José Ferrer Canales was an essayist, short story writer and professor who belong to the 1930’ and 1945’ generations. His essays reflect his concerns about Puerto Rican identity and language. Ferrer also affirmed Puerto Ricans’ Caribbean and Antillean character. His desire to achieve Eugenio María de Hostos’s dream of an Antillean federation earned him the name “The Last Antillean.”
He was born on September 18, 1913 in the Trastalleres neighborhood of Santurce, where he attended elementary and high school. He enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in Education in the 1930s. He worked as a high school teacher in Humacao and, in 1942, returned to the campus in Río Piedras to complete a master’s degree in Hispanic Studies. He presented his thesis on the Cuban philosopher Enrique José Verona in 1944.
Ferrer Canales moved to New York when he won a scholarship to begin his doctoral studies, but he never finished them. He taught literature courses at Hunter College during this time, however. In 1947, he returned to the University of Puerto Rico to finish his studies, but his militancy in favor of independence and university autonomy led to him being expelled from the campus in 1948. He then went to study at the Autonomous University of Mexico, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1952.
He worked as a literature professor in universities in the United States such as Dillard, in New Orleans; Howard, in Washington, D.C; and in Houston, Texas. He returned to the Río Piedras campus in 1960, where he taught courses on Antillean Culture, Spanish and Latin American literature, political history, on Eugenio María de Hostos and José Martí, and others. He was invited to speak and to participate in literary conferences in various countries, including Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Spain, France, Hungary, England, etc.
In 1983, he retired from the University of Puerto Rico with the title of Professor Emeritus. Later, he was invited by anthropologist Ricardo Alegría to present courses at the Center for Advanced Studies in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. He also was a literary critic for the newspapers El Nuevo Día and El Vocero.
He wrote in various genres, but mostly essays, which was the favored form of both the 1930 and 1945 generations of writers, of which Ferrer Canales was a part. Among his notable essays are: “Marginalia” (1939), “Por nuestra lengua y soberanía” (1941), “Agonía y esperanza de Puerto Rico” (1962), “Imagen de Varona” (1964), “Regionalism and University” (1965), “Acentos cívicos y Gandhi: evocación del centenario” (1972), “Asteriscos” (1990) and “Martí y Hostos” (1991). His short stories and articles about education, politics and various other topics were published in a variety of magazines, including Asomante, Revista Hispánica Moderna, Revista Iberoamericana, Repertorio Americano, Revista del Colegio de Abogados, La Torre, and others.
He received many awards during his career, including Honorary Professor at the National Autonomous University’s School of Humanities in Santo Domingo (1987); Outstanding Professor at the University of Puerto Rico (1989-1990); the journalism award conferred by the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature (1990); honorary member of the Cuba Association of Educators (1992); member of the Puerto Rican Academy of Language (1992); Award of Honor from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum (1994); the National Cultural Medal conferred by the Cuban minister of culture (1995); and Humanist of the Year from the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities (1997). The second Puerto Rico Book Fair was also dedicated to him (1998).
He died on July 20, 2005, at 91 years of age. His remains lie in the Villa Palmeras cemetery in Santurce, where he was born.
Auffant Vázquez, Vivian. “El profesor y amigo José Ferrer Canales”. Coloquio Internacional José Martí y la primera independencia de la América Española. Portal José Martí del Centro de Estudios Martianos en Cuba, 2008. Web. 24 junio 2009.
López Ortíz, Miguel. “José Ferrer Canales: adiós a ‘El último Antillano'”. Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular, 30 julio 2005. Web. 24 junio 2009.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Pérez Montijo, Edgardo. “Presentación del libro: Priscilla Rosario Medina. José Ferrer Canales: Vigilia y palabra. Río Piedras: Ediciones Puerto, 2006”. Cuarto Propio-Revista Literaria 4 (2008): n. pag. Web. 24 junio 2009.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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