Romantic poet, journalist, essayist, playwright and bibliographer. Sama was born on May 22, 1850, in the municipality of Mayagüez, where he began his elementary school studies and later continued his learning through self-education.
Manuel María Sama mainly wrote drama and poetry. In the latter genre, among his notable poems are “Vida y muerte” and “Desde el mar.” His literary career gained fame in 1869 when Miguel Sánchez Pesquera published an article on his poetry in the Almanaque Aguinaldo de la Isla de Puerto Rico that was titled “Ensayo crítico de algunas de las poesías de Don Manuel María Sama.” The essay opened the doors of literature for the young poet, Sama. Some of the poems reviewed in the essay are “A una madre,” “En el álbum de una señora,” “La paz del campo,” and “A Irene.” After that, his poems were published regularly, about twenty of them in all, in the newspaper La razón over the years 1871 to 1874. Additionally, four of his poems were included in El nuevo cancionero de Borinquen (1872), an anthology of Puerto Rican writers. At the Ponce Exhibition and Fair of 1882, Sama won second place with his poetry “Que eterna como el sol tu gloria sea.”
With the approval of the Autonomic Charter in December of 1897, Manuel Sama, in collaboration with Mariano Riera Palmer, Ramón Roura y Owen, Carlos Casanova, Emilio del Toro Cuevas and R. Roméu, published a poem in 1898 called “Canto a la autonomía colonial” (Hymn to Colonial Autonomy). Sama kept out of the political conflicts and disputes of the time, although he favored the reformist policies.
Although there were quiet times in his literary career due to his work as a businessman, responsible for carrying on his father’s business, M&A Sama, his writing appeared in publications such as El Buscapié, Puerto Rico Ilustrado, the magazine Plumas Amigas, El Imparcial, La Revista Blanca, and others.
Sama made a brief incursion into the world of Fine Arts and made a lithograph called “Isla de Puerto Rico” in which he depicted the governors of the island from the time of discovery until 1871, the year the work was unveiled. The artwork won a silver medal at the 1871 Mayagüez Fair and Exposition, at which 24 other silver medals were awarded in the Fine Arts category. Two years later, when the Mayagüez Casino was founded, Sama was named as president of the organization’s Fine Arts Section.
As a playwright, he was known for his three-act plays in verse: Inocente y culpable (1877), La víctima y su falta (1878) and the historical drama El regreso de Colón (1892). The main character in the latter play is a woman of strong character, the offspring of a late-life romance. It was presented in El Bizcochón Theater (where the Mayagüez Municipal Theater is located today). His interest in the theater led him to found the first magazine about theater, El entreacto (1875), because of the of the rise in theatrical productions in the Mayagüez area and the closure of the newspaper La razón, the periodical that published event notices and reviews of plays and other cultural activities. Sama was both the writer and editor of the new publication. He wrote reviews of the theatrical productions presented at El Bizcochón, which was the main theater of that era in Mayagüez.
Sama also wrote essays. In 1894, he published the historical essay “El desembarco de Colón en Puerto Rico y el monumento de Culebrinas”, in which he discussed his ideas on the controversy over where Christopher Columbus landed on the island. Previously, in 1880, he participated in a contest held by the newspaper El Buscapié under the sponsorship of the Spanish Cervantes Academy in honor of Quijote. Sama won an honorable mention for his essay “Sátira contra el periodismo personal.” The contest judging panel was composed of José Julián Acosta, Manuel Corchado Juarbe, Manuel Alonso, Federico Asenjo and Alejandro Tapia y Rivera.
In addition to being an author, he was also an anthologist. Along with José M. Monge and Antonio Ruiz Quiñones, he prepared an anthology of poetry titled Poetas puertorriqueños in 1879. It consisted of a selection of works by 36 Puerto Rican poets, both romantic and neo-classical.
His most outstanding work was the preparation of the Bibliografía puertorriqueña (1887), which received a prize from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. It was the first bibliography of Puerto Rican literature to be published. Based on his own personal library, Sama’s bibliography included 289 books, on which he provided commentary.
In 1910, Sama was named director of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. The writer died in San Juan three years later, on April 15, 1913.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña, su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983.
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.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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