodrigo, the professor; Pepe, the handler at the cockfights; Rosa, the washwoman; Vití, a crazy woman; and others, through whom he recreates daily life in the small town. He also describes in minute detail the trip from San Juan to Ponce and the towns along the way: Caguas, Cayey, Aibonito, Juana Díaz.
He continues with the same theme in El alma de la aldea (1956). In this collection, he revisits some of the characters from Retablos. Among his most significant portraits are: “Muerte y entierro de Angelito,” in which he recreates a wake; “El circo llega al pueblo,” which evokes the spectacle of the circus, a common topic among modernists in the early decades of the 20th century; “La botica de don Fernando,” which portrays the pharmacist and the proceedings in businesses of that type; and “La molienda,” which describes life in the central sugar mills.
In 1958, his only book of poetry, Rosas y Flechas, was published by his children, José Esteban, María Antonia, Félix Luis and Ricardo Enrique. They collected 36 of the poems published by their father and presented them to their mother, Celeste Gallardo Veronne. His poems “Romerías de recuerdo,” “Te acuerdas,” “Nuestras nupcias,” “Culto pagano” and “Prisión de ensueño” are part of the modernist revival and their dominant themes are love, the island landscape and patriotism.
In the 1930s, he was a member of the Board at the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. In 1934, he became a member of the Puerto Rican Academy of History and, beginning in 1943, he was president of the Puerto Rican Society of Journalists for two years. Later (1955), he was president of the Puerto Rican Institute of Hispanic Culture and joined the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language, where he presented a speech titled “Cincuenta años de literatura puertorriqueña.” The following year (1956), he represented the Academy at the Second Congress of Language Academies in Madrid and presented a speech titled “Conservación de la unidad fundamental del idioma español.” He received the Royal American Order of Isabel Award in 1959, an award granted by the Spanish government to those who promote Spanish studies. In 1960, he joined the Puerto Rico Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1963 he was elected president of the recently created Society of Puerto Rican Authors.
He died in San Juan on July 29, 1965.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Belaval, Emilio S. “Presentación del puertorriqueño José S. Alegría”. Revista del Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe 3 (1986): 123-132. Impreso.
Cancel, Mario R. “Partido Nacionalista: Programa de 1922”. Puerto Rico entresiglos. 2 marzo 2010. Web. 16 junio 2010.
Géigel Polanco, Vicente. “Una voz insobornable: José S. Alegría”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 8.28 (1965): 36-37. Impreso.
“José S. Alegría: 1886-1965)”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 8.28 (1965): 18. Impreso.
Meléndez, Concha. “José S. Alegría: in memoriam”. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña 8.28 (1965): 19-23. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña. 2a ed. Vol 2. San Juan, P. R.: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1974. Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 17, 2014.
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