Authors: Luis Rafael Sánchez

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Puerto Rican novelist and playwright

Identity: Puerto Rican, gay or bisexual

Author Works

Long Fiction:

La guaracha del Macho Camacho, 1976 (Macho Camacho’s Beat, 1980)

La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos, 1988

Short Fiction:

En cuerpo de camisa, 1965, revised 1971

Drama:

La espera, pr. 1959

“Cuento de cucarachita viudita,” wr. 1959

Farsa del amor compradito, pb. 1960

Los ángeles se han fatigado, pb. 1960 (The Angels Are Exhausted, 1964, 1973)

La hiel nuestra de cada día, pr. 1962 (Our Daily Bitterness, 1964)

Casi el alma: Auto de fe en tres actos, pr. 1964 (A Miracle for Maggie, 1974)

La pasión según Antígona Pérez, pr., pb. 1968 (The Passion According to Antígona Pérez, 1968; also known as The Passion of Antígona Pérez, 1971)

Teatro de Luis Rafael Sánchez, pb. 1976

Quíntuples, pr. 1984 (Quintuplets, 1984)

Nonfiction:

Fabulación e ideología en la cuentística de Emilio S. Belaval, 1979

No llores por nosotros, Puerto Rico, 1997

Biography

The success of his novel Macho Camacho’s Beat catapulted the Puerto Rican playwright, short-story writer, and essayist Luis Rafael Sánchez (SAHN-chehz) to international fame. Sánchez was born to a working-class family in a small coastal town in Puerto Rico. He went to San Juan to study theater at the University of Puerto Rico. For a time he moved back and forth between his native land and New York City. Sánchez spent a year at Columbia University, where he studied theater and creative writing. Later he returned to New York to pursue a master’s degree in Spanish literature at New York University. He began but did not complete his doctoral studies at Columbia University; he would receive his Ph.D. in 1973 from the University of Madrid. Since then he has taught Latin American and Spanish literature at the University of Puerto Rico, occasionally traveling and living abroad.{$I[AN]9810001627}{$I[A]Sánchez, Luis Rafael}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Sánchez, Luis Rafael}{$I[geo]LATINO;Sánchez, Luis Rafael}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Sánchez, Luis Rafael}{$I[tim]1936;Sánchez, Luis Rafael}

Sánchez began his writing career as a playwright. While there is some low-key experimentalism in his drama, typical of the Latin American scene of the 1960’s, the thrust of his works lies in social criticism, with heavy moralizing, rhetoric, and transparent allegories. His political stance is that of an independentista (represented by the left-wing intellectual elite proposing independence for his native island), which in the Puerto Rico of the late twentieth century had become inextricably entangled with upholding Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution of 1959 as the model for such independence.

The mastery of language and the hyperbolism employed in Farsa del amor compradito recall Ramón María del Valle-Inclán’s farcical esperpentos from the early twentieth century. This quality continues through the short stories En cuerpo de camisa and reaches a high point in Macho Camacho’s Beat. Sánchez turns his back on the romantic icon of Puerto Rican cultural identity, the mainly white peasant jíbaro. Instead, he focuses on the new Puerto Rico that emerged, after postwar industrialization and Americanization, in the cities. In these early works Sánchez starts learning to “write in this new Puerto Rican,” developing a neobaroque language that celebrates popular urban culture, discourse, music, and humor.

The Passion of Antigone Pérez is generally considered one of the highlights of the first period of Sánchez’s work. However, the tragic moral dilemma of the Sophoclean Antigone is considerably weakened in this version, and the story is transformed into a predictable political allegory that criticizes stale stereotypes and situations in Latin America (such as the mutual support of church and state). Read decades later, the drama does not seem to have withstood the ravages of time, history, and failed master ideologies. Indeed, the dictatorship in Sánchez’s apocryphal Latin American “banana republic” bears a striking, if unintentional and ironic, resemblance to Castro’s regime in Cuba.

Macho Camacho’s Beat, published originally in Argentina, was an instant success. In this novel Sánchez blends the language of an apocryphal popular hit song, real-life commercial hype, and contemporary urban mass-media culture into a masterful stream of radio advertisement babble that unmasks commercialism, superficial journalism, and popular hyperreal lifestyles propagated by commercial radio, all while criticizing some more serious aspects of Puerto Rican political life, such as all-pervasive corruption. While the novel is also based on some worn-out stereotypes (such as the corrupt senator and his mulatto mistress), it entertains. The reader might even overlook the underlying ideological framework. The protagonist of the novel seems to be the playful use of language, based on colloquial urban popular usage.

In 1984 Sánchez’s play Quintuplets was staged, to critical acclaim, in San Juan, New York, Buenos Aires, Santo Domingo, and Oporto. The play consists of monologues by the five children of the actor The Great Mandrake; criticizing patriarchy, it also deals with the nature of acting and writing. In 1985 Sánchez received a grant from the German academic exchange board and spent that year in Berlin. In 1988 he published La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos, a fictionalized biography of Daniel Santos, a real-life Puerto Rican singer of boleros from the 1940’s and 1950’s who was both a pop-culture idol and a fervent believer in the island’s independence. The text is a hybrid work, a mosaic of essay, fiction, and (pseudo)documentary narrative spiced with fragments of Santos’s best-known romantic and sentimental bolero songs.

BibliographyFlores, Angel, ed. Spanish American Writers: The Twentieth Century. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1992. This brief overview of Sánchez’s work will be helpful to the beginner. It touches on most of the author’s major writing, although it does not discuss it in depth.Guinness, Gerald. “Is Macho Camacho’s Beat a Good Translation of La guaracha del Macho Camacho?” In Images and Identities: The Puerto Rican in Two World Contexts, edited by Asela Rodriguez de Laguna. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1987. Explores the techniques of Gregory Rabassa’s translation of the novel, with some alternative renderings.Luis, William. Dance Between Two Cultures: Latino Caribbean Literature Written in the United States. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1997. Contains a section on Puerto Rican literature written in the United States and compares Sánchez’s work with that of Cuban novelists Oscar Hijuelos and Guillermo Cabrera Infante.Melendez, Priscilla. “Towards a Characterization of Latin American Farce.” Siglo XX 11 (1993). Discusses Macho Camacho’s Beat as parody.Perivolaris, John Dimitri. Puerto Rican Cultural Identity and the Work of Luis Rafael Sánchez. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. Perivolaris is fundamentally concerned with the sociopolitical aspects of Sánchez’s writing. He offers perceptive readings of some of the more important prose fiction Sánchez has produced, but he has much less to say about the plays, save for his illuminating chapter on Quintuplets.Quintana, Hilda E. “Myth and Reality in Luis Rafael Sánchez’s La pasión según Antígona Pérez.” Revista/Review interamericana 19, nos. 3/4 (1989). Focuses on the use of myth in the novel.Zamora, Lois Parkinson. “Clichés and Defamiliarization in the Fiction of Manuel Puig and Luis Rafael Sánchez.” Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism 41, no. 4 (June, 1983): 421. Examines the use of cliché and defamiliarization in the works of the two writers.
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