This is a series on the D.C. Writers’ Homes project. Each Friday for the month of January, one writer who hits close to the UMD campus will be featured in an attempt to bring local history to back to local minds.
Many students have passed through the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Even more through the doors of the Jiménez building just steps away from the Writers’ Dorchester residence. You might be hard-pressed though, to find one who knows about Juan Ramón Jiménez, the poet.
Jiménez gained his fame in his native Spain, a status earned after leaving the University of Seville to pursue writing. His first volume of poetry, Almas de violeta (Souls of Violet), was published in 1900, the same year his father died, an event from which he would never truly recover. His most famous work, Platero y yo (Platero and I), came in 1914.
The poet was brought to the U.S. by conflict. When Jimenez and his wife left for America, they did not envision a life of exile. But as an honorary cultural attache for the soon-to-be-deposed Republican government in 1936, they were marked. When civil war broke out in Spain, it was obvious they could not return. When Franco Ferdinand won the war in 1939, the house they had newly bought in Madrid was further away than ever before.
But what Spain lost, the U.S. welcomed with open arms. From Florida, Jiménez and his wife found their way to Riverdale, Md. where they both taught Spanish literature and langauge at the University of Maryland from 1948 to 1951.
The couple eventually settled in Puerto Rico, where the 74-year-old Jiménez received word of his 1956 Nobel Prize award at the San Juan hospital where he waited on his ailing wife. Her death three days later darkened what should have been a time of celebration and achievement, as Jiménez often noted the famous translator and poet as his literary muse.
Two years later, Jimenez found his peace, dying in San Juan at the age of 76.