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Nicomedes Santa Cruz: A Black Public Intellectual in Twentieth-Century Peru

In the following article University of Oregon historian Carlos Aguirre describes the self-taught poet, writer, and folklorist Nicomedes Santa Cruz, one of the understudied black intellectual leaders in Peru and Latin America.

Nicomedes Santa Cruz was, without a doubt, the most important black intellectual in twentieth-century Peru, and one of the most important in Latin America. Yet, his life, work, and legacy remain relatively unknown, except within academic circles and among Afro-Peruvian organizations.

Between the late 1950s and 1992, the year of his death, he was a restless and passionate cultural entrepreneur, folklorist, poet, and playwright. He was in fact one of the most active intellectuals in Peru: he published about ten books in various genres, essays, short stories, and especially poetry (some of them with several reprints of up to 10,000 copies), hundreds of pieces in newspapers and magazines, and dozens of academic articles on different aspects of black history, culture, religion, poetry, oral traditions, music, and religion. He also recorded a dozen albums that sold thousands of copies, directed radio and TV programs, represented Peru in various international festivals, participated in numerous international conferences, and offered poetry readings in festivals and solidarity events in numerous countries.

Santa Cruz also wrote and directed plays and participated in the staging of theater and music performances. His audience and intellectual connections were not limited to Peru. He became acquainted with intellectuals in the Americas and around the world and conducted research and published works on black music and cultural traditions in other parts of the Americas such as Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama.

But even more remarkable is the fact that Nicomedes Santa Cruz was a self-taught intellectual who never went to college and only completed elementary school. He was born in 1925 in a modest family that valued and practiced hard work and intellectual effort, but also preserved and

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