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Wednesday’s Wise Woman …

September 19, 2012

Maria  Teresa Leon; a Spanish writer, activist and cultural ambassador (1903-1988) was the daughter of an itinerant army officer; although privileged her life was nomadic.  A lifestyle that would have a deep and lasting effect on her life.  She had a liberal spirit; described by Shirley Mangini in Memories of the resistance; reading books by Victor Hugo and Dumas;  considered then as ‘filth’ and expelled from school.  This  didn’t distract from her education, she continued to read well and went on to get a BA in Philosophy at the Free Institute oF Education.

Her first marriage didn’t last and she lost the custody of her two beloved sons and moved back to her family home in Burges.  Where she contributed articles to a local journal; that dealt with current affairs, culture and women’s rights.
In 1928 she went to Argentina where she met the poet Rafael Alberti; they married in 1932.  That year she was awarded a grant from the Board of Advanced Studies to research the European theatre movement. She visited much of Europe and the Soviet Union where she met many  so called ‘revolutionary writers.’
In 1933 Maria and Rafael founded the journal Octubre and she returned to the Soviet Union to attend the Congress of Soviet Writers.  Later that year she went the United States to raise funds for the workers affected by the October 1934 Austurian Miners revolt; which became an armed attack against the Spanish government in which 2000 people were killed including priests, miners and army personnel.  In response to this the Peoples Front was formed; joining together all the leftist factions.
When the Spanish civil war broke out Maria and Rafael returned from Ibiza to Madrid; here Maria became Secretary of the Alliance of Anti Fascist Writers and founded the magazine El Mono Ozul which lasted almost until the end of the war,  Many Spanish and non-Spanish writers contributed including Pablo Neruda and Maria Zambrano.
Maria served on the Board of Defense and Protection of National Artistic Patrimony and saved  the works of art in various museums from bombing raids.  By removing them in camouflaged trucks to a safe location in Valencia.
In 1939 after the republican defeat Maria and Rafael fled to Paris; where they stayed for a year.Then they sailed to Buenos Aires where they joined other Spaniards who had fled their country earlier.
From South America she was able to write about her country without the fear of Francoist censorship.  It was during her exile in Argentina that her daughter was born. (1941)  During this time Maria  was able to make public performances with the soprano Isabel Kruemer, reading her work to raise funds for Nazi victims and striking workers in Argentina.
When Juan Peron imposed political and artistic censorship in Argentina life became difficult.  So after 38 years in exile in 1977 Maria and Rafael left Argentina and returned to Madrid. Maria was already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and she died in 1988 in a sanatorium
Maria reflects on her exile with much melancholy and sadness in her book Memoria de la melancola calling her world a ‘lost paradise’
Being away from her country must have been difficult; to be estranged from her dear sons must have been unbearable.

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