On May 14, 1935, Roque Dalton was born in San Salvador, El Salvador. His
father was one of the members of the outlaw Dalton brothers and his mother
was a registered nurse whose salary supported the family.
After a year at
the University of Santiago, Chile, Roque Dalton attended the University of
San Salvador in 1956, where he helped found the University Literary Circle
just before the Salvadoran military set fire to the building. The following
year he joined the Communist Party; he was arrested in 1959 and 1960 for
inciting students and peasants to revolt against the landowners. Dalton was
sentenced to be executed, but his life was saved the day before his sentence
was to be carried out, when the dictatorship of Colonel José
María Lemus was overthrown.
He spent 1961 in Mexican exile, writing
many of the poems that were published in La Ventana en el rostro
("The Window in My Face," 1961) and El turno del ofendido
("The Injured Party's Turn," 1962). He dedicated the latter book
to the Salvadoran police chief who had filed the charges against him.
From Mexico, Dalton naturally gravitated to Cuba, where he was well
received by the Cuban and Latin American exiled writers who gathered in the
Casa de las Américas. From that point on, starting with La Ventana
en el rostro and El Mar ("The Sea") in 1962, almost all
of his poetic work was published in Cuba.
In the summer of 1965, he returned
to El Salvador to continue his political work. Two months after his arrival,
he was arrested, tortured, and again sentenced to execution. However, he
managed to escape death once more when an earthquake shattered the outer
wall of his cell, enabling him to dig his way out through the rubble.
He returned to Cuba and a few months later the Communist Party sent him
to Prague as a correspondent for The International Review: Problems of
Peace and Socialism.
His book Taberna y ostros lugares
("Tavern and Other Places"), reflecting his long stay in Prague,
won the Casa de las Américas poetry prize in 1969 and established
Roque Dalton, at the age of thirty-four, as one of the best young poets in
Latin America. In 1975, a military faction of the Ejército
Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), unjustly accused him of trying to divide
their organization and condemned him to death. They executed him on May 10,
1975, four days before his fortieth birthday.