FROM THE BRYANT ROOM ARCHIVES
By Myrna Sloam ©September/October 2009
Remembering Gabriela Mistral in Roslyn,
by Myrna Sloam
Many Roslyn residents know that the noted 19th century poet, William Cullen Bryant, lived in Roslyn Harbor. What many do not know is that Roslyn Harbor was also the final home of a major poet of the 20th century: Gabriela Mistral. I was recently reminded of this when I received a phone call from the newly formed Gabriela Mistral Foundation in New York City, looking to know more about Mistral’s time in Roslyn. Based on articles in the Library’s Local History Collection, I am pleased to relate the story of how this Nobel award winning Chilean poet came to live her last years in Roslyn Harbor.
Gabriela Mistral, born Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga (1889-1957) in a small town in Chile, started her career as a rural schoolteacher. Using her pen name, she attracted national attention for her poetry and in 1922, Desolación, her first book of poems was published in New York. Mistral was then asked to help reform the education system in rural Mexico, which began her life as an international traveler, educator, humanitarian and diplomat. Through the 1930s Mistral served as Consul for Chile in a number of countries and in 1931 she came to the U.S. and taught at Barnard and Middlebury Colleges.
In 1945 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature-- the first Latin American to win this prize. In 1946 she joined the newly formed United Nations as a delegate. Although she resigned her post shortly afterwards, she continued to be involved with global relief efforts for children and was asked to make the first world-wide “Appeal for Children,” which marked the beginning of UNICEF. Subsequently, she lived in California, Mexico and Italy. In 1953 she moved to Roslyn Harbor to live with her friend and editor, Doris Dana. According to notes in the library’s Local History Collection, the house was located at 15 Spruce Street, Roslyn Harbor.
Though not much is known about Doris Dana herself, her friendship with Mistral began in 1946 and 1947 when Dana, who was on the staff of City College teaching night classes in Harlem, [New York Times, July 13, 1971] sent Mistral a translation of one of Mistral’s poems. She then visited Mistral in California and the two of them traveled to Mexico, where they remained for three years. They then resided in Italy for nearly three years more, until 1953 when Dana returned to the United States. Mistral, in order to accept an appointment to the UN Committee of Women’s Rights, soon followed, and the two of them shared Dana’s house in Roslyn Harbor. [Publishers’ Weekly, July 5, 1971]
Upon Mistral’s death [at Hempstead General Hospital] in 1957, Dana became heir to her papers and executrix of her estate. She spent many years organizing and cataloging Mistral’s papers and unpublished works, some of which were microfilmed and placed in the Library of Congress. In 1971 Dana published a bilingual edition of Mistral’s poems, entitled Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral. This volume, illustrated by Antonio Frasconi, was the first comprehensive edition of Mistral’s works to appear in print. The book was met with favorable reviews and in October 1971 Dana and Frasconi appeared at a special program at the Bryant Library. Dana and Frasconi worked together again to produce two children’s books based on tales by Mistral. Crickets and Frogs in 1972 and The Elephant and his Secret in 1974.
In the years after her death, Mistral’s poetry continued to be hailed throughout the world, but she was less remembered in Roslyn. Recent events however, have brought her name and her work back into the spotlight. In November 2006 Doris Dana died in Naples, Florida. Her niece, Doris S. Atkinson, acting as Executrix, arranged for Mistral’s papers and manuscripts, which had been in Dana’s care for 50 years, to be donated to the Board of Libraries, Archives and Museums of Chile (DIBAM), making them widely available to the public for the first time. In addition, in 2007 the Gabriela Mistral Foundation http://gabrielamistralfoundation.org/ was formed to promote the legacy of Mistral and to further her lifetime concern for education of the poor in Chile. And, in 2008 a new book of Mistral’s poems, called Madwomen: the Locas Mujeres Poems of Gabriela Mistral, edited and translated by Randall Couch, was published. It is fitting for all of us in Roslyn to join in this resurgence of interest in Gabriela Mistral, and to remember her, especially this year, on the 120th anniversary of her birth.
Permission to reproduce, publish or display whole text articles must be obtained from the Bryant Library Archivist.