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Sor Juana: Poet, Playwright, and Scholar


By Jon Sievert

Did you ever wonder who the woman is that adorns the 200-pesos note and why she is so honored? At this Sunday’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Service, former Atención editor Jesús Ibarra relates the remarkable story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the 17th-century nun, self-taught scholar, philosopher, Baroque poet, and playwright.

Born in 1648, as a child she often hid in her maternal grandfather’s hacienda chapel to read books from the adjoining library, something forbidden to girls. She learned how to read and write Latin at the age of 3. By age 5 she reportedly could do accounts. By adolescence, Juana had mastered Greek logic, and at 13 she was teaching Latin to young children. She also learned the Aztec language of Nahuatl and wrote some short poems in that language.

Denied the right to enter university in Mexico City because she was female, Sor Juana joined a convent so she could continue her studies on her own. There she began writing poetry and prose dealing with such topics as love, feminism, and religion. She stayed cloistered in the Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite in Mexico City from 1669 until her death in 1695, where she studied, wrote, and collected a large library of books. Her literary accomplishments garnered her fame throughout Mexico. Her interest in scientific thought and experiment led to professional discussions with Isaac Newton.

Sor Juana was a famous and controversial figure in the 17th century. In the modern era, she has been honored in Mexico as well as being part of a political controversy in the late 20th century. Her voluminous writing has been translated into English, French, and German, and she has been the inspiration for filmmakers and authors of poetry, plays, opera, and literary fiction.

Jesus Ibarra is the author of four books on Mexican cinema and theater: Los Bracho, tres generaciones de cine mexicano (UNAM, 2006); Carmen Montejo, una mujer alta (Conaculta, 2010); El jardinero de fantasmas, vida y obra de Carlos Ancira (Conaculta, 2013); and José Mojica, Dulce Renunciación (San Miguel de Allende, 2017). Ibarra is an English teacher at Universidad de León, Campus San Miguel de Allende. From 2006 to 2014, he was a reporter and then the editor of San Miguel’s local bilingual newspaper, Atención San Miguel. He has taught several history courses for the Lifelong Learning Program and given some lectures for PEN San Miguel, San Miguel Writers Conference, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

The UU Fellowship meets every Sunday at 10:30am at Posada de Aldea, Ancha de San Antonio 15, and welcomes people of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The room is wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit our website at

UU Service

“Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz”

By Jesús Ibarra

Sun, Sep 3, 10:30am

Posada de la Aldea, Ancha de San Antonio 15



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