Gioconda Belli is one of contemporary Central America’s best known writers and one of the few women writers from this region whose works have been translated and published in the United States and throughout Europe.Belli’s literary career has from its beginning been intimately connected to her political life and the political life of her country, Nicaragua. The Sandinista revolution, which ousted the dictator Somoza in 1979, generated widespread international solidarity in the 1970s and 1980s. The image of youthful Sandinista revolutionaries who were often poets, artists and intellectuals, appealed to many and Gioconda Belli was one of the revolution’s most articulate spokespersons. Belli joined the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) in 1970 and was in the underground resistance until 1975 when she had to flee the Somoza regime’s secret police and go into exile. During her exile, she continued to be active in communications and logistic operations. When the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, she held various government positions, working primarily in communications, journalism and public relations. Her profound commitment to the revolutionary ideal of working together to create a more just society is unquestionably at the heart of her writing, both poetry and fiction.
Her early poetry, particularly Sobre la grama, primarily celebrates heterosexual womanhood. 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. As her personal involvement in the revolution grew, her poetry reflected this experience. In subsequent books of poetry she continued to write sensual poems that celebrate physical love, but often the lover in these poems is a comrade in arms. Her lyric voice matured and evolved into that of a committed militant and revolutionary muse, a patriot who passionately loves her small, impoverished, tropical country and hopes her poems will inspire other Nicaraguans to dare to dream of and fight for a better life in a free and equitable society. In her most recent book of poetry, Apogeo, she celebrates mature womanhood in poems that are sensual and self-confident and that challenge stereotypes of older women.
Belli published her first novel, La mujer habitada, in 1988, shortly after she resigned her political appointments to become a full time writer.It is the story of a young, middle-class woman who joins the underground resistance and struggles to define her role in it in the face of her lover’s objections and her own middle class values and prejudices. Elements of magic and indigenous history and myth are woven into the plot and foreshadow her next novel, Sofía de las presagios, in which a young woman rebels against traditional society with the aid of a local medicine woman. Her last work of fiction to date, Waslala, is a futuristic novel that addresses the urgent issues of environmental destruction and the fate of small, impoverished nations. The protagonist is a youngwomanwho travels in search of her mother, who had left home many years earlier to help found a utopian community in a remote part of the country.Her quest teaches her the value ofhaving a vision of a better world and the beauty of living one’s life committed to its realization. In 2001, Belli published El país bajo mi piel, subtitled memoirs of love and war, an intimate retelling of the history of the Sandinista movement and her participation in the historic events it precipitated.
While it may be that Belli’s early work was recognized because of her association with the Sandinista revolution, it is clear that she has transcended that label. Some of her contemporaries abandoned their writing or floundered in confusion or pessimism after the Sandinista electoral defeat and subsequent discrediting of the revolution, but Belli has kept her vision and her energy alive. All of her works since 1995 have been published in Nicaragua as well as abroad.Her writing has been translated into several languages, including French, English, Italian, German, Turkish, Greek, Dutch, Chinese and Finnish. Since 1992 she has lived between Nicaragua and Los Angeles, California. While her writing continues to reflect and incorporate the realities ofNicaragua, the depth of her themes and the originality of her voice have justifiably earned her recognition as a writer of international stature.