Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 1988
Gonzalo Rojas was born in the small port and mining town of Lebu in Southern Chile in 1917. The fame of the Chilean poet has also brought a little glory to his home town. A great festival was held there in 2004 in honour of the poet, because spring that year saw Rojas presented with the Premio Cervantes, Spain’s most important literary prize, by Juan Carlos, the King of Spain.
I have Germany in my brain.
The work of the poet, who already began to write as a child, fills 20 volumes. The central topics of his lyric work are love, eroticism and the transience of life. From 1938 to 1941, Rojas was a member of the Chilean surrealist group “Mandrágora”, which he had co-founded, but from which he soon distanced himself, rejecting the surrealists’ demand for originality and calling for the freedom of the poet. In his first collection of poems, called The Misery of Man (La miseria del hombre, 1948), he comes to terms with his experiences during the literacy campaign that was run in Northern Chile.
Rojas, who studied education in Santiago, subsequently worked for the Ministry of Culture and at a grammar school, before being appointed to the Chair of Chilean Literature at the University of Concepción in 1952. He travelled to Europe several times and in 1960 organised the first conference of Latin American writers. The poet was a political activist for Allende, who sent him to China in 1970 as cultural attaché. In 1972 he was the Allende Government’s chargé d’affaires in Cuba. While there, the military coup took him by surprise and forced him into exile. He found refuge with his wife and son in East Germany, where he was a visiting professor at the University of Rostock in 1974/75. However, he was not allowed to teach, a circumstance under which Rojas suffered greatly. He wrote about this experience in his book Oscuro (Dark) published in 1977. As an emigrant, Rojas then took visiting professorships in Venezuela and the United States, until he was able to return to Chile in 1979, although not to his professorial chair.
Even as a boy, Rojas loved the German Romantics and read Novalis and Hölderlin. He was able to deepen this liking for German literature while in Rostock. “I have Germany in my brain” is how he described himself. This was probably one of the reasons why he repeatedly returned to Germany. He spent several months in Berlin in 1988 at the invitation of the DAAD’s Artists-in-Berlin programme. At the major Berlin Festival of Poetry in 2003, the poet enthralled some 2,000 people who listened to a reading he gave on the Potsdamer Platz. Winter 2003 saw him take part in a DAAD-organised seminar for artists “Artes – DAAD” in Santiago de Chile. The distinguished poet died on 25 April 2011 at the age of 93 in Santiago de Chile.