Women Shaping History 2004:
Agueda Pizarro Rayo: Poet & Professor
Factors in Career
were various influences on that. My own father was a poet
and he was of the generation of 27. He was friends with [Garcia]
Lorca. . . both my parents were lovers of literature and
poetry and language, as such. My mother was a philanthropist,
so she'd follow me around with a little red notebook writing
down everything I said in Spanish because I spoke Spanish
until I went to school."
Rayo went on to teach at a variety
of places including the graduate program at Columbia, Brooklyn
College and various private schools in the New York area.
After publishing her first book of poetry, "Sombraaventadora." she
came to teach at Barnard College in 1981. To date, Rayo has
written about 15 different books of poetry, almost all of
which are in Spanish.
Pivotal Points: Rayo said the biggest achievement of her career as a poet
occurred when she founded what are known as "Encuentros de Poetas Colombianas" (The
Congress of Colombian Women Poets) in 1984. These poetry readings
take place once a year in Roldanillo, Colombia at her husband's
art museum "El Museo Rayo." Every year, women poets
from all over Colombia gather at the museum to share their
poetry and their culture. Rayo has taken her experiences from
the encuentros and incorporated them into the classroom, offering
courses such as "Colombian Women Writers of the 20th Century" and "Lives
of Creative Women" at Barnard. "The reason it [the
creation of the encuentros] changed me so much is that I was
really able to look within women's poetry in Colombia. There's
a very rich oral tradition in Colombia—the tradition
of the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast," she said.
"It's an extension of teaching
in a way. It's what teaching should be like. We participate
in the Congress, we listen to one another, we learn about
each other's work."
Obstacles: "I think my biggest
obstacle was that I didn't decide early enough in my life
what I really wanted to do. My teaching career could have
gone in other directions, but I don't know if it would have
Advice: "Do what you love.
Don't pick a career because somebody wants you to do it or
because you think you'll have a better life that way."
"Real success occurs when you
can give yourself to it, and not only love it, but lose yourself
Mentors: In addition to her parents'
love of writing, both also were teachers as well. Rayo said
that her mother really inspired her to teach literature and
language. "She was
a wonderful teacher," Rayo said. "She was a very
charismatic person, very beautiful and very sure of herself.
She would go up to each student and she would actually touch
their faces sometimes to help them to pronounce and they adored
Goals: Rayo hopes to write an entire book about the life and
literary accomplishments of her father. To date, she has already
written an introductory essay about her father in a reprint
of his poetry.
"I really want to do a biography on my father—a
full-blown one, but I don't want to do a traditional biography," she
said. "I want to make it more like a memoir and remember
him as I knew him and also as I didn't know him."#