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date: 03 December 2022

Maya Literaturefree

Maya Literaturefree

  • Rita M. PalaciosRita M. PalaciosConestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning


To talk about Maya literature is to talk about a literature that transcends borders though is not unmarked by them. Generally speaking, the Maya region encompasses Southern Mexico, including the Yucatan Peninsula, and Guatemala, extending as far as Honduras and including El Salvador and Belize. The majority of the Maya population resides in Mexico and Guatemala, as well as considerable diasporas in the United States. As a result, the literary production of Maya peoples occurs largely in the two neighboring countries, although the circumstances of the production and dissemination of each literature are quite different given that they respond to the development and continued reinforcement of the modern nation state. It is important to mention the role that the state has played in how Maya literatures have come to be, particularly because state policies directly affect the lives of Maya peoples and, in the case of Mexico specifically, some of these policies are invested in shaping the literature written by Indigenous peoples.

Maya literature is indeed political. While this qualification may not necessarily apply to the themes that authors explore in their work, it certainly does to the promotion, production, and publication of Maya literatures. The reason for this is complex from the perspective of each country’s history, but quite clear-cut from the prism of nationalism and literary history. That is to say, while the notion of a national literature helps uphold a national identity and cement nationalism, Maya literatures for their part challenge more than promote such notions. In general, nationalisms set out to define and coalesce identity around ethnolinguistic markers, and literature is a key in shaping and promoting a sense of nationhood and unity. This results in a drive to homogenize and systemically exclued identities that do not fit the mold. In Mexico and Guatemala, this is further complicated by use of iconography and a reliance on myths from Maya culture to bolster national unity.


  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

Defining Maya Literature

Although this is an introduction to Maya literature, it is important to note that the idea of such a literature is created and sustained in Western literary historiography. In situating pre-Columbian literature within Mexican literature, Joanna O’Connell points out that “[t]he idea of literature as a certain class of written texts already depends on culturally specific assumptions such as, for example, the differentiation of the written from the oral and of the works deemed to have primarily aesthetic function from other kinds of writing.”1 And even though Mayas have lived in the region for over three thousand years, in anthologies and histories of Hispanic and Latin American Literature Maya literature “starts” with Spanish invasion and subsequent colonization. In other words, in the West, in the exclusive study of texts composed in Latin script, Maya writing emerges in the second half of the twentieth century. For the Kaqchikel intellectual Manuel de Jesús Salazar Tetzagüic, adopting writing is the result of an invaded peoples’ need to preserve and ensure the continuance of their existing traditions.2 Kerry M. Hull and Michael D. Carrasco remark on the insufficiency of any single definition of literature to talk about texts produced over two centuries.3

Focusing on the strictly literary, then, is seen by some critics as limiting, leaving out other possibilities. For them, it is imperative to consider the resilience of stories through weaving, engraving, and sculpture, to name a few, and to recognize Maya letters as one of many expressions.4 The apparent emergence of this literature is marked by its circumstances: for a long time, access to the written word was not readily available to Indigenous communities, and when it was, it was under the terms of those who wielded its power. This is compounded by a world system that benefits some and not others: systemic racism and poverty have ensured that communities remain at the margins, and when access to the structures reserved for Judeo-Christian communities is available, it has come at a cost.

The umbrella label “Maya” employed to describe this literature presents its own set of problems as it attempts to account for over thirty Maya languages (many with their own dialects) and more than five million speakers, not to mention the culturally distinct Maya communities across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.5 Writers themselves call for specificity as that which is labeled Maya is neither homogeneous nor monolithic but rich and diverse and not without conflict. Mikel Ruíz, who defines himself as a writer of Tsotsil and Spanish, argues that using the term “Indigenous” to identify a writer and their literature is problematic because Indigenous exoticizes and places the works under inescapable categories that cloud their appreciation as literature.6 As Ruíz points out, the awards that have been bestowed upon successful Indigenous writers and that have brought their literature to the national stage are Indigenous awards. Nonetheless, critiquing the concept “Indigenous” and its limitations, the K’iche’ scholar Emil’ Keme sees its effectiveness in articulating demands and advancing political goals before institutions that are founded on Western precepts.7 Similarly, the term “Maya” and the category “literature” are useful in discussing the written cultural production in Mesoamerica from an academic perspective and within the confines of the discipline of literary studies.

Pre-Invasion Maya Literature

Pre-invasion texts are not so much a literary production written before the arrival of the Spanish as they are texts that existed in other forms (oral narrations, codices, performances, songs, etc.) and were destroyed by the invaders. The stories, concepts, and traditions were collected by Mayas in their own script, Latin script, or both in an effort to preserve their history and culture.8 The fact that we have access to these texts millennia later is a testament to a long tradition that included writing among its textualities and to the resolve of knowledge keepers who chose to continue their work despite the threat of punishment and even death.

One of the best-known and well-studied Maya literary texts is the Popol Wuj. Though the written version that we commonly employ was committed to script in the post-Invasion era, it is well known that stories contained therein, in particular, the creation story and royal lineages, all form part of a larger narrative and history of the Maya peoples of the region. On this last point, it is important to note that, though generally presented as an essential expression of Maya cosmogony, the Popol Wuj can be more accurately understood as the sociocultural production of the K’iche’ people. Over the years, there have been a number of different spellings for the title of the text such as Popol Vuh, all indicative of the approaches to and debates around it.9 Often, it has been inaccurately described as a “Maya bible” given its orientation and history of its provenance: the document that resides in the Newberry Library was transcribed by Father Francisco Ximenéz, a Dominican priest who likely copied the work of its original authors.10 It is estimated that the first written version was completed sometime in the 1550s and that Father Ximenéz’s transcription and translation took place sometime in the 1700s in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.11 For non-Mayas, the existence of the Popol Wuj came to light in the mid-1800s as the first Spanish translation circulated in Europe and later as the French Abbot Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg stole Father Ximenez’s manuscript from the archives of the national university, the Universidad de San Carlos, and translated it to French. Eventually, the Popol Wuj would find its way back to the Americas, to the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Adrián Recinos would come across it and take on the first Spanish translation in over one hundred years.

Critics agree that the Popol Wuj is a ritual text, both sacred and poetic, perhaps most successfully translated to reflect its aesthetic value into Spanish from the K’iche’ by K’iche’ intellectual Luis Enrique Sam Colop.12 The Popol Wuj is typically divided into three major sections, each dealing with important aspects of K’iche’ culture and history: (a) the creation of the world and all living beings; (b) the adventures of the hero twins, Junaipu and Xbalanke, before the arrival of humans; and (c) the Maya lines of descendance starting with the first K’iche’ peoples.13

Another important pre-invasion body of texts are the books of the Chilam Balam, nine of which are widely known, all copies of originals and each referred to by their place of origin in the Yucatán Peninsula. According to Tedlock, the most studied are those of Mani, Tizimin, Chumayel, and Kau.14 The books are named after their author, the Chilam Balam or “Jaguar prophet,” and deal with a number of topics, classified by Alfredo Vásquez Barrera and Silvia Rendón as follows: religion, history, medicine, chronology and astrology, astronomy, rituals, literature, and miscellany.15 The books were written in the 17th and 18th centuries in Maya language from the region, using Latin script, and are a compilation of various texts and textualities (glyphic writing, songs, performances, and religious chants).16 For Paul M. Worley, a salient feature of the Chilam Balam books, relevant to readings of contemporary Maya texts, is their performatic dimension.17 For Timothy Knowlton, these books offer a glimpse into Maya cosmogony and lore and, not unlike the Popol Wuj, given the process of their writing (compilations of different texts and textual traditions and copies of copies) throughout the colonial period, they also provide readers with a historical snapshot of their articulation.18 Some of the most important topics discussed in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the most widely studied and translated book, include the history of the region, the creation story, the Spanish invasion, and the arrival of Christianity.

In these early works, which come from a rich and millenary culture and were committed to paper in Latin script in an effort to preserve them, readers of contemporary Maya literature will find important antecedents of an extra-literary textual tradition that contemporary authors may draw from or, at the very least, form part of their shared knowledge and communal understanding of the world. Other important though less-studied pre-invasion Maya texts include the Annals of the Kaqchikeles (also known as the Memorial de Sololá, it tells the foundational history of the Kaqchikel people), the Rabinal Achí (a Maya drama that incorporates dance and song in the telling of the conflict between two K’iche’ political figures and is still performed in the 21st century; in 2005, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] recognized it as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”), Libro de los cantares de Dzitbalché (a compilation of 15 lyrical poems on love, spirituality, and ceremony), and the Título de los Señores de Totonicapán (which confirms and at the same time offers an alternative history of K’iche’ lineages in the Popol Wuj).19

The Development of a Contemporary Maya Literature

In Guatemala and Mexico, contemporary Maya literature has undergone different stages of development due to the creation of political borders and state structures that shape the lives of millions of Mayas. This marked difference began with the region’s independence from the Spanish crown and the resulting formation of modern Latin American states in the 19th century. On one hand, in Guatemala, an imagined ladino identity founded on the idea of eradicating its living Indigenous roots, combined with a 36-year civil war that began in 1960 and targeted and killed many Indigenous people, curtailed many cultural expressions and thwarted the possibility of an organized and robust Maya literary institution. In Mexico, on the other hand, the promotion of an official shared mestizo identity drawing on the idea of an ancestral indigeneity early in the development of the modern Mexican nation exerted enough force to prompt the study and promotion of Indigenous languages and literatures.

Contemporary Maya Literature in Guatemala

Scholars understand the emergence of a contemporary Maya literature in Guatemala as taking place in the ’1970s with Luis de Lión’s experimental prose and Morales Santos’ early poetry, developments that occur alongside the political organization of Mayas and its coalescence into an important movement that would impact the way Guatemala and its citizens see themselves. The framing of this literature and of the country’s understanding of Maya culture, however, occurs much earlier, as thinkers imagine a modern nation, independent and distinct from Spain, founded in the territory of present-day Guatemala and rooted in the rich ancient history of the region. This last observation is key: the nation project borrows from a distant Indigenous past and sets on a project to obliterate an Indigenous present. According to Antonio Batres Jáuregui, “La cultura aborigen se perdió por completo. Los quichés y los cakchiqueles revelan su pasada grandeza pero no dan muestra hoy de ella” (Indigenous culture was forever lost. Quichés and Cakchiqueles had a grandiose past but show no evidence of it today).20

The ideas put forth by 19th-century thinkers revolve around these notions, explicitly calling for the extermination of the Indigenous population or at the very least its assimilation into ladino culture. Meanwhile, these same authors base the idea of ladinidad on a rich and splendid Maya past, an idea that was divorced from the real presence of their Indigenous contemporaries. The literature of this time promotes a national character that reflects these postures. Many think pieces in newspapers and widely circulated magazines discuss the place of the Indigenous subject in the new nation project and imagine a homogenous national identity. In 1822, José Cecilio del Valle writes: “Cruzándose los indios y ladinos con los españoles y suizos, los alemanes e ingleses que vengan a poblar América, se acabarán las castas, división sensible de los pueblos; será homogénea la población; habrá unidad en las sociedades” (As Indigenous and Ladino peoples intermingle with the Spanish and the Swiss, and German and English people populate the Americas, the caste system, the sensible division of peoples, will end; the population will be homogenous, there will be unity amongst societies).21 These lines of thinking result in a national narrative that builds on the notion of a bygone Maya era to envision a ladino future that is pervasive in the 21st century. It all culminates with Nobel Prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias, who is considered author of one of Latin America’s most successful indigenista literary projects. In the presentation speech for the 1967 Nobel Prize, Asturias is said to be awarded the honor “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America.”22

In the ’1980s and ’1990s, as literary workshops for Indigenous writers were thriving in Mexico, things in Guatemala were taking a very different turn. During this time, Maya communities were directly targeted, and state-sponsored violence claimed the lives of more 200,000 people, the majority of them Maya. The Truth Commission Report notes that targeting Mayas was part of a larger effort to eliminate entire communities and their ways of being: “The massacres, scored-earth operations, forced disappearances and executions of Mayan authorities, leaders and spiritual guides were not only an attempt to destroy the social base of the guerrillas, but were above all, [an effort] to destroy the cultural values that ensured cohesion and collective action in Mayan communities.”23 Understandably, the development that Maya letters enjoyed in Mexico was not paralleled in Guatemala where things remained grim even after the signing of the Peace Agreements, given the toll of a 36-year war and its inevitable aftershocks.

Despite heavy censorship and constant threat of violence and death, not to mention systemic racism, Maya writers Luis de Lión and Francisco Morales Santos were active participants in literary circles during the ’1960s and ’1970s in Guatemala. Luis de Lión (pen name of José Luis de León Díaz) wrote the short novel El tiempo principia en Xibalbá (published posthumously in 1985), considered one of the first contemporary Maya literary incursions in Guatemala, as well as poetry and a series of children’s short stories.24 In 1984, de Lión was captured by the military and never found again. His work has been re-published posthumously and his memory has been preserved by his daughter, Mayarí de León González, in the Proyecto y Casa Museo Luis de Lión (Luis de Lión Project and Home-Museum). Morales Santos, for his part, is best known for his poetry and overall is a very prolific writer in Guatemala, though early on he was not recognized as a Maya writer, perhaps, as Emilio del Valle Escalante explains, because Maya identity politics are not a central tenet of his work.25 However, as del Valle Escalante points out, two of his early poetry collections, Agua en el silencio (1960) and Nimaya (1968), include poems concerned with “colonialism and the need to claim a political Kaqchikel consciousness and subjectivity.”26

During the war, members of Maya communities worked alongside ladinos and fought for a country free of military rule and US interventionism.27 At the same time, they organized and imagined a place from which Maya people could speak and safeguard their customs, traditions, and knowledges. Arturo Arias explains that this development is described by Pablo Ceto, a Maya leader, as a “conspiracy within the conspiracy,” a tactic that allowed Maya intellectuals to infiltrate the ladino political arena and advance their own agenda.28 In the late ’1990s, after decades of fighting for recognition and participating in armed conflict, the Maya movement put forth many demands with the signing of the peace agreements.29 One of the main goals of the movement is to secure a national political platform where Mayas are recognized and have a voice as a “Nación o Pueblo” (Nation or Peoples).30 Along with this recognition came the demand of cultural and linguistic rights to be front and center, as understood and lived by Mayas themselves. These efforts by the Maya movement resulted in the disruption of ladinidad, Guatemala’s model of national identity. At the same time, this new presence on the political and cultural stages began dispelling notions of backwardness and historical decline and instead shows that Mayas participate in the contemporary world as consumers, innovators, and socio-political and cultural actors. Cojtí explains it best: “se dice que el camino del movimiento Maya no va solamente a Tikal (tradicionalismo) sino va también a Nueva York y a Tokio (modernismo)” (It is said that the path to the Maya movement not only goes to Tikal [traditional] but also goes to New York and to Tokyo [modern]).31

This political backdrop is key in understanding what takes place in Maya letters: in the ’1980s and ’1990s, with the Maya movement as an organized entity with reach and visibility politically and culturally within the country and abroad, the right conditions emerged for Maya writers to publish their work. This is not to say that authors aligned with or saw themselves in the movement per se, but the momentum of asserting the political and cultural rights of a people on a national stage, which reverberated internationally, certainly had an impact. Moreover, many of the works that emerge in this period deal directly with the targeted violence and racism and reflect on what it means to be Maya in Guatemala.

For writer and scholar Víctor Montejo (Popti’), what takes place during this time is an “intellectual renaissance” that sees Maya intellectuals and academic leaders emerge, step up, and take on national and international conversations.32 Specifically, for Montejo, a symbol of Guatemala’s Maya literary renaissance is Sam Colop’s poetic translation of the Popol Wuj.33 Some of the writers making a mark during this time are Gaspar Pedro González (Q’anjob’al), Calixta Gabriel Xiquín (Kaqchikel), Maya Cú Choc (Q’eqchi’), Víctor Montejo (Popti’), Humberto Ak’abal (K’iche’), and Rigoberta Menchú Tum (K’iche’). When compared with the wider field of Guatemalan literature, these writers comprise a small group, but their work has made important contributions and has had an impact far beyond Maya letters. González’s Sbʼeybʼal jun naq mayaʼ qʼanjobʼal = La otra cara (1996, published in English as a Mayan Life 1995) was the first Maya novel written entirely in a Maya language, Q’anjob’al, and was translated to Spanish by the author himself.34 In exile from 1981 to 1986 and under the pseudonym Caly Domitila Kanek, Gabriel Xiquín pens the verses of what would become her first poetry collection, El hueso de la tierra (Bone of the Earth, 1996).35 Her subsequent collection, Tejiendo los sucesos en el tiempo (Weaving Events in Time, 2002) picks up many of the themes explored in the first collection and weaves a personal and collective history of Guatemala.36

Maya Cú Choc writes sensual and erotic poetry from a Maya woman’s perspective, thereby introducing an important dimension to Maya literature in her collections La rueda (The Wheel, 2002) and Recorrido (Poemas) (Tour, 2005).37 Among some of Víctor Montejo’s most important works are the epic poems El Kanil, Man of Lightning: A Legend of Jacaltenango (1984) and Oxlanh B’aqtun: Recordando al sacerdote Jaguar (Chilam Balam) en el portón del nuevo milenio (Oxlanh B’aqtun: Remembering the Jaguar Priest, Chilam Balam, at the Start of the New Millennium, 2003). El Kanil, republished as El Q’anil in 2001, and Oxlanh B’aqtun are of special importance as Montejo draws on pre-invasion texts (Popol Wuj, the Books of the Chilam Balam, and the Annals of the Kakchiquels) to continue a Maya textual tradition in the present day.38

One of Guatemala’s greatest poets, whose work has been translated into many languages, is Humberto Ak’abal. His first poetry collections were published in the early ’1990s and though his work was first recognized internationally, he eventually became a household name, though not without controversy.39 His poems are crisp and present an important window into K’iche’ life, beliefs, and connection to nature, and many studies have been written about his work. Finally, an important figure who brought the plight of Maya people in Guatemala to the world stage, defined a literary genre, and set off the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004) is Rigoberta Menchú Tum. With her testimonio, Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (1982, published in English translation in 1984 as I, Rigoberta Menchu, an Indian in Guatemala), Menchú ignited important discussions about truth-telling, fiction, human rights, and authorship.40

After 36 years of civil war and with the signing of the peace agreements in 1996, which included protections for the rights of Indigenous peoples, Guatemala experienced a new surge in Maya letters.41 A new generation of writers emerges and many of them settled in the capital at an early age with their families and did not learn their parents’ language as safety and assimilation ranked topmost on their list. The result, in the late ’1990s and early 2000s, is a dual body of Maya literature: monolingual works written in Spanish in the capital city and works written in Maya languages with Spanish translation in Maya urban centers and rural areas. Though at present there is a growing interest in Maya literature, there exists no support at the state level for its sustained development and growth. Unlike in Mexico, initiatives in Guatemala are often private in nature with little to no state funding and publication venues are independent, small, and with very limited runs. Unlike the many young writers who have been helped by literary workshops in Mexico, Maya writers in Guatemala are self-taught, self-formed, and often self-published. In addition, many of these writers work on poetry, though their literary projects extend beyond the Latin script. Good examples of writers who employ a multitextual approach are Rosa Chávez (K’iche’-Kaqchiquel) and Manuel Tzoc Bucup (K’iche’). They are both known for their poetry first and foremost, but their work possesses a performatic dimension that is lost in print alone. Chávez has written poetry collections, performed on stage, and co-authored an electronic music project.42 Tzoc Bucup, for his part, is known for his erotic and explicit poetry, which has meant a great deal of self-publishing. For this purpose and to serve other LGBTQ+ and non-traditional writers, the artist founded the cartonera publishing outfit La maleta ilegal with partner and performance artist, Rodrigo Arenas Carter. The majority of Tzoc Bucup’s work has been published in this manner, and his small unnumbered prints of handmade volumes range from poetry books with handmade covers to poetic objects.43 His body of work also includes performance and is often paired with poetry.44

Many Maya writers outside the capital publish their work in their mother tongue alongside Spanish translation. The reason is simple: while those displaced to the capital were encouraged to assimilate and adopt Spanish as their sole language, many Mayas in Maya urban centers have strong family and community ties that allow them to continue speaking their mother tongues and maintain their traditions. That is not to say that conditions have remained static in predominantly Maya areas: with the war, the influx of Evangelical churches, resource extraction, and migration, among other external factors, communities have been deeply affected and changed.

Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez (Kaqchikel), a resident of Chi Xot (Comalapa), began his entry into the literary stage with the novella Ru taqikil ri Sarima’La misión del Sarima’ (The mission of the Sarima’), a tale that features oral tradition, oscillates between past and present, and describes the powerful roars of the Sarima’, an important sacred hill for the Kaqchikel people of the region.45 With Ru taqikil ri Sarima’, Oxlaj Cúmez won the 2007 B’atz’ literary award, a prize founded by Rodrigo Rey Rosa with the funds of his 2004 Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature and in solidarity with Humberto Ak’abal, who refused the same honor the previous year. His later works include short story and poetry collections, the former written in Spanish with Kaqchikel concepts and the latter in Kaqchikel with Spanish translation.46 Negma Coy (Kaqchikel), a contemporary of Oxlaj Cúmez and a resident of Chi Xot as well, writes in Kaqchikel and Spanish, paints, and designs glyphs.47 Glyphic writing is of note here as Coy employs it alongside her own Latin writing, reviving another mode of Maya textuality.48 As it relates to the book as printed text, she experiments with form as well; one of her collections, Kikotem: historias, cuentos, poesía Kaqchikel (Kikotem: Kaqchikel stories, poetry), is printed in the format of a codex, a pre-invasion text that invites the manipulation of the physical text to derive different types of reading.49 Finally, Manuel Bolom (Q’eqchi’) writes poetry that reflects on present-day issues as well as the Maya cosmovision.50 For example, in X’been aatin/Primera palabra (First Word), in the section “Raatin xnaq’saq’e /Palabras del rostro del sol” (Words from the Face of the Sun), 20 poems detail each of the days of the Maya calendar.51

Maya authors in Guatemala face many obstacles and their incursion into literature is determined by many factors, some of which define the language and the means of publication, not to say anything of the dissemination of their work. At present, in Guatemala, well-established Maya publishers such as Maya Wuj or Cholsamaj publish the work of authors who write in their language (and in Spanish translation). Self-publication and smaller outfits, like POE, provide a good alternative to poets who are starting out, whose work has not yet been recognized, or who simply cannot reach publishing houses in Guatemala City that promote the work of select Indigenous authors along a long list of established and emerging national authors. One thing is certain: Maya literature in Guatemala is largely possible through efforts of writers themselves and the support of other writers and of their communities. In a country that carried a program of genocide of Indigenous peoples with the full force of the military, having a vibrant body of Maya literature is no small feat, particularly as the ideology behind it all pervades.

Contemporary Maya Literature in Mexico

Maya literature in Mexico, though it may have similarities with the themes and concerns of Maya writers in Guatemala, has had a markedly different trajectory. For one, early 20th-century Mexican thought around race, the ideology that accompanies the Mexican Revolution, envisions a modern nation that in some ways integrates or absorbs notions of indigeneity. Although the ultimate goal in these lines of thinking was the erasure of indigeneity, their approach, in some ways, lent itself to safeguarding important elements. Three key texts in understanding the role of indigeneity in the formation of a national Mexican identity are Andrés Molina Enriquez’ Los grandes problemas mexicanos (The Great Mexican Problems, 1909), Manuel Gamio’s Forjando patria (Forging a Nation, 1916), and José Vasconcelos’s La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race, 1925).52 Mestizaje is a common element among all three, and indigeneity plays a central role though cemented in a glorious past and extant only as part of a mestizo present, “[un] buen puente del mestizaje,” a good bridge for mestizaje, the mixing of both Indigenous and Spanish roots.53 In a way, the exaltation of certain aspects of Indigenous culture through indigenista state policy paved the way for liberal policies that perhaps inadvertently created spaces for Indigenous self-determination. It is in these spaces where it has been possible to create and promote Maya literature through literary workshops, grants, awards, and publication.

Maya literature in Mexico is generally understood as two related but distinct expressions, defined by the region from which they originate: the Yucatán Peninsula and Chiapas. In the early 1970s in the peninsula, writers Ramón and Miguel Suárez Caarnal, Santiago Canto Sosa, César May Tun, Waldemar Noh Tzec, and Jorge Cocom Pech founded Génali, the first Maya literary group, which was successful in running workshops, publishing, and promoting awards.54 A decade later, in 1982, Maya writer José Tec Poot, with the support of Carlos Montemayor, a respected literary critic, writer, and promoter of contemporary Indigenous literatures in Mexico, founded the Taller de Literatura Maya (Maya Literature Workshop).55 The initiative was sponsored by national and international bodies, among them the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA, National Council for Arts and Culture), the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI, National Indigenist Institute), the Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (SEDESOL, Secretariat of Social Development), and the Rockefeller Foundation.56 Carlos Montemayor later extended the workshops to other areas, which, according to May May, were part of a methodology designed by Montemayor to reach Indigenous writers from other ethnic groups.57 Meanwhile, in Chiapas, Robert M. Laughlin, a US anthropologist, worked on literacy initiatives alongside Tsotsil writers, writers who went on to establish the Sna Jtz’ibajom literary group in 1983.58 In the years that followed, other groups emerged: Taller Tsotsil (Tsotsil Workshop), Taller Leñateros (Woodcutter Workshop), Unidad de Escritores Maya Zoques (UNEMAZ, Union of Maya Zoque Writers), FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya, Strength of the Maya Woman), and the Centro Estatal de Literaturas y Lenguas Indígenas (CELALI, State Centre of Indigenous Literatures and Languages).59 The shape that some of these literary groups took on and the philosophy to which they ascribed were informed by the arrival of the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, National Zapatista Liberation Front) on the national stage in the ’90s. Interestingly, the signing of the peace agreements with the EZLN included cultural and educational demands, such as the creation CELALI, that ensured state support for Indigenous letters. One thing is certain: these early literary groups and initiatives laid the groundwork for what was to come: rich literary traditions in each region, with representation and support.

In the Yucatán Peninsula, the writers whose names are easily recognizable and who can be placed at the heart of a contemporary Yucatec Maya literature include Domingo Dzul Poot, Jorge Miguel Cocom Pech, María Luisa Góngora, Briceida Cuevas Cob, Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim, Waldemar Noh Tzec, and Marisol Ceh Moo. It is important to note that there are many more writers who are just as successful and well known, particularly given the number of literary workshops and programs that have incentivized the creation and publication of Maya letters. Take, for example, the Programa de Lengua y Literatura Maya, whose initial series Letras mayas contemporáneas (Contemporary Maya Letters, 1990–1992) consisted of eight books in total: four in Maya Yucatec and the corresponding four in Spanish translation.60 Subsequent volumes in the series included Maya writers from Chiapas for a total of three series and over 40 volumes.

In the ’1980s, Dzul Poot published his Cuentos mayas (Maya Tales, 1985) and Leyendas y tradiciones históricas mayas (Historical Maya Legends and Traditions, 1987), offering the region’s first entry into the world of narrative as rooted in traditional Maya oral tales. For Ligorred Perramon, Dzul Poot’s work follows a period in which anthropologists, linguists, and historians set out to capture Maya oral tradition, compiling stories and dictionaries.61 Cuentos mayas and Leyendas are of particular importance in that they capture a salient feature of Maya Yucatec literature: its relationship to orality. While orality is often an important aspect of literature written in Chiapas or Guatemala, its significance is most sharply felt in the Yucatan region. Paul M. Worley’s study Telling and Being Told offers an in-depth look at oral tradition, particularly through the concept of tsikbal (a type of storytelling conversation), arguing for its place alongside traditional literature. Notably, Worley also makes a case for looking at traditional literature itself through tsikbal given the importance of orality and its required performance as millenary practices. Worley looks at the work of María Luisa Góngora, Briceida Cuevas Cob, and Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim under this light: the authors, some of them graduates of Montemayor’s literary workshops, rely on oral storytellers in some of their written work, not to transcribe the tales from their communities but to write another way, “to mobilize the tradition and agency this figure [the oral storyteller] embodies and assert the viability of this way of knowing.”62 Juan Cocom Pech, one of the founders of the Génali literary workshops, is a literary critic as well as a writer. He has won many prizes and recognitions nationally and international and is best known for his autobiographical account Muk’ult’an in nool/Secretos del abuelo (Grandfather’s Secrets, 2011), which was published in Maya Yucatec and Spanish and is neither a short story nor a novel but a relato, a tale, according to Cocom Pech himself.63

Waldemar Noh Tzec, founder of Génali along with Cocom Pech, was a respected promoter of Maya language and literature and a poet who won many honors and prizes (and had one named after him, the Premio Internacional de Poesía del Mundo Maya “Waldemar Noh Tzec”, the International Maya World Poetry Prize “Waldemar Noh Tzec”). Worley contends that Noh Tzec’s work shows an awareness of the aesthetic and political implications of self-translating and publishing simultaneously in Maya Yucatec and in Spanish through state funding.64 As with Cocom Pech, Noh Tzec’s impact in Maya letters in Yucatán is felt beyond his own writing as he mentored and promoted the work of many young and emerging writers. Writer Marisol Ceh Moo, for her part, is known for her poetry, short stories, and novels and has won literary prizes, among them the prestigious 2014 Premio Nezahualcóyotl de Literatura en Lenguas Mexicanas, the Nezahualcóyotl for Literatures in Mexican Languages. It should be noted that this prize has been awarded to two other Yucatec Maya authors: Wildernain Villegas Carrillo in 2008 and Isaac Carrillo Can in 2010. Ceh Moo’s first novel, X-Teya, u puksi’ik’al koolel/Teya, un corazón de mujer (Teya, a Woman’s Heart, 2008), considered the first Maya novel written by a woman, is a deft examination of violence and politics in the region. With this novel, Ceh Moo sets out to break with Maya literary tradition in Yucatán and writes about the non-Maya world, a move that, according to Emilio del Valle Escalante, “opens up the canon by appropriating the novel and the non-Indigenous world, thereby establishing her own literary authority.”65

In Chiapas, with the presence of the EZLN, Maya letters took a different turn. For example, many Maya cultural promoters and writers who were involved in the talleres and literary groups in the early ’1990s, sympathized with the EZLN and its demands.66 Moreover, Maya groups in Chiapas are culturally and linguistically distinct, each with their own traditions and conventions. Many of the writers in the region, in addition to their work, promote their languages, partly given that the number of speakers and readers of said languages are far fewer than their Yucatec counterparts. Some leading Tsotsil writers include Manuel Bolom Pale, Ruperta Bautista Vásquez, Miguel Ruíz Gómez, and Nicolás Huet Bautista. Tseltal writers, for their part, include Adriana López Sántiz and Josías López Gómez. Though Tsotsil and Tseltal writers dominate the contemporary literary scene in Chiapas, a notable exception is CH’ol poet Juana Peñate Montejo. Poet and philosopher Manuel Bolom Pale’s work is written in Tsotsil and Spanish and it brings together the poet’s knowledge and study of Tsotsil philosophical concepts and language to create beautiful verses.67 He was won several awards, including the prestigious Nezahualcóyotl prize in 2016. Ruperta Bautista is a political activist, a weaver, and an award-winning poet. She writes poetry and self-translates, and in her work, she deals with gender, the Tsotsil cosmovision as well as state violence. Her collection Xojobal jalob te’ = Telar luminario (Luminous Loom, 2013) moves between two planes, exploring important metaphysical and philosophical concepts, in interplay with other textualities.68

Mikel Ruíz, perhaps the youngest of the group, has a very promising career in both literature and literary criticism. Ruíz’s Ch′ayemal nich′nabiletik = Los hijos errantes (The Errant Children, 2014), a narrative work, overturns aesthetic expectations and lends a critical eye to his own community.69 In his criticism, the young scholar argues against the use of Maya or Indigenous labels to define or characterize work by Tsotsil or Tseltal authors, for example. For Ruíz, these labels confine creators and limit the possibility of participating in the larger body of literature in Mexico.70 Like Ruíz, Huet Bautista’s short stories or tales present a vivid portrait of life in his community. His work, which began much earlier than that of Ruíz, is oriented toward a Tsotsil aesthetic, and as co-founder of CELALI, he is aware of the importance of placing culture, tradition, and knowledge at the forefront of any social movement: “Las luchas por la dignificación del conocimiento indígena no están separadas de las luchas por los movimientos sociales” (The struggles to consolidate respectability for Indigenous knowledges are not separate from social struggles).71

Adriana López Sántiz writes about nature and memory; her poetry reflects her lived experience, her childhood memories, and the traditions of her community. Like other Maya women who write poetry, she infuses her verses with the notion of weaving, which can be gleaned from the titles alone: Jalbil K’opetik. Palabras tejidas (Woven Words, 2005) and Naetik. Hilos (Threads, 2011).72 Josías López Gómez is well known for his short story collection, Sakubel k’inal jachwinik/La aurora lacandona (The Lacandon Dawn), considered by Mikel Ruíz a postmodern text that breaks with Maya tradition.73 López Gómez invites his reader to explore the Lacandon jungle, using complex characters and moving through different temporalities. Finally, CH’ol poet Juana Peñate Montejo received the 2020 Premio de Literaturas Indígenas de América (Prize for Indigenous Literatures of the Americas, PLIA) for her collection Isoñil ja’al/Danza bajo la Lluvia (Dance Under the Rain).74 Since its inception in 2013, the prize has been awarded to four other Maya writers: Josías Gómez López (2015), Cocom Pech (2016), Sol Ceh Moo (2019), and Luis Antonio Canché Briceño (2022). Peñate’s award, however, is of note given that she is the only CH’ol woman writing at this time.

Maya Literature: Challenges and Futures

What we conceive of as Maya literature—that is, literature (short story, poetry, novel, among other forms) written by Maya authors—shows no signs of stopping, particularly as the stage has been set by at least two generations of writers who have made a name for themselves and for Maya letters. As we enter an era that promotes a global understanding of Indigenous cultural and linguistic rights, we can expect Maya literature to continue flourishing and to further test our expectations as readers and critics.75 Maya writers are reflecting on and writing about the climate crisis, resource extraction, the rights of women and of LGBTIQ+ people, cultural and political autonomy, and linguistic revitalization, among other pressing issues, and in the process are connecting with and engaging in dialogue beyond political borders. Not to be overlooked, the small but growing body of writers of the Maya diaspora in the US will raise questions and challenge notions of latinidad, nationalisms, and the hegemony of imperial languages.76 While the circumstances (cultural institutions, state support, and literary markets, to name a few) that Maya writers face in Guatemala differ markedly from those in Mexico, the production seen in the first two decades of the 21st century evidences a robust body of work with an indelible mark. The 21st century will no doubt see many important developments in this literature, but perhaps what is most notable are the ways in which this literature will shape literary studies in and from Latin America given its many textualities, a pre-invasion history, a well-established tradition, and a sense of place and time that transcends political borders and national affiliations.

Discussion of the Literature

Despite being a recent field of study, Maya literary studies is gaining popularity and is making its mark given our current reckoning with colonial past(s) in academic and public settings in the West. While the popularity of fields of inquiry or approaches may fade in favor of new authors, literatures, theories, or methods, Maya literary studies, and the broader field of Indigenous literary studies, is changing the disciplines of Latin American and Hispanic literary studies and it shows no signs of slowing down. For one, we are moving from ethnographic approaches in which Indigenous people are informers and texts are artifacts toward a more just approach that is decolonial and that privileges the voices of the creators of stories and verses and of those who they represent. This requires different methods and considerations, both practical and ethical; as discussed in the section “Defining Maya Literature,” the idea of literature itself is in question, not to say anything of the language, devices, themes, tropes, and cosmovision(s) that inform the texts composed by Maya authors. At the same time, the notions of nationhood and national literatures, at the backbone of literary studies, are questioned and in many cases completely overturned by the demands and, in this case, the cultural production of Indigenous peoples and nations who often do not see themselves represented or included in modern nation projects. The recent work of scholars addresses these issues and proposes new approaches that align more closely with the needs of Maya communities. One such project is Gloria Chacón’s Indigenous Cosmolectics, which employs kab’awil, a prehispanic two-headed eagle, as a lens through which to analyze contemporary Maya and Zapotec literature in its present without ignoring its past. Volumes 1 and 2 of Arturo Arias’s Recovering Lost Footprints are important additions to this corpus as they offer an alternate approach to the study of Maya literature, proposing that we consider the Maya cosmovision (an understanding of the world and the cosmos), traditions, and values when reading or critiquing those works. And another important study is Worley and Palacios’s Unwriting Maya Literature, which expands on a Maya notion of marking a surface to create meaning, ts’íib, as proposed by Maya scholars Irma Otzoy (Kaqchikel), Gaspar Pedro González (Qanjobal), and Pedro Uc Be (Maya Yucatec).

Links to Digital Materials

Manuscrito cakchiquel ó sea memorial de Tecpan-Atitlan (Solola): historia del antiguo reino del cakchiquel, dicho de Guatemala available at Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania

Popol Vuh, World Digital Library.

Further Reading

  • Arias, Arturo. Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 1: Contemporary Maya Narratives. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2017.
  • Arias, Arturo. Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2: Contemporary Maya Narratives. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018.
  • Chacón, Gloria Elizabeth. Indigenous Cosmolectics: Kab’awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
  • Garza, Mercedes, Miguel León Portilla, and Adrián Recinos, eds. Literatura maya. Caracas, Venezuela: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1992.
  • Henne, Nathan C. Reading Popol Wuj: A Decolonial Guide. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2020.
  • Hull, Kerry M., and Michael D. Carrasco, eds. Parallel Worlds: Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial, and Classic Maya Literature. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012.
  • Keme, Emil’. Le Maya Q’atzij/Our Maya Word: Poetics of Resistance in Guatemala. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021.
  • Leirana Alcocer, Cristina. La literatura maya actual vista por sus autores (un acercamiento a la literatura maya-peninsular contemporánea. BA thesis, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, 1996.
  • Lepe Lira, Luz María. Lluvia y viento, puentes de sonido: Literatura indígena y crítica literaria. Mexico City: CONARTE, 2010.
  • López, Josías, Juana Karen Peñate Montejo, Ruperta Bautista Vázquez, Nicolás Huet Bautista, and Enrique Pérez López. Palabra conjurada: Cinco voces, cinco cantos. San Cristóbal de Las Casas: Editorial Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, 1998.
  • Montejo, Víctor. Maya Intellectual Renaissance. Identity, Representation and Leadership. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
  • Montemayor, Carlos, and Donald Frischmann, eds. Words of the True Peoples/Palabras de los seres verdaderos, Vol. 1, Prose: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
  • Montemayor, Carlos, and Donald Frischmann, eds. Words of the True Peoples, Vol. 2, Poetry: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
  • Montemayor, Carlos, and Donald Frischmann, eds. Words of the True Peoples, Vol. 3, Theatre: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
  • Pigott, Charles M. Writing the Land, Writing Humanity: The Maya Literary Renaissance. New York: Routledge, 2020.
  • Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings. Translated by Dennis Tedlock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
  • Popol wuj: Versión poética K’iche’. Translated by Luis Enrique Sam Colop. Guatemala City, Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 1999.
  • Tedlock, Dennis. 2000 Years of Mayan Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
  • del Valle Escalante, Emilio. Teorizando las literaturas indígenas contemporáneas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
  • del Valle Escalante, Emilio. Uk’u’x Kaj, uk’u’x ulew: Antología de poesía maya guatemalteca contemporánea. Pittsburgh, PA: Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, 2010.
  • Worley, Paul M. Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013.
  • Worley, Paul M., and Rita M. Palacios. Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’ íib as Recorded Knowledge. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019.


  • 1. Joanna O’Connell, “Precolumbian Literatures,” in Mexican Literature: A History, ed. David W. Foster (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 5.

  • 2. Manuel de Jesús Salazar Tetzagüic, Rupach’uxik kina’oj qati’t qamama’/Características de la literatura maya kaqchikel (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 1995), 15.

  • 3. Kerry M. Hull and Michael D. Carrasco, Introduction to Parallel Worlds: Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial, and Classic Maya Literature (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2012), 5.

  • 4. See Gaspar Pedro González, Kotz’ib’, nuestra literatura Maya (Guatemala City: F & G Editores, 1997); Irma Otzoy, “Maya Clothing and Identity,” in Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala, ed. Edward F., Fischer, and R. McKenna Brown, eds. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), 141–155; Pedro Uc Be, “La escritura maya: Una muestra de creación. Uts’íibil ts’íib”, Sinfín: Revista electrónica, January 9, 2016; and building on the work of these Maya intellectuals, Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios, Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019).

  • 5. For more, see Nora C. England, “Mayan languages,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics (29 March 2017).

  • 6. Mikel Ruíz, “Mu yanuk mu nichimal jbakutik / Ni misteriosos ni poéticos”, Tierra Adentro (March 2019).

  • 7. Emil Keme, “For Abiayala to Live, the Americas Must Die,” NAIS 5, no. 1 (2018): 45. For further discussion on Indigeneity, see Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil’s essay on what it means to be both Mixe and Indigenous, “Ëëts, atom. Algunos apuntes sobre la identidad”, Revista de la Universidad de México (September 2017).

  • 8. Dennis Tedlock, 2000 Years of Mayan Literature (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010), 1–2.

  • 9. For a discussion on the different titles, see Nathan Henne, Reading Popol Wuj: A Decolonial Guide (Tucson: University of Arizona, 2020), 21–24.

  • 10. Critics agree that the authorship of the Popol Vuh is likely collective, K’iche’ writer and scholar Sam Colop assigns little importance to it, a deeply decolonial move, according to Henne, Reading Popol Wuj, 24. For more on authorship, see Ruud van Akkeren, “Authors of the Popol Vuh,” Ancient Mesoamerica 14, no. 2 (2003): 237–256.

  • 11. Scholars believe that at least two copies were prepared by Father Ximenéz. It is widely understood that the first version, ending up in the university archives, was copied and published in Europe by Carl Scherzer and was later lost; the second was taken from the university archives by Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg and published in French translation in 1861. According to Henne, Ximenéz took on a second translation upon improving his K’iche’ language skills. This second copy is the version housed at the Newberry Library and the one upon which most of the translations are based. See Allen J. Christenson, Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People trans. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), 37–42; Henne, Reading Popol Wuj, 34–35; Popol Vuh: Antiguas Historias del Quiché transl. Adrián Recinos (México City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1995), 12; and Delia Goetz and Morley Sylvanus Griswold, transl. The Book of the People: Popol Vuh (Los Angeles: Plantin Press, 1954), ix–xxxviii.

  • 12. Popol wuj trans. Luis Enrique Sam Colop (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 2008). For more on the Popol Wuj’s poetics, see Tedlock, 2000 Years, 305–306; and Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 202–204.

  • 13. Henne, Reading Popol Wuj, 27–33; Tedlock, Popol Vuh, 21–60; and Recinos, Popol Vuh, 16–17.

  • 14. Tedlock, 2000 Years, 248.

  • 15. Alfredo Vásquez Barrera and Silvia Rendón, El libro de los libros de Chilam Balam (México City: Fondo de Cultura, 1994), 9.

  • 16. Ralph L. Roys, “Introduction,” in The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1933), 11–16.

  • 17. Paul M. Worley, “Pan-Maya and ‘Trans-Indigenous’: The Living Voice of the Chilam Balam in Víctor Montejo and Leslie Marmon Silko,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 28, no. 1 (2016): 1–20.

  • 18. Timothy Knowlton, “Introduction,” in Maya Creation Myths: Words and Worlds of the Chilam Balam (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2012), 1–12.

  • 19. Daniel G. Brinton, The Annals of the Cakchiquels: The Original Text, with a Translation, Notes and Introduction (New York: AMS Press, 1885); Dennis Tedlock, Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); John N. Curl, “The Songs of Dzitbalche,” in Ancient American Poets (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press, 2005), 55–101; Robert M. Carmack and James L. Mondloch, El título de Totonicapán: Texto, traducción y comentario (México City: UNAM, 1983); and Delia Goetz and Dionisio Jose Chonay, transl.,“Title of the Lords of Totonicapán,” in The Annals of the Cakchiquels and Title of the Lords of Totonicapán transl. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953), 161–196.

  • 20. Antonio Batres Jáuregui, Los indios: Su historia y su civilización (Guatemala City: Tipografía la Unión, 1894), 177.

  • 21. José Cecilio del Valle, Obra escogida (Venezuela: Fundación Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1982), 217.

  • 22. Anders Österling, “Award ceremony speech”, (1967).

  • 23. Daniel Rothenberg, Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

  • 24. Luis de Lión, El tiempo principia en Xibalbá (Guatemala City: Ediciones del Pensativo, 2015); Time commences in Xibalba, transl. Nathan Henne (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012); La puerta del cielo y otras puertas (Guatemala City: Ediciones del Pensativo, 2006); Los zopilotes y Su segunda muerte: cuentos (Guatemala City: Casa del Pensativo, 2015); Poemas del volcán de agua: Los poemas míos (Guatemala City: Editorial Cultura, 2009); and Pequeñas lámparas (Guatemala City: Ediciones del Pensativo, 2019).

  • 25. Emilio del Valle Escalante, “El viaje a los orígenes y la poética ‘decolonial’ maya en Madre, nosotros también somos historia de Francisco Morales Santos,” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 37, no. 74 (2011): 355. For a selection of Francisco Morales Santos’s work, see Madre, nosotros también somos historia (Guatemala City: Editorial Universitaria, 1998); Nimayá (Guatemala City: Nuevo Signo, 1968); Agua en el silencio (Antigua Guatemala: n.p. Agua en el silencio, 1961); and Estación florida (Guatemala City: Catafixia Editorial, 2014).

  • 26. Del Valle Escalante, “El viaje a los orígenes,” 355–356.

  • 27. In Guatemala, ladino is term for a non-Indigenous person of mixed descent (Indigenous and European), though most often they align with whiteness. It is synonymous with the better-known term mestizo and used exclusively in Guatemala to mean non-Indigenous.

  • 28. Arturo Arias, “The Maya Movement: Postcolonialism and Cultural Agency,” in Coloniality at Large, ed. Mabel Moraña, Enrique Dussel, and Carlos A. Jáuregui (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 525.

  • 29. For more on the Maya Movement, see Demetrio Cojtí Cuxil, Ri Maya’moloj pa iximulew. El movimiento Maya (en Guatemala) (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 1997); Emilio del Valle Escalante, Maya Nationalisms and Postcolonial Challenges in Guatemala: Coloniality, Modernity, and Identity Politics (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research, 2009); Víctor Montejo, Maya Intellectual Renaissance: Identity, Representation, and Leadership (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); and Kay B. Warren, Indigenous Movements and their Critics: Pan-Maya Activism in Guatemala (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).

  • 30. Cojtí Cuxil, Ri Maya’moloj pa iximulew, 45.

  • 31. Cojtí Cuxil, Ri Maya’moloj pa iximulew, 78.

  • 32. Victor Montejo, Maya Intellectual Renaissance: Identity, Representation and Leadership (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), 129. Discussing Maya Yucatec literature specifically, Charles Piggot extends Montejo’s notion of a literary renaissance in his book Writing the Land, Writing Humanity: The Maya Literary Renaissance (New York: Routledge, 2020).

  • 33. Montejo, Maya Intellectual Renaissance, xviii.

  • 34. Gaspar Pedro González, Sbʼeybʼal jun naq mayaʼ qʼanjobʼal= La otra cara (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA: Fundación Yax Te’, 1996). For a discussion of González’s translation from Q’anjob’al to Spanish, see Fernando Peñalosa, “La literatura maya. Tres perspectivas: el editor”, Istmo. Revista virtual de estudios literarios y culturales centroamericanos 4 (2002).

  • 35. Caly Domitila Kanek, El hueso de la tierra (Guatemala City: Libros San Cristóbal, 1996).

  • 36. Calixta Gabriel Xiquín, Tejiendo los sucesos en el tiempo (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA: Yax Te’ Foundation, 2002).

  • 37. Maya Cu, La rueda (Guatemala City: Editorial Cultura, 2002); and Recorrido (Poemas) (Guatemala City: Editorial Saqil Tzij, 2005).

  • 38. Víctor Montejo, El Kanil, Man of Lightning: A Legend of Jacaltenango (Carrboro, NC: Signal Books, 1984); Víctor Montejo, El Q’anil: Man of Lightning; A Legend of Jacaltenango, Guatemala (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001); and Víctor Montejo, Oxlahn b’aqtun: Recordando al sacerdote jaguar (Chilam Balam) en el portón del nuevo milenio (Guatemala City: Editorial Cultura, 2003).

  • 39. Citing racism, Ak’abal turned down the 2003 Miguel Ángel Asturias literary award, the highest honour in the country. This move would garner him a great deal of criticism, though his international acclaim remained.

  • 40. Elizabeth Burgos Debray and Rigoberta Menchú, Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (Habana, Cuba: Casa de las Américas, 1983); and Arturo Arias and David Stoll, The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

  • 41. As it pertains to Indigenous people, the most important among the peace agreements is the 1995 Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • 42. For poetry, see Rosa Chávez, Casa solitaria (Guatemala City: Ediciones Ermita, 2005); Los dos corazones de Elena Kamé (La Plata, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de la Plata, 2009); Piedra/Ab’aj. (Guatemala City: Cultura Editorial, 2009); Quitapenas (Guatemala City: Catafixia, 2010); and Ri uk’u’x ri ab’aj = El corazón de la piedra (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores Latinoamericana, 2010). For performance, see Rosa Chávez and Camilla Camerlengo, Awas (Guatemala City: Catafixia, 2014). For music, see Selva y Cerro, “Abuelita Planta (Qati´t Q´ayes)” in Savia (Guatemala City: Mazukamba, 2020); Parutz, Selva y Cerro, “Espora” in Savia: Manglar (Guatemala City: Mazukamba, 2021).

  • 43. For poetry, see Manuel Tzoc, De textos insanos (Guatemala City: Santa muerte cartonera, 2011); El ebrio mar y yo (Guatemala City: SOPA, 2009); Gay(o) (Guatemala City: La maleta ilegal, 2015). For book objects, see Manuel Tzoc, Polen (Guatemala City: Author’s edition, 2015); Cuerpo de niño triste (Guatemala City: Author’s edition, 2015); and Wuj (Guatemala City: Author’s edition, 2019).

  • 44. Manuel Tzoc and Cecilia Porras Sáenz, El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro (Guatemala City: Centro Cultural de España and Catafixia Editorial, 2013); Manuel Tzoc Bucup, El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro (Guatemala City: n.p. 2013); “Atómica,” (Guatemala City: Yaxs, 2017); “Piel,” (Guatemala City: n.p., 2018); and “Moler el olvido / Amasar la sangre” (Guatemala City: Casa de la memoria, 2021).

  • 45. Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez, Ru taqikil ri Sarima’ = La misión del Sarima’ (Guatemala City: F y G, 2009).

  • 46. Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez, Mitad Mujer = Nik’aj Ixöq (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 2019); and Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez, Xti Saqirisan Na Pe—Planicie de olvido (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 2020).

  • 47. For poetry, see Negma Coy, Soy un búho (San Salvador, El Salvador: Proyecto Editorial La Chifurnia, 2016); Lienzos de herencia (San Salvador, El Salvador: Proyecto Editorial La Chifurnia, 2017); A orillas del fuego (San José, Costa Rica: Casa de Poesía, 2017); and Tz’ula’, Guardianes de los caminos (Madrid: Amargord Ediciones, 2019).

  • 48. As Worley and Palacios remark on XXXK’, “As an act of literary sovereignty, the bilingual collection thus asserts Coy’s rights, as a Maya woman, not only to Spanish, to Kaqchikel, and to the writing of these languages in Latin script, but also to the writing of Kaqchikel in a system of representation typically considered long dead, lost to colonial epistemic violence.” Negma Coy, XXXK’ (Córdoba, Argentina: La letra nómada, 2016); and Worley and Palacios, Unwriting Maya Literature, 197.

  • 49. Negma Coy, Kikotem: historias, cuentos, poesía Kaqchikel (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj, 2019).

  • 50. Manuel Bolom Yaxcal, X’been aatin/Primera palabra (Solola, Guatemala: 2013); Lunas y noches (Guatemala City: Diario de Centro América y Tipografía Nacional, 2015); and Xxaq May/Hoja de tabaco (San Juan Ostuncalco, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala: POE, 2018).

  • 51. For Mayas, every single day in each of the 20-day periods in the 260-day Maya calendar has a particular meaning, and in many ways, calendric interpretation is crucial for the well-being of entire communities, families, and individuals. For more, see Jean Molesky-Poz, Contemporary Maya Spirituality: The Ancient Ways Are Not Lost (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 128–129.

  • 52. See a brief discussion of Gamio and Vasconcelos in Paul Worley, Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Yucatec Maya Literatures (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013), 62–64.

  • 53. Cited in Worley, Telling and Being Told, 64; and José Vasconcelos, The Cosmic Race: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Didier T. Jaén (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 66.

  • 54. Luz Lepe Lira, “Intelectuales Indígenas y Literaturas en México. El campo literario entre los zapotecas y los mayas,” Revista de Estudos e Pesquisas sobre as Américas 11, no. 2 (2017): 12–14; Francesc Ligorred, “Ka’a siijil maya ichil tsikbal/renacimiento literario maya. (De la tradición filológica a la reivindicación poético-territorial),” Lenguas y Literaturas Indoamericanas 18 (2016): 51–52.

  • 55. Miguel Ángel May May, “La formación de escritores en lengua maya,” in Los escritores indígenas actuales II, ed. Carlos Montemayor (México City: Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro 1992): 113–127; and Paul M. Worley, “La literatura actual en maya”, Enciclopedia de la literatura en México (México City: Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas, 2021).

  • 56. Worley, “La literatura actual en maya.”

  • 57. May May, “La formación de escritores en lengua maya,” 219. For a detailed description of the development of Maya literature in the Yucatán Peninsula, see Lira, “Intelectuales Indígenas y Literaturas en México,” 12–15; Ligorred “Ka’a siijil maya ichil tsikbal”; Cristina Leirana Alcocer, “La literatura maya actual vista por sus autores (un acercamiento a la literatura maya-peninsular contemporánea,” (BA thesis, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, 1996); and Arturo Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2: Contemporary Maya Narratives (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018), 66–82.

  • 58. Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2, 193; and Gloria Chacón, Indigenous Cosmolectics: Kab’awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 10–11.

  • 59. Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2, 193–218.

  • 60. Leirana Alcocer, “La literatura maya actual,” 64; and Catálogo de textos mayas publicados entre 1990 y 2009. Bibliografía comentada (Mérida, Mexico: Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán, 2010).

  • 61. Francesc Ligorred Perramon, “Ka’a siijil maya ichil tsikbal / Renacimiento literario maya,” 39–40. Francesc Ligorred, “Ka’a siijil maya ichil tsikbal/renacimiento literario maya. (De la tradición filológica a la reivindicación poético-territorial),” Lenguas y Literaturas Indoamericanas 18 (2016): 51–52.

  • 62. Worley, Telling and Being Told, 160.

  • 63. Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2, 85; and Jorge Cocom Pech, Mukult’an in nool/Secretos del abuelo (México City: UNAM, 2001).

  • 64. Paul M. Worley, “Máseual Excluido/Indio Permitido: Neoliberal Translation in Waldemar Noh Tzec,” Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 12, no. 3 (2017): 290–314; and Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios, “My World is my Rebellion: Waldemar Noh Tzec, K’anel, and the Refusals of Translation,” in Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’ íib as Recorded Knowledge (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019),141–162.

  • 65. Emilio del Valle Escalante, “The Maya World through its Literature,” in The World of Indigenous North America, ed. Robert Warrior (New York and London: Routledge, 2015), 46.

  • 66. Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2, 214–215.

  • 67. See Manuel Bolom, Sk’inal xikitin k’opojel yu’un nupunel. Fiesta de la chicharra: un discurso ceremonial para matrimonio (México City: Secretaría de Cultura, Dirección General de Culturas Populares, Indígenas y Urbanas, 2017); and Svaech Mutetik. Sueño de pájaros (México City: La máquina infernal, 2015).

  • 68. Ruperta Bautista, Xojobal jalob te’ = Telar luminario (México City: Pluralia, 2013); Gloria Chacón, “Poetisas Mayas: Subjetividades contra la corriente,” Cuadernos de Literatura II, no. 22 (2007): 94–106; and Worley and Palacios, Unwriting Maya Literature, 51–81.

  • 69. Mikel Ruíz, Ch′ayemal nich′nabiletik = Los hijos errantes (Tuxla Gutiérrez, Mexico: CONECULTA/Centro Estatal de Lenguas, Arte y Literaturas Indígenas, 2014).

  • 70. For Ruíz’s literary criticism, see “El Lekil kuxlejal (Buen vivir) y la heterogeneidad literaria: Dos categorías para leer el cuento maya tsotsil ‘La última muerte’ de Nicolás Huet Bautista” (master’s thesis, Universidad Austral de Chile, 2015); “Ruptura de una tradición inventada I”, Tierra Adentro; “Ruptura de una tradición inventada I”, Tierra Adentro.

  • 71. Cited in Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints, Vol. 2, 256 (Arias’s translation).

  • 72. Adriana López Sántiz, Jalbil K’opetik. Palabras tejidas (Tuxla Gutiérrez, Mexico: Centro Estatal de Lenguas, Arte y Literatura Indígenas, 2005); Naetik. Hilos (México City: CONACULTA y Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2011). For a discussion of Maya women poets, see Alicia Ivonne Estrada, “The (Dis)Articulation of Colonial Legacies in Calixta Gabriel Xiquín’s Tejiendo los sucesos en el tiempo / Weaving Events in Time,” Romance Notes 51, no. 1 (2011): 137–147; Chacón, “Poetisas mayas,”; Rita M. Palacios, “A Poetics of Weaving in the Work of Humberto Ak’abal,” Diálogo 19, no. 1 (2016): 105–118; and Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios, “My Words Are Weaving: Unraveling the Distance Between Text and Textile in the Work of Calixta Gabriel Xiquín and Ruperta Bautista Vázquez,” in Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’ íib as Recorded Knowledge (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2019),51–82.

  • 73. Mikel Ruíz, “Ruptura de una tradición inventada I”, Tierra Adentro; “Ruptura de una tradición inventada I”, Tierra Adentro.

  • 74. Isoñil ja’al/Danza bajo la Lluvia (n.p.). See also Ipusik’al matye’lum = Corazón de selva (México City: Pluralia, 2013) and Mi nombre ya no es silencio (Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas: Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y Las Artes de Chiapas, 2002).

  • 75. In 2019, UN member states and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended proclaiming 2022–2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, a resolution adopted by the General Assembly later that same year. See “Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Report of the Third Committee”, United Nations General Assembly, Seventy-fourth session, 2019.

  • 76. See Arturo Arias, “Decoloniality and Identity in Central America Latina and Latino Literature,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Latina and Latino Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) and Floridalma Boj López, “Maya Youth Literatures in the Diaspora,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).