Anthropologist and literary critic. López Baralt is a scholar of Hispano-American colonial literature and 19th century and contemporary, as well as semiotic, literature. She is known for her research on the works of Benito Pérez Galdós, the African-influenced poetry of Luis Palés Matos and the Andean and Antillean indigenous cultures.
Mercedes López-Baralt was born in San Juan on September 26, 1942, the sister of another woman of literature, Luce López Baralt. Her parents, Emma Cardona and José López Baralt, instilled a love for letters and knowledge in general in their two daughters. She studied at the Colegio Espíritu Santo in Hato Rey for her primary and secondary education. She enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Studies (1964) and a Masters in literature (1966) in the same department. Her Masters thesis, titled Madrid en Fortunata y Jacinta, was a study of the city of Madrid in that work by Benito Pérez Galdós.
In 1970, she joined the faculty in the Hispanic Studies Department at her alma mater. Because of her growing interest in Amerindian poetry and culture, she moved to Cornell University for graduate studies in anthropology, where she earned her doctoral degree after presenting her dissertation, which was titled La crónica de Indias como texto cultural: policulturalidad y articulación de códigos semióticos múltiples en el arte de reinar de Guamán Poma de Ayala (1980). Upon returning to the island, she rejoined the Hispanic Studies School at the University of Puerto Rico, where she continues teaching today.
She went into anthropology, instead of literature, because she considered it necessary to have a base of knowledge of anthropology and an understanding of the Quechua language to be able to study Andean indigenous literature and mythology. Some of her books are about this subject, including El mito taíno: raíz y proyecciones en la Amazonía continental (1977) and El mito taíno: Levi-Strauss en las Antillas (published in 1985 and revised in 1999). Along with Professor Donald Solá, she also translated Andean myths and the “Elegía por Ataualpa,” which were published in 1987 under the title El retorno del Inca Rey: mito y profecía en el mundo andino.
She returned to the subject of her doctoral dissertation in Icono y conquista: Guamán Poma de Ayala (1988), which won first prize in literature from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature that year. In the book, she analyzed the text Nueva crónica i buen gobierno by Poma de Ayala from an anthropological point of view based on semiotics. In 1993, she published Guamán Poma: autor y artista (1993), in which she presents a criticism of his written work.
The study of images and their capacity to provoke diverse interpretations led her to edit La iconografía política del Nuevo Mundo (1991), which won first prize from the P.E.N Club of Puerto Rico. The book collected essays by various anthropologists: Bernadette Bucher, Rolena Adorno, Enrico Mario Santí and the author herself.
In 1992, she returned to literary criticism with the publication of La gestación de Fortunata y Jacinta: Galdós y la novela como reescritura. Later, she dedicated herself to creating an edition of criticism of the poetry of Luis Palés Matos, which was published in 1995 under the title La poesía de Luis Palés Matos, and which won second prize from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature. Two years later, she edited El barco en la botella: la poesía de Luis Palés Matos (1997), which won first prize from the Institute. In this book, she compiled a series of essays about Palés’ poetry, written by various authors such as Federico de Onís, Margot Arce de Vázquez, Arcadio Díaz Quiñones, Julio Marzán and José Luis Vega.
Mercedes López Baralt has served as editor of various books, in addition to the ones mentioned above. Among them are Las cartas de Arguedas (1996), produced along with anthropologist John V. Murra and which compiles and annotates the correspondence between the poet and Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas, Chilean psychoanalyst Lola Hoffman and Murra himself. In 1998, along with her sister, Luce, she edited the diary of her grandfather, Dr. Esteban López Giménez, which was titled Crónica del 1898: el testimonio de un médico puertorriqueño. This work, which won first prize from the P.E.N. Club of Puerto Rico, expressed the thoughts of one Puerto Rican who lived through the change of sovereignty.
In 2001, Sobre ínsulas extrañas: el clásico de Pedreira anotado por Tomás Blanco was published. It collected and analyzed notes made by Tomás Blanco on Insularismo by Antonio S. Pedreira. In 2003, she presented an annotated edition of the Comentarios reales y La Florida del Inca by Garcilaso de la Vega. A year later, she published Literatura puertorriqueña del siglo XX: Antología (2004), in which she compiled a sampling of essays, accounts, stories, novels and poetry produced by island authors during that century.
López Baralt has published articles in numerous academic journals on varied topics, including “Guaman Poma y el arte de la memoria en una crónica ilustrada del siglo XVII” (Cuadernos Americanos: Mexico, 1979); “Gilman sobre Galdós: una aproximación a su libro más reciente” (Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, México, 1983); “Sueños de mujeres: la voz del ánima en Fortunata y Jacinta” (Hispanic Review: Pennsylvania, 1987); “Preludio en boricua o la ironía como programa poético en el Tuntún palesiano” (Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, University of Puerto Rico, 1991) and “Un ballo in macchera: hacia un Guaman Poma múltiple” (Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana: Lima-Barkeley, 1995).
She has also presented many lectures at various educational institutions around the world, such as Princeton, Yale, Middlebury and Berkeley in the United States and in Spanish and Latin American universities in La Paz, Quito, Madrid, the Canary Islands, Seville, Barcelona, Oviedo and Granada.
She has been a visiting professor at Cornell University (1984), Emory University (1990), Casa de las Américas (1993) and Simón Bolívar Andean University in Quito (1994). She has been director of the Federico de Onís Spanish Studies Seminar and director of the Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, both at the University of Puerto Rico. She is a member of the International Association of Hispanicists, the International Association of Galdós Scholars, the Puerto Rican-Peruvian Institute, the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language and the Royal Spanish Academy in Madrid.
She has also helped organize various symposia, including: “The Political Iconography of the New World,” Cornell University, New York (1984); “Fortunata y Jacinta cien años después,” University of Puerto Rico (1987); “Writing Ethnography in Latin America,” Emory University, Atlanta (1990); and the tenth conference of the Latin American Indian Literature Association, San Juan, Puerto Rico (1992).
Among the awards and honors she has received is a medal from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in recognition of her work (1998) and having been named Humanist of the Year (2001) by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities, an honor she accepted after presenting her lecture, titled “Mestizo, me lo llamo yo a boca llena: sobre la textualidad de la hibridez en los Comentarios Reales del Inca Garcilaso.”
Along with her sister, Luce, she was inducted into the Puerto Rico Senate’s Hall of Distinguished Women. She also received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1999. The Arecibo campus of the university dedicated a conference to the sisters that was titled Escritura, individuo y sociedad en España y las Américas (2001), which was sponsored by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities. The conference lectures were published in the book Morada de la palabra: homenaje a Luce y Mercedes López-Baralt.
Currently, she continues teaching at the university.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Narváez Córdova, María Teresa. “La comprometida intensidad humanista de Mercedes López-Baralt”. Dra. Mercedes López Baralt: Conferenciante Humanista del Año 2001. Puerto Rico: Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades, c. 2002. Impreso.
Mejías López, William, ed. Morada de la palabra: homenaje a Luce y Mercedes López-Baralt. San Juan, P.R.: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2002. Impreso.
Santiago, Leida J. y Mario Ayala. “Entrevista a Mercedes López Baralt”. 1.1 (1997), 10-17. Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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