Biography of Francisca Aguirre Benito Spanish poet and narrator. The late publication of her first collection of poems has meant that the name of Francisca Aguirre has been removed from the anthologies of her generation and that only recently has her recognition as a poet grown significantly.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

In 2011, Francisca Aguirre won the 2011 National Poetry Prize for her book “Historia de una anatomía”.

In 2012, she was declared “Favorite Daughter of Alicante”. She was also awarded the 2018 National Prize for Letters.

Childhood and early years of Francisca Aguirre

Francisca Aguirre Benito was born in Alicante in 1930, into a family of artists.

Her father, Lorenzo Aguirre Sánchez, was born on November 14, 1885; He started as a painter in Alicante, a city where his parents moved from Pamplona when he was four years old.

Lorenzo Aguirre
Lorenzo Aguirre was the promoter of the Fogueres de Sant Joan and author of the first posters for these festivals. Credit: web alicantevivo.org

Lorenzo Aguirre studied painting in Madrid and in Paris. He obtained numerous awards in national and international exhibitions such as:

  • the Third Medal at the Rioja Exhibition in Logroño;
  • the Second Medal at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts (1926) for the work “Twilight of Lifes“, currently in the Elisa Cendrero Museum in Ciudad Real;
  • the Medal of Honor from the Association of Painters and Sculptors of Madrid for the work “Circus Artists” (1934), currently in the Museum of Pamplona.

In 1930, the name of Lorenzo Aguirre Sánchez was included in the first appendix of the European American Espasa Illustrated Universal Encyclopedia where, in addition, a copy of his work “El Picador” was reproduced.

The old farmer
“The old farmer”, the work of Lorenzo Aguirre, which is kept in the Art Collection of the Alcoy City Council. Credit: web artalcoi.org.es

Married to Francisca Benito Rivas, they had three daughters: Jesusa, also a painter, Margarita, and the poet Francisca Aguirre.

Francisca Aguirre’s father had to go into exile

Lorenzo Aguirre entered the General Police Corps by opposition, where he held positions of responsibility in Alicante during the Second Republic.

In July 1939, at the end of the Spanish civil war, Lorenzo Aguirre’s family crossed the French border, fleeing the repression of Franco’s troops.

Francisca remembers that her father told her that the poet Antonio Machado had also crossed the border in those months. Knowing this fact encouraged her to read Machado’s poetry; and she was captivated forever by the work of the great poet.

Return of the whole family to Spain

In France, they were very hungry. When Nazi troops invaded France in 1940, their parents thought they were more likely to be killed by the Germans in France than the Franco regime in Spain. Consequently, after 10 months, they decided to return to Spain.

The family settled on a fifth floor in the Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí. Francisca Aguirre was a 10-year-old girl.

Soon after, Lorenzo Aguirre was arrested and taken to the Porlier prison, a prison that operated in Madrid since 1936 during the war; and then in the postwar period, until 1944. It was located at 54 General Díaz Porlier street.

Calasancio college
The jail occupied the facilities of the Calasancio school. The building exists today and continues to fulfill educational functions in the hands of the Piarist religious. Credit: web es.wikipedia.org

In 1942, Francisca’s father was sentenced to death, on charges of having collaborated with the Republican side. He was executed with a vile club.

Thus, by force, with this terrible fact that accentuated the harshness of her life in the postwar period, Francisca became an adult at the age of 12.

She trained in a self-taught way, learning from her parents in childhood, and reading tirelessly in her teens.

Francisca Aguirre and her mother got ahead

She was able to get ahead, thanks to the education her mother gave her and her two sisters, after their father was executed. Their mother taught them to live without hatred, but with clear memory. This is how Francisca’s verses were: clear, she described what she experienced.

At fifteen she had to start working as a telephone operator. At this time, she took refuge more than ever in reading, trying to get away from the terrible reality that surrounded her, her mother and her two sisters.

Youth from 1950 to 1968

In 1950, Francisca Aguirre was 20 years old and began to frequent the gatherings of the Ateneo de Madrid and the Café Gijón. There she met writers and poets such as Luis Rosales, Gerardo Diego, Miguel Delibes, Antonio Buero Vallejo, Julio Cortázar and Juan Rulfo.

In that literary environment she met Félix Grande Lara, poet, storyteller and flamencologist, born in Mérida, Badajoz, on February 4, 1937. Félix was 7 years younger than Francisca.

Felix Grande was the son of Republicans. His mother worked in a hospital during the war. His father fought at the front. From 1939 until he was 20 years old, Félix Grande lived in Tomelloso (Ciudad Real), where his grandfather was a goatherd. Félix was a laborer and a guitarist, until he decided to change the guitar for the pen.

Marriage of Francisca Aguirre with Félix Grande

In 1957, Félix Grande left for Madrid, where he began his brilliant literary career and met Francisca Aguirre. They were married in 1963. In 1965, they had their daughter, Guadalupe Grande Aguirre, a poet.

Family Francisca Aguirre
Guadalupe, Félix and Francisca, in a literary event held in Murcia. Credit: Héctor Castilla. Web hectorcastilla.wordpress.com

In the Grande Aguirre house there were always visits from intellectuals. They were people who read and commented on the writings of Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernández, Vicente Aleixandre, Antonio Machado, Blas de Otero, José Hierro and others.

In those years, a translation of Constantino Kavafis’ poem, “Waiting for the barbarians,” came into the hands of Francisca Aguirre. The impact of reading this poem was so great that she burned five folders with her previous works and began to write “Ithaca.”

Francisca Aguirre and her husband Félix Grande actively lived through the political militancy that was beginning in Spain in the late 1960s.

Awards and distinctions received

The late publication of her first collection of poems has meant that the name of Francisca Aguirre has been removed from the anthologies of her generation and that only recently has her recognition as a poet grown significantly.

In 2011, Francisca Aguirre won the 2011 National Poetry Prize for her book “Historia de una anatomía”. In the delivery speech, it was emphasized that the writer has a way of maintaining an attitude of decency against the social inclemencies of a part of recent Spanish history.

Francisca Aguirre speach
Francisca Aguirre thanking the award for the best work published in 2011. Credit: web rtve.es/noticia

In 2012, she was declared “Favorite Daughter of Alicante”.

In 2018, Francisca Aguirre was awarded the 2018 National Literature Prize. The award, granted by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, appreciates the entire literary work, in any of the Spanish languages, of a Spanish author, whose work is considered an integral part of current Spanish literature as a whole.

The jury chose Francisca Aguirre for this award, for “her poetry (the most Machadian of the generation of half a century) is between desolation and clairvoyance, lucidity and pain, whispering (rather than saying) words situated between conscience and memory”.

On one occasion, Francisca said that she continues to read Machado. And that, every time she feels “nervous about something, she read Machado for half an hour and she was already like a rose”

Francisca Aguirre in recent years

Her husband, Félix Grande (who died in 2014) had received this same award, in 2004.

On the façade of the building where Francisca Aguirre lives there is a plaque that reads: “The poet, narrator, essayist and flamencologist Félix Grande lived in this house between 1963 and 2014“.

When she hears visitors say that the City Council will have to prepare another one with her name, she replies: “Stop using little plaques. I’d rather stay alive ”.

Francisca and Felix
Francisca Aguirre and Félix Grande, two distinguished Spanish POETS. Credit: web nuevatribuna.es

Francisca Aguirre passed away at the age of 88, at her home in Madrid on April 13, 2019. Her work and her life were a hymn to simplicity and beauty.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

In this website of notable women, I have included two other extraordinary Spanish poets who have stood out worldwide. Rosalía de Castro (1837 – 1885) and Santa Teresa de Jesús (1525 – 1582).

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