Gioconda Belli: revolutionary woman, poet and political activist

The woman who got Nicaragua to talk of feminism and erotic poetry.

And God made me woman,
with long hair,
nose and a woman’s mouth.
With curves
and folds
and soft hollows
and dug into me,
and made me a workshop for
human beings.
God delicately wove my nerves,
carefully balanced
the number of my hormones,
composed my blood
and injected me with it
so that it would irrigate
my entire body;
and so ideas were born,
instinct. Gently created
by hammer blows of human breath
and the drilling motion of love,
the thousand and one things that make
me a woman every day,
that make me proud when I get up
every morning and I bless my sex.

Having had her first poems published in 1970 and since then her works translated into more than 14 languages, Gioconda Belli is one of Nicaragua’s major political and intellectual voices, as well as one of the most important living poets of Latin America. Belli has also stood out for her fantastic novels, which have been bestsellers in different countries around the world. In Germany for example, Gioconda Belli is among the most popular and read Latin American writers, with multiple translations into German.

In 1978, She won the poetry prize of the prestigious Casa de las Americas of Havana, Cuba, alongside the Nicaraguan-Salvadoran poet Claribel Alegria. In 2008, she received the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Award for “best novel”, at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, while in 2014, she won the prize of fine arts of France. These are just some of the many awards and recognitions that this prodigious poet has achieved.

Belli is a multifaceted woman, a talented writer, journalist and feminist. Belli has been a woman sensitive to social injustices, defender and promoter of women’s rights in the Latin America region.

Political activism

Belli was born into a bourgeois family; educated in catholic schools where she started to develop a social conscience which brought her to oppose the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Somoza, which had repressed the Nicaraguan people for 45 years.

Gioconda Belli was one of the revolution’s most articulate spokespersons. Belli joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)  in 1970, and was in the underground resistance until 1975. She had to go into exile in Mexico and Costa Rica from where she continued to support the struggle of the Nicaraguan people againts the Anastacio Somoza dictatorship. After the Sandinista’s triumph in 1979, she occupied several roles in the revolutionary government, all the while publishing poetry and novels.

Today, Belli is considered by Nicaraguans to be one of the most independent, critically engaged intellectuals in the struggle for democracy.

Literature full of feminism, eroticism and political activism

The literature of Gioconda Belli is characterized on the one hand by the theme of feminism and eroticism and, on the other, its political activism. Her profound commitment to the revolutionary ideal of working together to create a fairer society is unquestionably at the heart of her writing, both poetry and fiction.

For Elizabeth Bruno, lecturer at The University of North Carolina, while female authors have been writing about “women’s issues” for centuries, their foregrounding of women’s bodies is a relatively new phenomenon. This “literature of the body” is perceived as a way for women to claim back what is and has always been theirs. Gioconda Belli’s literature of the body presents a mosaic of images of women, through which she empowers them to claim back their body and to celebrate it as the site of the multiple facets of women.

In 1972, with her first book “On the grass”, Belli revolutionized Central American poetry by openly addressing the body and female sexuality. In most works, Belli tackles feminism, while vindicating the role of women in society and in the construction of culture. Some of her recurring poetic themes include erotic pleasures, the beauty and satisfactions of all the stages of motherhood and the irrepressible longing to live a full, creative, committed life.

On the other hand, her poetry and fiction incorporate the political and social struggles of Nicaragua, with a particular emphasis on questions of gender oppression in the country and throughout Latin America.

For Barbara Harlow, from the University of Texas, the poetry written by Gioconda Belli is a good example of what is called “Resistance literature“. Belli’’s poetry is a creative work which rises through a process of everyday struggles against various forms of violence. In Belli words: “we make revolution when we write a poem”.

Cultural and environmental promoter

In addition of these two themes: the feminism/eroticism and political activism, however, there is a third theme present throughout Belli`s work which has often been overlooked or underestimated by critics: this element is nature.

The protection and respect for the environment has not only been expressed in the literature of Gioconda Belli, but she has also acted as one of the largest voices in Nicaragua at an international level, together with Ernesto Cardenal, in opposing the construction of the interoceanic canal which, according with the  scientific community, could become a huge environmental disaster for central America region.

Gioconda Belli is a member of the board of the International Poetry Festival, an event which, having received poets from all over the world, calls for the union and fraternity of nations through literature.

Currently, women live in situations of disadvantage when compared to mencensorship and continue experience limits set towards them. They are often denied the right to fully enjoy female sexuality, feel happy and proud of being a woman.

Today is International Women’s Day and like the literature of Gioconda Belli, this date reminds us that we, as women, should celebrate the priviledge of being a woman and all the wonderful aspects this implies. The celebrations come easy. But the desperately needed change within society is yet to be seen. Inspired by the works of women such as Belli, not only women, but also men must work together in order to build a society in which women can also fully enjoy their rights and feel happy and grateful for being a woman.

Ligia Andrea Mendoza Mejia

Ligia is from Nicaragua, PhD Candidate in Sociology from Salamanca University (Spain) - Oldenburg University (Germany). She has a Master's degree in Public Services and Social Policies from Salamanca`s University. She is graduated in Business Administration Degree from Centroamericana`s University and systems engineering from Polytechnic University of Nicaragua. Passionate about human rights, social justice and social responsibility, poverty fighting, global warming and environmental issues, she is a person against all kind of discriminations, type of violence and animal mistreatment. Ligia has been a steadfast advocate of Gender equality and women's empowerment.
    One Comment
  • Avatar
    Lanny Cotler
    14 July 2018 at 2:44 am
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    I have been a fan of Gioconda Belli for years. I appreciated her work in literature and politics. But lately, I am confused. Something has happened.

    Has she turned from the Left to the Right? This is not uncommon, but usually needs an explanation. Has she gone sour on Sandanismo? Has she had a fallout with Ortega? I do not know.

    Here is a recent essay, supposedly by Belli. I need to have it explained to me.

    lanny AT lcotler DOT com

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