Ernesto Cardenal in Solentiname, Ernesto Cardenal Papers, 1925–2016
BY DYLAN JOY
The acquisition of the Ernesto Cardenal Papers in 2016 marked a renewed focus by LLILAS Benson on collecting and preserving collections and stories from Central America. Cardenal, who passed away at 95 in March 2020, lived a multifaceted life as a poet, revolutionary, priest, sculptor, and activist in his native Nicaragua.
I arrived at LLILAS Benson shortly before the acquisition of the Ernesto Cardenal Papers. In my role as the Latin American Archivist, I had the good fortune of processing and readying the collection for research, overseeing a related digitization project in Nicaragua, curating several exhibitions related to Cardenal, and serving as the reference specialist when it comes to this and other related collections. In May of 2020 I created an online exhibition which expands on Cardenal’s life and impact. (Visit Remembering Ernesto Cardenal.)
The particular item I have selected as my favorite from the Ernesto Cardenal Papers is a photograph of Cardenal fishing near the Solentiname Islands, an archipelago in the south of Lake Nicaragua. It was there in 1966 that Cardenal founded a semi-monastic community of artists and peasants that would be fertile ground for artistic and poetic exploration as well as Cardenal’s development as a proponent of liberation theology. This particular photograph captures the peace and connection with nature that Cardenal and the people of Solentiname maintained in the 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1977, troops controlled by Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle destroyed farms, homes, and artisans’ workshops in the community, transforming the small church into a prison and sending Cardenal into exile in Costa Rica. After the successful overthrow of Somoza’s regime by the Sandinistas in 1979, the community of Solentiname was rebuilt.
Cardenal’s initial years on Solentiname, best illustrated in his book El Evangelio en Solentiname (The Gospel in Solentiname), and his lifelong connection with the community there, constitute one of the more intriguing parts of his life and legacy.
Watch: Interview with Ernesto Cardenal at his home in Managua in spring 2016.
Dylan Joy is Latin American archivist at the Benson Latin American Collection.
IN HONOR OF THE CENTENNIAL of the Benson Latin American Collection, staff members submitted short descriptions of some of their favorite items in the collection.