Isaac J. Barrera (Otavalo, February 4, 1884– June 29, 1970) was a writer, journalist, literary critic, historian, biographer and university professor. As a journalist, he founded several influential literary magazines and worked on the editorial staff of El Comercio between 1933-1955, authoring over 7,000 articles in this period. He wrote biographies on Vicente Rocafuerte and Simón Bolívar. He also authored book-length studies on Ecuadorian literature, the history of journalism in Ecuador, and colonial Quito. His best-known book is “Historia de la literatura ecuatoriana“ (1944; History of Ecuadorian Literature), which organized authors by genre and provided comparative analyses of their works, as well as an examination of the literary theories underpinning them. He was a member of the Ecuadorian Academy of Language. In 1973, a collection of his poetry was published posthumously.
Isaac J. Barrera was born on February 4, 1884, in the province of Imbabura in the city of Otavalo, Ecuador. He was the son of Estanislao Barrera Nicolaide and Tomasa Quiroz Moreno. Coming from a family involved in commerce, Barrera’s parents had indigenous roots, as noted by Rodolfo Pérez Pimentel. Tragically, his mother Tomasa was widowed from a previous marriage before marrying Estanislao, and together they had three children, with Isaac being the sole survivor.
Barrera’s early education took place at the Colegio San Gabriel, run by the Jesuits in Quito. Despite facing economic difficulties, he managed to secure a scholarship from the Ministry of Public Instruction that allowed him to attend the prestigious institution. However, due to financial constraints, he was forced to return to Otavalo after two years. The challenges continued when his father passed away a year later, further straining their circumstances. It was during this period of adversity that Barrera found solace and direction in literature.
From a young age, Isaac J. Barrera demonstrated a keen interest in reading and began accumulating writings for newspapers. While these endeavors opened doors for him, they also brought him trouble. He was sent to prison in Quito for publishing an article criticizing Commissioner Mr. Mena del Campo. Thanks to the efforts of his family, he was released after three days. Interestingly, it was during his time in prison that he met the sociologist Belisario Quevedo, with whom he would develop a friendship and later write a prologue for Quevedo’s “Historia Patria.”
Barrera’s early experiences and the challenges he faced fueled his passion for literature, and he pursued it as a path to overcome the difficulties in his life. These formative years shaped his resilience, determination, and love for intellectual pursuits, which would define his remarkable career as a writer, critic, and historian.
Literary career and impact
Isaac J. Barrera had a prolific literary career, spanning various genres such as biography, history, literary criticism, and essay writing. His works made significant contributions to Ecuadorian literature and cultural discourse, earning him recognition and accolades throughout his life.
From January 1 – April 10, 1910, he inaugurated the literary section of “El Comercio” with a series of fourteen studies on the literary movement modernismo, making him known as a literary critic within Ecuador. A book containing his studies on modernimo was published posthumously in 1971: “Estudios sobre modernismo literario.”
One of Barrera’s notable achievements was his extensive biographical writing. He authored biographies of prominent figures in Ecuador’s history, shedding light on their lives and contributions. Among the notable biographies he wrote are “Rocafuerte: estudio histórico-biográfico” (1911) and “Simón Bolívar, libertador y creador de pueblos” (1930). These biographies provided comprehensive insights into the lives and legacies of Vicente Rocafuerte, an important leader of Ecuador’s independence movement, and Simón Bolívar, the liberator of several South American countries. By documenting the achievements and struggles of these historical figures, Barrera enriched the understanding of Ecuador’s past and its significance in the broader context of Latin American history.
However, Barrera is perhaps best known for his magnum opus, “Historia de la literatura ecuatoriana” (History of Ecuadorian Literature) (1944), which had a profound impact on the study of Ecuadorian literature. This seminal work organized Ecuadorian authors by genre and offered comparative analyses of their works. as well as an examination of the literary theories underpinning them. “Historia de la literatura ecuatoriana” represented a significant revision of Ecuadorian literary history at the time of its publication, providing a comprehensive and systematic overview of the nation’s literary heritage. The book was praised for its scholarly rigor and its contribution to the intellectual understanding of Ecuadorian culture and identity.
Barrera’s literary achievements and scholarly contributions garnered him recognition and accolades during his lifetime. His membership in esteemed institutions such as the Ecuadorian Academy of Language, the Ecuadorian Academy of History, and the Ecuadorian Cultural Institute reflects the recognition and respect he gained within the literary and intellectual circles of Ecuador.
Isaac J. Barrera’s books continue to be regarded as essential references for scholars, researchers, and readers interested in Ecuadorian literature, history, and culture. His meticulous research, critical insights, and dedication to preserving and analyzing the nation’s intellectual heritage have left an indelible mark on Ecuadorian literary studies.
Founder of magazines
In 1912, together with Ernesto Noboa y Caamaño, Arturo Borja and Francisco Guarderas, he founded the monthly magazine “Letras,” which contained in its pages all the news of the moment in the field of poetry and literature. Barrera directed it from 1913 to 1919. It greatly influenced a change in literary taste in Ecuador, which shifted from romanticism to modernismo. In 1925 he founded and directed the political weekly “El Sol” with Homero Viteri Lafronte.
In 1903, Isaac J. Barrera’s married his first cousin, Carmen Barrera Almeida, who acted as his French teacher and his secretary. Together, they had seven children, but only three of them reached adulthood: Jaime, Inés, and Eulalia. The support and companionship of his wife, Carmen, played a crucial role in Barrera’s personal and professional endeavors.
He was one of the founding members of the famous “Grupo América” where the country’s intelligentsia shone for twenty years.
- Ecuadorian Academy of Language
- Ecuadorian Academy of History
- Ecuadorian Cultural Institute
Isaac J. Barrera published his articles under various pseudonyms, including:
- Jesús Quijada
- Fernando Soto G
- J. Collahuaso
- Juan Rivera
Death and legacy
Isaac J. Barrera passed away on June 29, 1970, in Quito, Ecuador, at the age of 86. The cause of his death was attributed to heart failure, specifically insufficiency cardiaca. His passing marked the end of a remarkable life dedicated to literature, history, and intellectual pursuits.
Barrera’s legacy extends beyond his written works. He played a pivotal role in fostering intellectual discussions and promoting cultural exchange through his involvement in institutions such as the Ecuadorian Academy of Language, the Ecuadorian Academy of History, and the Ecuadorian Cultural Institute. His commitment to the dissemination and preservation of Ecuadorian cultural heritage has had a lasting impact on the literary community and the wider cultural landscape of Ecuador.
Isaac J. Barrera’s death marked the end of a life dedicated to intellectual pursuits, literature, and historical research. His profound impact on Ecuadorian letters and his lasting contributions to the understanding and appreciation of Ecuadorian literature and history ensure that his legacy will continue to be celebrated and his works studied for generations to come.
Awards and recognitions
- In 1963 he received a tribute from the Cantonal Council of Otavalo.
- In 1964 he received the Sebastián de Benalcázar decoration from the Municipality of Quito.
- Rocafuerte: estudio histórico-biográfico (1911), read it for free here.
- Simón Bolívar, libertador y creador de pueblos (1930), read it for free here.
- Próceres de la patria: lecturas biográficas (1939)
- Historia relatada por Pierrot (1913)
- La Melancolía de una tarde (1914)
- Relación de las fiestas del primer centenario de la batalla de Pichincha, 1822-1922 (1922)
- Quito Colonial (1922)
- Dos escritores italianos modernos (1923)
- Literatura ecuatoriana, apuntaciones históricas (1926)
- Epistolario de Montalvo (1927), read it for free here.
- Libro de lecturas (1928)
- Albert Samaín (1929)
- Tres estudios literarios. Goethe, Montalvo, Mera (1932)
- Literatura hispanoamericana (1934)
- Estudios de literatura castellana: el siglo de oro (1935), read it for free here.
- Los grandes maestros de la literatura universal (1935)
- Historia de la literatura ecuatoriana – Volumes 1-2 (1944)
- Siglo XVIII (1944)
- Siglos XVI y XVII (1944)
- La literatura del Ecuador (1947)
- Federico González Suárez, Pedro Fermín Cevallos (1949)
- Un soneto famoso y discutido (1953)
- Juan Montalvo (1953)
- La prensa en el Ecuador (1955)
- Historiografia del Ecuador (1956)
- De nuestra América: hombres y cosas de la República del Ecuador (1956)
- De nuestra América: hombres y cosas de la república del Ecuador (1956)
- Consideraciones sobre el concepto literario (1959)
- Ensayo de interpretación histórica. Introducción a los acontecimientos del 10 de Agosto de 1809 (Quito, 1959)
- El Ecuador en el siglo XIX (1960)
- Poesía popular, alcances y apéndice: índices. (1960)
- Al margen de mis lecturas: de Cervantes a Montalvo (1964)
- Quito colonial, siglo XVIII, comienzos del siglo XIX (1971)
- Estudios sobre modernismo literario (1971)
- Unidad y pureza de la lengua en España y América (1972)
- Del vivir. Reflexiones de juventud (1972)
- Tres historiadores ecuatorianos (1976)
- El dolor de soñar (1924; novella), read it for free here.
- Poesía (1973)