I started working on Las rutas de Julia de Burgos while teaching a class about poets in New York. Students reacted strongly to Burgos’s poems, which is always good news for a teacher, and they understood her personal story: her search for love, its loss, her commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico, her struggles to survive in New York in the 1940’s, her lonely death on a street corner. Reading Julia’s poetry and talking about the events of her life helped to define something I wanted the students to understand: the tensions between creative work and survival, economic and emotional survival in a tough world.
I started doing more research on Burgos and was struck by all the drama in her life. She was dealing with the catastrophes of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation. An intelligent young woman from a very poor family, she struggled to get an education and help her family as the oldest of thirteen brothers and sisters. She published her poetry and became the lover of prominent Dominican leader Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, with whom she spent two years in Havana, a scandalous relationship at the time since Juan Isidro was still married. Juan Isidro was a leader in the fight against Dominican dictator Trujillo. The Spanish Civil War was ending with Franco as a dictator. Hitler was ravaging Europe. World War II was months away. And in the middle of all this, Julia wrote, poetry of course but also articles about the political and social injustices of the times. I thought a play would be a way to take advantage of all the drama and use it to frame some of Julia’s poetry. The result was Las rutas de Julia de Burgos. I hoped the play would be a way to get more people to know the life and work of this great poet and amazing human being.
At IATI Theater, we started developing the play in 2009 with Memo Alvarez as director of a series of staged readings in half a dozen colleges in the area, always with a stellar cast that included Sol Crespo in the lead. At IATI I also worked with Oscar Colón, whose advice was invaluable and lead to quite a bit of rewriting. I am excited about the production at Lehman Stages, under the direction of Marco Antonio Rodríguez, with Sol Crespo and Carlos A. Valencia in the leading roles, and a cast and crew whose dedication and professionalism I never stop admiring. The great thing about theater is that no one person is responsible for what happens on a stage. It has to be a group effort, which finally includes the audience. It is a bit of shared magic I think, and I hope some of it rubs off on Las rutas de Julia de Burgos!