Raúl Zurita Canessa was born in Santiago de Chile in 1951, where he spent his childhood and school years. In 1967 he began his studies of Civil Engeneering at the Universidad Frederico Santa Maria in Valparaiso as well as Mathematics at the School of Technical Engeneering in Santiago. When on 11 September 1973 Chile’s socialist’s government was overthrown by a military coup, Raúl Zurita was arrested and detained with almost one thousand others in the hold of a ship; a traumatic experience for the then 22-years-old. Zurita spent four years earning his living as a computer salesman during a period of financial hardship. At the same time he was a guest reader at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, where he met writers and intellectuals such as Nicanor Parra, Ronald Kay, Christian Hunneus and Enrique Lihn. The first of his poems to be published appeared in 1975 in “Manuscritos”, the Philosophy Faculty’s publication. Four years later “Purgatorio” was published, the first part of a poetic trilogy which Zurita would not conclude for another fourteen years. The book became a huge success. Together with friends Raúl Zurita founded the artists action group “Colectivo de Accion de Arte” in protest against the Pinochet government , but dispair in the face of the dictatorship’s regime of terror gradually took hold. No longer wanting to witness the pain surrounding him, he attempted to burn his eyes with ammonium acid but fortunately failed.
In 1982 the second part of Zurita’s poetic trilogy entitled “Anteparaiso” was published. Completion of this book went hand in hand with the project to have 15 verses of the poem written by five aeroplanes in eight-kilometre high letters across the sky over New York. These verses which Zurita had written to draw attention to the minorities of the world could be seen throughout large parts of New York.
In 1984 Raúl Zurita was awarded a scholarship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for his poetical works. Afterwards he gave readings at held lectures at several North American universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Berkeley. In 1989 he was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize for his lifetime poetical achievements. In 1990 Zurita lectured as visiting professor at the Universidad de Chile and in the same year he was made his country’s cultural attaché to Rome by Chile’s democratic government under President Patricio Aylwin. During the Expo ’92 in Sevilla his works were chosen to represent Chilean poetry. In 2000 he received Chile’s national prize for literature.
In 1993 an extensive third volume concluded Raúl Zurita’s poetic trilogy. “La Vida Nueva” draws on Dante’s “Divina Commadia”in tracing and appraising the Chilean people’s twenty-year odyssey of suffering and hope and fits its author into place in line with the literary and political tradition of Gabriel Mistral, Pablo Neruda and other formidable Chilean poet. “Los países muertos”, a volume of poetry, appeared in 2006; Raúl Zurita, who suffers from Parkinson, declared this to be his last publication.
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