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Nicaraguan poet, revolutionary Ernesto Cardenal to visit Austin

It took a revolution for contemplative monk Ernesto Cardenal to come out into the world and become part of Nicaragua’s history. His papers are now housed at Austin’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies.

In the institute, in the Benson Latin American Studies and Collection at the University of Texas, the life of this multidimensional leader and visionary will be accessible to the public.

Cardenal, 91, left an imprint in poetry as a well-regarded poet in Latin America and the world. He rebelled against dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1970’s and helped oust him. As a priest, he was one of the main proponents of Liberation Theology, which sought better conditions for the poor of Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s.

More than 40 boxes of books, documents, manuscripts and photos have arrived at the Benson, which bought the collection, and are now being sorted out and organized. On Tuesday, Cardenal will read from his poetry and sit on a panel at the Benson. Cardenal last visited UT in 1991.

“Ernesto Cardenal is one of Latin America’s foremost public intellectuals,” said Virginia Garrard-Burnett, professor of history and director of the Benson in a statement. “A renowned poet and political activist, Cardenal has spoken out tirelessly and eloquently on behalf of the poor.”

His poetry blends religion and science and a wonder for the natural world, according to José Montelongo, bibliographer at the Benson. He writes “about the Big Bang, evolution and the history of small countries in his long cantos,” he said. Some of his books in English translation include “The Gospel in Solentiname,” “Psalms,” and “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe.”

Cardenal is also a sculptor who carves figures of birds and other animals in metal, wood, clay and other materials.

Influenced by his fellow monk and mentor Thomas Merton, Cardenal founded the religious and artistic community of Solentiname on the Great Lake of Nicaragua in 1965, where the seeds of revolution were planted. He joined the Sandinistas to overthrow Somoza and went on to serve as minister of culture for 10 years.

That was unusual for a priest and he ended up paying a high price for his political participation: He was ex communicated by the Catholic Church John Paul II in 1984,but was reinstated by Pope Francis 30 years later in 2014. Cardenal was a frequent guest of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, knew prominent writers — including author Julio Cortázar, a co-founder of the literary movement called the Latin American Boom — and was at the crossroads of the political and literary currents of the time.

“I belong to those who love the United States”, said Cardenal to Montelongo, in a spring 2016 visit to Managua. The United States was “perhaps the people who showed the most solidarity with the revolution of the people of Nicaragua.”

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