Portal, Magda, 1901-1989

Alternative names
Birth 1901-05-27
Death 1989-07-12
Spanish; Castilian

Biographical notes:

Peruvian poet, journalist, political activist and feminist. Born in Barranco, Peru, on May 27, 1901. Died in Lima on July 11, 1989. Magda Portal was a pioneer in the avant-garde literary movement of the 1920's, publishing the magazines Flechas (Lima : 1924); Trampolín; Hangar (Lima : 1926) and Timonel; Rascacielos (Lima : 1927). In 1925, with Serafín Delmar, she travelled to Bolivia where she spent a year lecturing and published: Bandera roja, a worker's newspaper, and, El derecho de matar (La Paz, Bolivia : Imp. Continental, 1926). Upon her return to Peru she began her collaboration with the magazine Amauta (Lima, Peru : 1926-1930) and her involvement in Peruvian literary and political life. Her affiliation with José Carlos Mariátegui (founder of Amauta) and others led to her arrest in June 1927. Deportation to Cuba followed shortly. In 1928 Portal reunited in Mexico with Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder of the Popular Revolutionary Alliance for America (APRA). After 3 years of activity with APRA in Mexico and other countries, Portal and other exiles returned to Peru in 1930, where she assumed responsibility as leader of the femenine section of APRA's National Executive Committee, becoming increasingly involved in women emancipation issues. Magda Portal was arrested in 1934 and in 1948, in connection with her APRA activities. Her experience served as the basis for many of her poems in Costa sur (Lima : 1945) and her only novel La Trampa (Lima : 1956). Portal travelled extensively in Latin America, spending 6 years in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile (1939-1945). In Chile she met Rómulo Betancourt, president of Venezuela, and Chile's socialist leader Salvador Allende. Magda Portal was director of Mexico's Fondo de Cultura Económica publishing house in Lima, from 1958-1971. She became an active affiliate of the Lima-based feminist group ALIMUPER (Alliance for the Liberation of Peruvian Women) and served as an officer of Peru's National Association of Writers and Artists (ANEA), having been president from 1982 to 1986. During her periods of exile and throughout her life, she collaborated with numerous periodicals such as El Comercio, El Correo, La Crónica, El Diario, Expreso, Ojo, El País and La Prensa. She was honored as a writer by the Fourth Inter-American Congress of Women Writers in Mexico City in 1981.

From the description of Magda Portal papers, 1930-1989. (University of Texas Libraries). WorldCat record id: 44071674

María Magdalena Julia Portal was born in Lima, Peru on May 27, 1901 to working-class parents Pedro Pablo Portal and Rosa Moreno. As a girl Portal began to write poems, short stories, and novels. As a teenager she worked to support her economically troubled family, but attended class at night at the University of San Marcos. At the university she was exposed to new political and philosophical themes, ideas that would shape her writing and public life. Portal met and married fellow university student Federico Bolaños. The marriage did not last and she later fell in love with poet Reynaldo Bolaños, a brother of Federico, who went by the pen name Serafín Delmar. Their love affair continued through years of political imprisonments and exiles.

By 1923 Portal and Delmar became involved in political demonstrations, specifically against President Augusto B. Leguía. After the birth of daughter Gloria in 1925, they left Peru for Bolivia where they spent a year involved in leftist political newspapers and literature. After moving back to Lima, Portal began teaching at the Universidades Manuel González Prada and published the literary journal Trampolín . She also collaborated on José Carlos Mariátegui's journal Amauta and became involved with the group Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA). During this time she wrote and published her poetry in Una esperanza y el mar .

Because of her work with Mariátegui's supposed communist group, in 1927 Portal was arrested and exiled to Cuba and then deported to Mexico. She was joined in Mexico by Serafín Delmar and other Peruvian exiles including APRA party founder Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre. They formed a local Aprista committee and elected Portal secretary general. Over the next few years Portal traveled to Cuba, Puerto Rica, Colombia, and Santo Domingo representing APRA and its ideals. In 1930 she was incarcerated in Chile and, after being freed with the help of Chilean intellectuals, she returned to Lima to found PAP, the Peruvian Aprista Party. Through PAP Portal worked for women's rights, starting educational and political programs for women. She became the leader of the Feminine Sector of APRA's National Executive Committee and was in charge of organizing feminist groups throughout Peru. Portal also helped edit the party magazine Apra and published various political pamphets and essays.

During the presidency of dictator Sánchez Cerro and his persecution of Aprista leaders in 1932 Portal was forced to go underground for some 16 months. Portal's mother and two sisters were imprisioned for 5 months in order to force them to reveal Portal's whereabouts. Serafín Delmar was arrested for his complicity in an assassination attempt on Sánchez Cerro and sentenced to twenty years in prison. In 1933 after the fall of the Sánchez Cerro regime Magda Portal reorganized the party as the national secretary of women's affairs. She published El Aprismo y la mujer or Hacía la mujer nueva . Portal herself was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 500 days in Santo Tomás women's prison in Lima. During this period she composed many of the poems published in Costa sur and her novel La trampa .

After release from prison Portal continued her work for APRA for several years until leaving Peru again in 1939 with her daughter Gloria. She spent six years in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. In Chile Portal became involved in the Ministry of Education and the Association of Socialist Women. She earned the attention of Chilean socialist leader Salvador Allende as well as Venezuelan political figure Rómulo Betancourt. Magda Portal returned to Peru in 1945 and organized the First National Congress of Aprista Women in 1946, but personal tragedy put her political activities on hold when her daughter committed suicide in early 1947. Then in 1948 Peru's government took Portal and other APRA leaders into custody following an armed revolt. Although the military tribunal that followed in 1950 known as the Proceso del Potao aquitted her of charges, it also marked the end of her Aprista affiliation. She felt unsupported and deceived by APRA during the tribunal process, and she published ¿Quiénes traicionaron al pueblo? to declare her feelings publicly.

In the years that followed Portal devoted herself to her literary career. She published her only novel La trampa in 1956 and in 1966 published Constancia del ser, a compiliation from her earlier books of poetry and previously unpublished poems. From 1958-1971 Portal directed Fondo de Cultura Económica, a Mexican publishing company in Lima. In 1978 Portal ran for a seat in Peru's Constitutional Assembly representing the Revolutionary Action Socialist Party but was unsuccessful. She served as president of the Asociación Nacional de Escritores y Artistas from 1980 until 1986, and in June 1981 she was recognized at the Fourth Inter-American Congress of Women Writers for her political activism and literature. Magda Portal died on July 11, 1989 in Lima, Peru.

Works Referenced:

Flores, Angel, "Magda Portal," Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century . New York: Wilson, 1992.

Marting, Diane E., "Magda Portal," Spanish American Women Writers . New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

From the guide to the Magda Portal Papers 1986-28. 44071674., 1922-1986, (Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin)


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  • Women authors, Peruvian--Sources
  • Peruvian literature--Women authors--Sources
  • Women--Peru--Periodicals--Sources
  • Peru--Politics and government--20th century--Sources
  • Peruvian literature--20th century--Sources
  • Peru--Intellectual life--20th century--Sources


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  • Peru (as recorded)