Pedro Juan Soto was a short story writer, novelist, playwright and professor. As a writer from the 1945 Generation, he sought to portray, through a neo-realiststyle, the difficult circumstances faced by the Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York, as well as the rejection suffered by the first wave of those who returned to Puerto Rico. His work also addressed the participation of Puerto Ricans in the Korean War and the social consequences of it.
Pedro Juan Soto was born on July 11, 1928, in Cataño. He began his elementary studies in Bayamón. He later entered Long Island University, where he completed a bachelor of arts degree in 1950. He completed a year of military service in the United States Army. In 1953, he completed his master of arts degree at Columbia University in New York. In 1976, he finished his doctoral studies in Hispano-American literature at Toulouse University in France.
He began his literary career writing short stories. In 1953, “Los perros anónimos” was published in the magazine Asomante, based on the war and his experiences as a soldier. He later published “Garabatos” (1953) and “Los inocentes” (1954), which won awards from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. During this era, he also contributed to various periodicals, including Diario de Nueva York, Ecos de Nueva York; El Mundo, Asomante, Temas and Visión. In 1955, he also worked for the Department of Community Education (DIVEDCO, for its Spanish acronym). He later worked as a literature professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, from which he later retired.
In 1957, his collection of short stories, Spiks, appeared. It exposed the socio-political problems of the Puerto Ricans in the New York City area. The title of the collection, Spiks – a derogatory name for the Puerto Ricans abroad – is representative of the prejudice, discrimination and marginalization faced by Puerto Ricans living in New York. In each of the stories, Soto portrays human misery and moral disintegration with sharp irony and crude reality. His characters have one thing in common: anguish and frustration over the difficulty of adapting to the Barrio and nostalgia for the island. Soto’s prose is diagrammatic and concentrated, without poetic contrivances. The dialogue draws from the popular speech of Puerto Rico, further enriching the expressiveness of his stories.
He later published the collection of stories Un decir de la violencia (1976), which consisted of seven stories: “Ausencia,” “Bayaminiña,” “Campeones,” “Dios en Harlem,” “Garabatos,” “La Cautiva,” “Los Inocentes” and “Miniaturas.” He later published a bilingual (Spanish and English) anthology titled La nueva vida (1966).
His first published novel, Usmaíl (1959), portrays the conditions on the island of Vieques: the occupation of a large portion of the territory by the United States Navy and it consequences, such as the loss of arable land and, as a result, the loss of jobs. The novel won a prize from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature, which he refused. In Ardiente suelo, fría estación (1961) he portrays the tragedy of the return migration. Those who were called spiks in New York came to their home island in search of their roots and were called Yankees. El francotirador (1969) focuses, through the main character, on the political situation of Puerto Rico and Cuba. In Temporada de duendes (1970), he presents a middle class character who lives detached from the patriotic and cultural reality of Puerto Rico by being immersed in the fantasies of the movies. Un oscuro pueblo sonriente (1984) describes a community of people from the United States living enclosed in a ghetto in Puerto Rico, just as the Puerto Ricans live in the United States. This novel won the Casa las Américas prize in Havana. In 1999, La sombra lejana was published.
Other works by Soto include A solas con Pedro Juan Soto (1973), in which the author reflects on his writing process; En busca de José L. De Diego (1990), essays and interviews published in collaboration with his wife, writer and professor Carmen Lugo Filippi; and Memorias de mi amnesia (1991).
His work for the stage includes El huésped, published in 1955. The one-act play won an award in the Puerto Rican Athenaeum’s Christmas contest. It focuses on old age. Specifically, it deals with the suicide of a father over the rejection he feels from his daughters when he is left a widow and becomes an undesired guest. In 1956, the work was brought to the stage in the Athenaeum’s Experimental Theater and in 1958 it was published in the magazine Artes y Letras. The same year, he wrote the three-act play Las máscaras, which won an honorable mention in the Athenaeum’s contest.
Pedro Juan Soto died on November 7, 2002.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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