Luis Rafael Sánchez is a playwright, novelist, essayist and university professor who was part of the 1960s generation characterized by social and historic criticism through literary mechanisms that broke with tradition. His narratives present new forms and techniques, as well as an experimental and complex use of the language. He analyzes and critiques, through irony and dark humor, the Puerto Rican reality through characters that, in general, belong to the humble and marginalized strata of society.
Sánchez was born on November 17, 1936, in Humacao, where he went to elementary school. His interest in the theater arose while he was in high school in San Juan, where he moved to live with his uncle and aunt at the end of the 1940s. While he studied in high school, he worked on radio series for the station WNEL, including Los hijos de la casa cuna and También son nuestros hermanos. His aspirations to get into television were not successful. However, his experience at the radio station helped him later with his literary production.
In 1955 Sánchez traveled to Mexico, where he won the award for best young actor of the year from the National Institute of Mexican Youth. The following year, he entered the University of Puerto Rico and joined the group Comedietta Universitaria as an amateur actor. In 1958, the university’s dramadepartment premiered its first dramatic work, La espera. The same year, he moved to New York after he obtained a scholarship from the dean of students office of the University of Puerto Rico to continue his studies in writing plays and short stories at Columbia University.
Sánchez returned to Puerto Rico and completed his bachelor of arts degree in 1960. He became an assistant instructor for the university staff. In 1962, he again returned to New York on a university scholarship and completed his masters in arts and sciences degree at New York University in 1963. He began his doctoral studies at Columbia University and completed them at the Complutense University of Madrid in 1976 with his thesis Fabulación e ideología en la cuentística de Emilio S. Belaval, published by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in 1979.
During these years he also wrote plays. In 1959, his children’s play Cuento de la cucarachita viudita won a prize from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. The decade of the 1960s was a period of high productivity in which he published Los ángeles se han fatigado (1960), Farsa del amor compradito (1960), La hiel nuestra de cada día (1962), …O casi el alma (Acto de fe en tres actos) (1966) and La pasión según Antígona Pérez (1969). In the latter, he recreates the myth of Antigone in a Hispano-American context through experimental techniques in play writing and language. He later published Quíntuples (1985).
He began writing fiction in the late 1950s with the short tale “El trapito”, a story that won the literary contest of the General Studies Faculty at the University of Puerto Rico. Some of his other award-winning stories from the same period include (1958), winner of the third place award in the Christmas Contest of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum; “Aleluya negra” (1960), published in the magazine Asomante, and also honored with an award from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum; “Memorias de un eclipse” (1963), unanimous winner of the literary contest sponsored by the magazines Asomante and Cuadernos of Paris.
He compiled the award-winning stories, along with others published in magazines and periodicals, in a book titled En cuerpo de camisa (1966). Later, some of his stories would appear in literary magazines, such as “Reponso para un bolerito de la 15” (1972) in the magazine Zona de Carga y Descarga; “Novelita rosa sin anuncio de pasta dental” (1973) in Penélope y el mundo nuevo and “Ojos de sosiego ajeno” (1975) in Sin nombre.
As a novelist, his most important work is La guaracha del Macho Camacho (1976), published in more than ten languages and characterized by an experimental and musical use of language, particularly popular and colloquial speech. He also uses repetition, exaggeration and chaotic lists, as well as linguistic tools such as local, indigenous, African and English terms and invented words. In La guaracha, Sánchez, uses caricature and satire to present a critique of the society and historic moment in which he lived. In his next novel, La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos (1988), he returns to music as a narrative platform, although in this work it is the bolero. In 2007, the novel Indiscreciones de un perro gringo was published.
Among his essays, La guagua aérea (1994), brought to the cinema by director Luis Molina, addresses the Puerto Rican migration to New York with humor and irony. He later published No llores por nosotros Puerto Rico (1997), a collection of reflective articles and essays on the political and cultural contradictions that characterize Puerto Ricans. In 2005, he published Devórame otra vez (2005), a collection of critical essays about the current Puerto Rican reality.
Luis Rafael Sánchez has worked as a university professor in Puerto Rico and the United States and has written for the Puerto Rican press. In 1985, the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities gave him the Humanist of the Year award and he presented his magisterial conference, ¿Por qué escribe usted?, una reflexión sobre el ejercicio de la escritura.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 17, 2014.
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