Biography of Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge (1901-1963)

Anthropologist and American author born in New York City on December 19, 1901 and died on August 2, 1963 in Albuquerque (New Mexico). Man of strong egalitarian convictions, put his research work and his creative work in the service of the American population of Indian origin, who also defended passionately in political life. In 1930, was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel titled Laughing boy (the boy who laughs, 1929).

He was the second son of four born of the marriage between Christopher Grant, renowned New York architect, and Florence Bayard La Farge, descendant of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who shone for his heroism in several naval battles. The father of the future writer, who made the original project of the New York cathedral of St. John the Divine (San Juan el Divino), was keenly interested in the culture of the native Indians of North America, interest quickly transmitted to the young Oliver.

In his early childhood, he/she spent the summers in the House that his family owned in the Bay of Nagarransett (Rhode Island), and winters at home usually occupying their own in New York, where he/she received his first letters.

He completed his secondary education at the Institute of Groton (Connecticut), where went on to Harvard University (in Boston, Massachusetts) for the career of anthropology. There he/she obtained the titles of Bachelor (1924) and doctor (1929) in this area. In his facet as an anthropologist, he/she directed three Arizona State archaeological expeditions (where mainly studied the Navajo tribe) and traveled on several occasions to Central America, to be interested in various aspects of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala. Particularly successful was the expedition, sponsored by Tulane University, he/she performed in 1925 in the company of Danish Frans Blom, allowing both to locate on the map the most important enclave of Olmec civilization (located on a large island of the Blasillo River). The findings made during this expedition - many of them wrongly attributed by Blom and La Farge to maya civilization — were reflected in the book entitled Tribes and temples (1926).

At the end of three quarters of a century, this anthropological work of Oliver La Farge was canonical neglect deplored by the writer Víctor Montejo in his novel entitled the adventures of Mr. Puttison among the Maya (1998). The protagonist of this work of fiction, the anthropologist Mr. Puttison, is a parody of the real figure of La Farge, whom Montejo sees as one gringo idealized by the indigenous community (which celebrates in his cheerful and folksy spirit), back of which hides a thief without scruples who is raping secretly to the people that simulates cope.

In his facet of writer, Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge took his first steps when I was at Harvard University, where he/she began to concoct essays, biographies and stories, as well as newspaper articles published in the local press. As a result of his first expedition by Arizona, in 1922, the future writer began to gather the necessary materials for which would be its first extensive narration, published in 1929 under the title of Laughing boy (the boy who laughs), and awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize the following year.

The success achieved by this opera prima encouraged La Farge continue to cultivate the literary creation, although it never stopped being interested in his anthropological studies. Little by little, the purely theoretical work that had been developing in this area yielded step their gradual involvement in the political defense of the indigenous people of North America. Their struggles and social demands led him to assume, in 1930, the Eastern Association of Indian Affairs (Eastern Association of Indian Affairs), and shortly after entering the Association on American Indian Affairs (Association of American Indian Affairs), whose presidency he/she held for a quarter of a century. Aware that the idealized perspective of the life of the Indian who had expressed in his novel Laughing boy was not the most appropriate to defend strongly the integration of natives in the contemporary white society, decided to launch, with the support of such associations, several campaigns of denunciation that blamed the white society of the progressive annihilation of indigenous peoples.

Its effort in this area got some achievements of the utmost importance to these peoples, such as the right to maintain their tribal and territorial units as well as some economic advantages which helped them adapt to the difficult competitive environment in modern capitalist society.

Among works of essay and fiction, devoted more than twenty books to this theme, although he/she never managed to revalidate the success of critics and audiences with Laughing boy. This forced him to live in a very volatile economic situation for many years, with frequent address changes motivated by its financial fragility. Finally, in 1947 he/she could settle permanently in Santa Fe (in the State of New Mexico), in where he/she remained until the end of his days. He/She died in the Hospital of Bataan (Albuquerque, New Mexico) during the summer of 1963.

Oliver Hazard Perry La Farge was married twice. In 1929 he/she married nuptials for the first time with Wänden E. Mathews, who bore him two children. Divorced in 1937, he/she returned to join together in marriage, at the end of two years, with Consuelo Pendaries and Baca, with whom he/she had a third stem.


Aside from his essay Tribes and temples (tribes and temples, 1927) and his novel Laughing boy (1929) - where he/she narrated the vicissitudes of emotional and social problems of a navajo Indian young-, La Farge published some extensive narratives of great interest, which include the titled The sparks fly upward (the ash flies upwards, 1931), Long Pennant (long Pennant1933), The enemy gods (the gods enemies, 1937), The copper pot (1942)

Also published books of short stories All the young men (all young men, 1935), A pause in the desert (a pause in the desert, 1957), and The door in the wall (the door in the wall, published posthumously in 1965). His memoirs appeared in 1945 under the title of Raw material (commodity raw materials, 1945).