The first poet on Chilean soil was Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga (1533–94). He is known for his long poem La Araucana, one of the Spanish language’s greatest epic works, which describes the native struggle against the Spaniards.
The actual Chilean literature begins only after the liberation from Spain in 1818. During his long stay in Chile, Venezuelan Andrés Bello exerted a great influence on the country’s cultural development. The romantic movement started relatively late and found little ground in the country. The most important poets of this period were Salvador Sanfuente (1817–60), Eusebio Lillo (1826–1910), Guillermo Matta (1829–99) and Guillermo Blest Ghana (1829–1904). In the portrayals of José Joaquín Vallejo (1811–58), the indirect influence of romance is noted. The 19th century’s perhaps greatest novelist, Alberto Blest Gana, an admirer of Balzac, marks the transition to realism. This tendency is continued within the novel by Luis Orrego Luco withCasa Grande (1908), depicting Chile’s decadent aristocracy, Baldomer Lillo (1867–1923), with his naturalistic short stories, and his hometown author Mariano Latorre (1886–1955).
Parallel to the prevailing realism of Chile’s novel, there were also more lyrical and subjectivist tendencies, e.g. with Eduardo Barrios, Pedro Prado (1886–1952), who was also a lyricist; and María Luisa Bombal (1910–80), among others. in the novel La última niebla (1935), and in the psychologically-amazing novel La amortajada (1938). The main character of the “Modernista” movement, Nicaraguan Rubén Darío, stayed for several years in Chile and won a number of followers, including Carlos Pezoa Véliz (1879-1908) and Manuel Magallanes Moure (1879-1923). However, Chile’s first major lyricist is Nobel laureate Gabriela Mistral, who published her first poetry collection, Desolación, in 1922.
The wartime aesthetic directions of Europe, Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism, Ultraism, etc. also gained their followers in Chile. Among these are significant poets such as Vicente Huidobro, the leader of the literary movement “creacionismo”, the politically radical and contentious Pablo de Rokha (1894-1968) and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. The realistically oriented novel after the Second World War is represented primarily by Manuel Rojas, known to Hijo de ladrón (1951). In response to the dominant regional literature emerged the so-called 1950s generation, with novelists such as Enrique Lafourcade and José Donoso. Among the newer novelists is Isabel Allende, with a. novelLa casa de los espíritus (1982), also filmed, Luís Sepúlveda with Mundo del fin del mundo (1991) and Roberto Bolaño (1953–2003) with Los detectives salvajes (1998).
Among Chile’s most important post-war lyricists are Braulio Arenas (b. 1913), Nicanor Parra (b. 1914), with his “anti-poems”, Miguel Arteche (b. 1926), Enrique Lihn (b. 1929), Oscar Hahn (b. 1938) and Raúl Zurita (b. 1951).
Within the theater, Antonio Acevedo Hernández (1886–1962) contributed to the development of social folk theater, while Armando L. Moock (1894–1943) is best known for his folk comedies and tragedies. Recent playwrights include Egon Wolff (b. 1920), Jorge Díaz (b. 1930), Alejandro Sieveking (b. 1935) and Antonio Skármeta (b. 1940).