“We have not given your island a single thought, and I have no information whatsoever on the place,” Teddy Roosevelt reportedly said about Puerto Rico on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Rosario Ferré, Puerto Rico’s leading author, sought to rectify the ignorance of her island. She dynamically brought Puerto Rico’s history to life though her collections of short stories and her novels The House on the Lagoon, Eccentric Neighborhoods, and Flight of the Swan. In 1995 she was chosen as one of the five finalists for the National Book Award for her multigenerational novel The House on the Lagoon.
Ferré was born in Ponce in the southern part of Puerto Rico. Her mother, Lorenza Ramirez Ferré, came from a family whose roots for generations were in sugar plantations, while her father, Luis A. Ferré, made his money through banking and industry in connection with American corporations. He was the founder of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party and governor of Puerto Rico from 1968-1972. Ferré attended Catholic girls’ schools on the island where she learned that the traditional role of Puerto Rican women was to be “virtuous and silent.” Later while attending a Jesuit boys’ school with her brothers, she was introduced to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and E.T.A. Hoffmann. She was fascinated by the stories told to her by her nanny, Gela. Many of these tales were incorporated into her short stories.
At Dana, “Rosie” was a member of the French Club, the Current Events Club and the Drama, Art and Music Clubs. She was vice president of her junior class and was on the varsity fencing team. Ferré went to Wellesley College for one year and then transferred to Manhattanville College in New York. She graduated from Manhattanville College as an English major and received a Master’s degree in Spanish and Latin American literature from the University of Puerto Rico in 1985 and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1987. In the 1960s, she married and had three children.
While her father was governor her mother died and Ferré fulfilled her mother’s role as First Lady. This event was a turning point in her life. Her father advocated that Puerto Rico become a commonwealth as a stepping-stone to statehood while Ferré strongly disagreed and wanted independence for Puerto Rico. During this time, she discovered her political and literary independence. She founded the journal Zona de carga y descarga, (Loading and Unloading Zone), a venue for unknown Puerto Rican artists, that became a forum for political reformers who expressed their views without being affiliated with a particular party.
The publication of Ferré’s first collection of stories, Papeles de Pandora, in 1976 established her as an “influential Puerto Rican feminist writer… opening the door for the feminist movement on the island,” according to Carmen S. Rivera, a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Rivera explains, “In her works, Ferré combines traditional island stories, classical mythology, and a modern feminist viewpoint to create a more active and satisfying myth of Puerto Rican women. Her writings reflect the dichotomy of an island society and economy divided between a traditional, rural elite and a new, burgeoning, industrial class and the ambiguous place women hold in modern Puerto Rico.”
Many of her books such as Eccentric Neighborhoods (Vecindarios Excentricos), The House on the Lagoon (La Casa de la Laguna), and Sweet Diamond Dust (Maldito Amor) are published in both English and Spanish. Ferré wrote in Spanish and translated many of her books into English. However, in the 1990s she began writing in English in hopes of reaching a wider audience. In 2004 Ferré was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to persons who demonstrated exceptional capacity for creative ability in the arts.
Ferré’s books in English and Spanish are part of the Alumnae Authors Collection in the Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives, Dana Hall School.
Focus. Wellesley, MA, Dana Hall School, 1956.
Rivera, Carmen S. “Rosario Ferré.” Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series, edited by William Luis and Ann Gonzalez, Gale, 1994. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 145. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1200005249/LitRC?u=mlin_m_danahall&sid=LitRC&xid=5c1feb34. Accessed 20 Jan. 2021.
“Rosario Ferré.” Notable Hispanic Women, Gale, 1998 Gale in Context: Biography, link.gale.com/apps/doc/K1624000557/BIC?u=mlin_m_ danahall&sid=BIC&xid=ddc08632. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.
Rosario Ferré. Photograph. Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives, Wellesley.
Ruta, Suzanne. “Blood of the Conquistadors: A Novel about the Rise and Fall of a Puerto Rican Dynasty.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Sep 17 1995, p.1. ProQuest. Web. Accessed 20 Jan. 2021 .
Weber, Bruce. “Rosario Ferré, 77; Captured Puerto Rico in Prose.” The New York Times [New York], 21 Feb. 2016, sec. D, p. 8. The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/books/rosario-ferre-writer-who-examined-puerto-rican-identity-dies-77.html?searchResultPosition=2. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.
Originally published as Person of the Week, February 27, 2006
Revised January 2021