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Modern Maya Literary Voice

The riches of ancient Maya literature and folklore and their connection to contemporary Maya life became a new topic of general and scholarly interest in the twentieth century. Maya legends that had penetrated Latin American culture appeared as popular books, and anthropologists and ethnologists recorded stories and rituals in fieldwork.

European and mixed-ancestry authors in Latin America reacted to the debate on indigenous assimilation through the novela indigenista—the native or indigenous novel—a literary genre that took as its subject the lives of Amerindians. While conforming to European modes and often romanticizing its characters, the novela indigenista affirmed the possibility of a modern literature with native protagonists.

Throughout the century, educational opportunities remained limited for most Maya people in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. However, beginning in the 1970s, in the midst of enormous political turmoil and at times of great danger, Maya writers began to publish their own writings. Composing in Spanish and their native languages, these authors gave expression to a pluralistic modern Maya literature that shares perceptions and themes with ancestral Maya narratives.

The materials in this section include publications by some of the leading Maya writers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with an emphasis on participants in the "13 Bak'tun: New Maya Perspectives in 2012" symposium at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As Victor Montejo wrote in his book The Maya Intellectual Renaissance (2005): "A people whose self-expression is alive is a people with the possibility of shining in the future. . . . Maya have the possibility of rewriting their history, representing themselves as they want to be seen, and this is a permanent challenge to the Maya intellectuals of today and tomorrow."