Short story writer, playwright, essayist and lawyer born in Fajardo on November 8, 1903. Belaval was part of the literary generation of the 1930s. He dedicated his life to promoting Puerto Rican culture and, through his theoretical and dramatic writings, the formation of an indigenous theatrical movement, separate from the Spanish dramatic tradition.
Belaval studied law at the University of Puerto Rico Law School in Río Piedras and earned his diploma in 1927. He worked as a lawyer from 1927 to 1941. In his private practice, he often represented rural laborers and common people, an experience that he would express in his literary writing. He also worked in 1938 as secretary of the Hays Committee, which investigated the events of the Ponce Massacre. From 1941 to 1953, he was a district judge in the court of first instance in the municipalities of Bayamón and San Juan. Later, from 1953 to 1967, he was an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
As a jurist, he vehemently criticized the transculturation of Puerto Rican law, arguing for the preservation of European and Spanish institutions in Puerto Rico’s judicial regulations. In his judicial opinions, he established the moral and judicial equality of all those born in Puerto Rico, for the purpose of eliminating discrimination against children born outside the conventional religious marriage that was then dominant. Throughout his judicial career, he argued that it was important for judicial decisions to reflect the Puerto Rican culture and idiosyncrasies. Among the judicial positions that link him to the ideology of the intellectuals and members of the so-called Thirties Generation was his insistence and defense of the use of Spanish in writing by government agencies to make it easier for common citizens, who are generally not bilingual, to read and understand them. Among other ideas proposed by this generation, Belaval emphasized the importance of the Spanish heritage in Puerto Rico’s civil law.
As a promoter of the island culture, Belaval was involved in multiple organizations. He was president of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and Pro-Arte Musical; founder and director of the Areyto Drama Society; member of the High Council on Education and the Dominican Athenaeum; and founding member of the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language and the Puerto Rico Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In his career as a writer, he worked in various genres. As a short story writer, he broke with the traditionalism that was prevalent at the time. In his works, he reflected on the Puerto Rican reality. Among his works are the collections of stories titled El libro azul (1918) and Cuentos para colegiala (1922). These two books show the progressive formation of a storyteller. In his other collections, Cuentos de la Universidad (1935), Cuentos para fomentar el turismo (1946) and Cuentos de la Plaza Fuerte (1963) Belaval displays a maturity in his narrative techniques. Among his best stories is “El niño morado de la Monsona Quintana.”
Belaval was also known for his essays, though he wrote fewer, in comparison to his production of short stories and theatrical works. The predominant themes in his essays were about literary work. He began with “Los problemas de la cultura puertorriqueña” (1935), an essay denouncing the crisis in the law in Puerto Rico and other cultural problems, “El teatro como vehículo de expresión de nuestra cultura” (1940) and “La intríngulis puertorriqueña” (1952); “El ser de lo viviente en el raciovitalismo orteguiano: resumen de una lectura desinteresada” (1956); and “Cultura de la esencialidad humana – Literatura espíritu y tiempo” (1959). These writings were published in various magazines and newspapers on the island such as Atenea, the magazine of the Humanities Faculty at the Mayagüez University Campus, the Revista del Ateneo Puertorriqueño, Antena, Puerto Rico Ilustrado, Asomante, Indice and El Mundo. Later, some of these essays were collected in the book Areyto (1948).
He is principally known, however, for his work in the theater. He performed as an author, actor, director and theoretician. His concern about the lack of a truly Puerto Rican theater led him to write a manifesto titled “Lo que podría ser un teatro puertorriqueño” (1939), in which he proposed the creation and development of a national theater in which all of the elements would be indigenous, from the topic to the performers and the producers.
Additionally, as the creator of the Areyto Drama Society, he proposed the production of works by contemporary Puerto Rican authors, implemented new production techniques and ways of attracting the public. Among his dramatic works are La romanticona (1926), which he wrote along with Amelia Agostini; La novela de una vida simple (1935), a comedy in three acts; Cuando las flores de Pascua son flores de azahar (1939), a one-act comedy; La presa de los vencedores (1939), also a one-act comedy; Hay que decir la verdad (1940), La muerte (1953), La hacienda de los cuatro vientos (1959), La vida (1959), Cielo caído (1961), Circe o el amor (1963), El puerto y el mar (1965) and Agua de la mala suerte, agua de la buena suerte (1967).
Emilio S. Belaval died in San Juan in 1972. The theater at Sagrado Corazón University is named for him in memory and honor of his importance to the theater and literature.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña, su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Del Rosario, Rubén. Breve Enciclopedia de la Cultura Puertorriqueña. Hato Rey: Ediciones Cordillera, 1976.
Vélez, Rigoberto. Puertorriqueños Ilustres de todos los tiempos. Ponce: Editorial Centro Pedagógico, 1986.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
This post is also available in: Español