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Julia de Burgos, Celebrated Puerto Rican Poet, Honored on U.S. Stamp

Julia de Burgos, one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated poets, was recognized by the Postal Service today on a 44-cent stamp at the Teatro Tapia, one of the oldest drama stage buildings in the U.S. An award-winning writer and journalist, Julia de Burgos takes her place among honorees in the Postal Service’s Literary Arts series and with 75 other Hispanic-themed stamps.

“Today, the Postal Service honors Julia de Burgos, a revolutionary writer, thinker, and activist,” said Jordan Small, Postal Service area vice president, Northeast Area, during the first-day-of-issue stamp ceremony. “Dr. de Burgos wrote more than 200 poems that probe issues of love, feminism, and political and personal freedom. Her groundbreaking works urged women, minorities and the poor to defy social conventions and find their own true selves.”

Joining Small to dedicate the stamp were Byankah Sobá, journalist and master of ceremonies; Jorge Santini-Padilla mayor of San Juan; and María Consuelo Sáez Burgos, niece of Julia de Burgos.

Julia Constanza Burgos García was born on Feb. 17, 1914, in the town of Carolina, Puerto Rico. The eldest of 13 children, de Burgos grew up along the Río Grande de Loíza. She later wrote, “My childhood was all a poem in the river, and a river in the poem of my first dreams.” Although her family’s limited means made attending college difficult, de Burgos persevered and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1933 with a two-year teaching degree. For the next several years, she worked at a series of teaching and journalism jobs while also publishing poems in journals and newspapers.

De Burgos’ first collection, Exact Poems to Myself, consisted of poems she wrote in 1934 and 1935. One of the poems written during this early period also became her most famous, “Río Grande de Loíza,” a love song to the river of her childhood. In another poem, de Burgos rejected the social and behavioral restrictions placed on women, forcefully proclaiming, “I am life, strength, woman.” Other poems address political themes such as equality and social justice.

De Burgos left Puerto Rico in 1940 for New York City, then moved to Cuba, where she stayed until 1942. From 1944 to 1945, she served as an editor for Pueblos Hispanos, a New York-based newspaper that promoted many progressive social and political causes including Puerto Rican independence. In 1946, she received another literary award, this time for her essay, “To Be or Not To Be Is the Motto.”

A number of de Burgos’ poems describe the loneliness and isolation she experienced in New York City, highlighting for Puerto Ricans and other immigrants the importance of community and solidarity.

From 1946 until her death in New York City in 1953, de Burgos was plagued with health problems. Friends and family ensured her final resting place was her beloved Carolina, Puerto Rico.