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.