Marjorie Agosin Has Received the Dr. Fritz Redlich Global Mental Health and Human Rights Award for the Healing Power of Her Poetry

December 2, 2013

Luella LaMer Slaner Professor in Latin American Studies and Professor of Spanish Marjorie Agosín has won the Dr. Fritz Redlich Global Mental Health and Human Rights Award, given by the Global Mental Health Trauma and Recovery Program based at Harvard. She delivered the award lecture in Orvieto, Italy, on November 15.

The Global Mental Health Trauma and Recovery Certificate Program is run by the Program in Refugee Trauma, based at the Harvard Medical School. It is an innovative training program offering a rigorous cultural and scientific learning experience addressing the needs of traumatized persons and communities worldwide. The Dr. Fritz Redlich Award is in its third year. The committee wrote to Agosín, explaining, “This year you have been chosen because of the beauty of your poetry and your ability to help all of us appreciate through the arts the suffering and healing of traumatized persons.”

Agosín said, “I was moved beyond words because this award is given by extraordinary mental health workers in a variety of fields, like psychiatry, social work, public health,” adding, “So many of the people who were at the award ceremony have worked with over ten thousand refugees around the world, bringing them the possibility to heal.” Agosín also cited the significance of the award’s namesake, Dr. Fritz Reidlich, who is considered a pioneer of modern psychiatry.

Agosín is a poet, human rights activist, scholar, and literary critic whose diverse interests focus on questions of identity, migration, and ethnicity. Her many books include Dear Anne Frank: Poems; Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love; Ashes of Revolt: Essays on Human Rights; At the Threshold of Memory: New & Selected Poems; and Of Earth & Sea. A recipient of the U.N. Leadership Award for Human Rights and the Gabriela Mistral Medal of Honor (for lifetime achievement) from the Chilean government, she is considered one of the foremost Latina writers in the United States today. In addition to teaching, Agosín is expecting the release of her next book, a young adult novel titled I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Atheneum Books, exp. March 2014), the story of a young girl who emigrates from Chile to Maine.

Agosín spoke on the power of poetry to heal during her lecture, and read several of her poems. “Poetry as an art form nourishes the soul,” said Agosín. “Often it is able to speak about sorrow and violence with the language of art and beauty. Poetry brings to its readers a deep sensitivity about the human condition so all of these elements help in the complex process of healing.”

From Agosin's Book Dear Anne Frank: Poems

Querida Ana,

Tu fotografía silenciosa y difusa con sus trece años de sombra y espesas cejas alucinadas. ¿Siempre era tan frágil y muda Ana Frank? Te miro pero ya no eres un rostro tras los espejos fallidos. Ana, pequeña Ana, frágil como la memoria asesina, ¿eres tú en esa foto? ¿Eres tú en aquel diario de vida, condientes de princesita? Yo misma estoy convencida que eres or tal vez no eres, ya me pareces la sombra de la fantasía que te nombra. Ana Frank, acércate, dime, ¿vivías en Amsterdam?


Dear Anne,

Your silent photograph disperses your thirteen shrouded years, your thick, bewitching eyebrows. Were you always so fragile and mute, Anne Frank? I look at you but you are no longer a face behind the bankrupt mirrors. Anne, tiny Anne, as fragile as a murderous memory, is it you in that photo? Is it you in that diary, with your teeth of a little princess? I am convinced it is you. And yet, perhaps, it is not you, for you seem the mere shadow of a fantasy that names you. Anne Frank, come close, tell me, did you really live in Amersterdam?