Last reviewed: June 2017
Puerto Rican novelist, prose writer, and poet
September 28, 1938
Ponce, Puerto Rico
February 18, 2016
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Rosario Ferré (fay-RAY) is considered Puerto Rico’s leading woman of letters. Ferré is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and also a contributor to The San Juan Star newspaper. A prolific writer, she has published fiction, poetry, criticism, essays, and biography. Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to a family with position in both politics and business, Ferré was educated at Manhattanville College, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned a Ph.D. in Latin American literature in 1987. Her writing career began in the 1970s with her position as editor and publisher of Zona de Carga y Descarga, a student-generated journal concentrating on new Puerto Rican literature. She has also taught at Rutgers University, Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, The Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. She has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown University. In addition, from 1977 to 1980, her column of literary criticism was published in El Mundo, a Puerto Rican newspaper.
Ferré also wrote a biography of her father, Luis Ferré, the pro-statehood governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from 1968 to 1972, but she is best known for her fiction. Her nonfiction essays in Zona de Carga y Descarga reflected her ideals of social reform and independent politics. This journal was the outcome of an idea generated in a master’s degree class at the University of Puerto Rico. With other students, she founded a journal which offered an opportunity for publication to many young Puerto Rican writers who later became famous.
Ferré’s feminist ideas also formed the basis for her short stories. Her children’s literature, including fables and short stories, contains messages concerning the need for social and political reform. Ferré’s fiction in the form of short stories and novels for adults tells the stories of women in her culture who struggle with issues of class, race, and economic status. In stories like “The Youngest Doll,” she explores the conflicts between cultural expectations for women in a changing Puerto Rican society and the common human need for decency and respect. The use of symbolism and allegory in this story are reflected in many of her longer works. Influenced by her family (her mother was from the landed gentry, and her father was an industrialist before he became a politician), Ferré writes of the struggles of women of this culture between duty and personal needs. Early in her career, she was important primarily to feminist academics, until the publication of The House on the Lagoon in 1995. Although Ferré wrote the first draft of the novel in Spanish, she wrote subsequent revisions in English. Upon its publication, she received international attention with her nomination for the National Book Award. Ferré’s recent novels are written in English, but her poetry is published only in Spanish.
Many of her works, including Sweet Diamond Dust and The House on the Lagoon, illustrate the ties between Puerto Rico and Spain as well as the United States. Through multilevel plots dealing with generational conflict and gender constraints, Ferré explores what life is and has been like for people, both men and women, of Puerto Rican descent. Her use of layered time frames, wide plot scope, and vivid language has been compared to Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez. Her stories of the people and the rich culture of her homeland provide an opportunity for readers to learn and appreciate her Caribbean heritage.
Ferré died in 2016 at her home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the age of seventy-seven. She was survived by her third husband, Agustín Costa; three children; a brother; and a grandson.