“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 Ferre, Puerto Rico’s leading author, has sought to rectify ignorance of her island. She has 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.
Ferre was born in Ponce in the southern part of Puerto Rico. Lorenza Ramirez Ferre, her mother, came from a family whose roots for generations were in sugar plantations, while her father, Luis A. Ferre, made his money through banking and industry in connection with American corporations. Her father was governor of Puerto Rico from 1968-1972. Rosario attended Catholic girls’ schools on the island where she learned that the traditional role of Puerto Rican women was to be “virtuous and silent.” She also attended a Jesuit boys’ school with her brothers where she was introduced to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and E.T.A. Hoffman. In addition, she was fascinated by the stories told to her by her nanny, Gela. Later, many of these stories 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. Rosario 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, an event that was a turning point in Ferre’s life. She was forced to take over her mother’s role as official hostess of La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence. It was during this time that she discovered her political and literary independence. Her father advocated that Puerto Rico become a commonwealth as a stepping-stone to his ultimate goal of statehood. Rosario strongly disagreed and wanted independence for Puerto Rico. She founded Zona de Carga y Descarga, a magazine that was a venue for unknown Puerto Rican artists but also became a forum for political reformers who wanted to express their views without being affiliated with a particular party.
The publication of Ferre’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, Ferre 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. Ferre writes in Spanish and does her own translations into English. One of the five finalists for the National Book Award, Ferre was also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded to persons who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for creative ability in the arts, in 2004. Her newest book, The Flight of the Swan, was published in 2001. Many of her books, both in English and Spanish, are in the Alumnae Authors Collection in the Helen Temple Cooke Library.