Literature in Puerto Rico  has historically revolved around national identity and the tension of being U.S. citizens in a Latino culture. Its literary heritage began to emerge in the mid-1800s, and among its earliest notable works was El Gibaro (1849) by Manuel Alonso y Pacheco. Part prose, part poetry, El Gibaro celebrated the simple life of Puerto Rico’s farmers, called jíbaros.
But the first writer to receive literary prominence was Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (1826–1882) of San Juan , a playwright and abolitionist who wrote many works, including biographical pieces on important Puerto Ricans such as Spanish admiral Ramón Power y Giralt, artist José Campeche, and the pirate Roberto Cofresí.
One of Puerto Rico’s early writers who was revered throughout the Caribbean and South America was Eugenio María de Hostos (1839–1903), a writer and educator who led civic-reform movements throughout Latin America. His seminal work is Peregrinación de Bayoán (1863), a work of fiction that illustrated injustices under the Spanish regime and called for independence from Spain.
After Puerto Rico  came under control of the United States, a new crop of writers, called the Generation of ’98, began to flourish. Fueled primarily by politics, several writers of this era combined the art of poetry with the craft of journalism. José de Diego (1867–1918) of Aguadilla and Luís Muñoz Rivera (1859–1916) of Barranquitas  were significant poets and journalists who fueled the island’s independence movement with their words. Diego, considered a precursor of the modernist movement in Puerto Rico, produced several books of poetry, including Pomarrosas, Jovillos, Cantos de Rebeldia, and Cantos del Pitirre. Rivera’s most significant work was a book of poems called Tropicales.
One of the most important writers of this era was Antonio S. Pedriera (1899–1939), whose work Insularismo examined how U.S. political control had affected Puerto Rican culture in the first 35 years.
In the 1940s, there was a mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States—primarily New York City—and the island’s literature took a significant shift reflecting that phenomenon. Suddenly there was an output of work by Puerto Rican immigrants who found themselves grappling with issues of dual identity. In 1951, Playwright René Marqués (1919–1974) of Arecibo wrote his most critically acclaimed play, The Oxcart, which chronicled the mass exodus of Puerto Ricans to New York City. Also noteworthy is A Puerto Rican in New York (1961) by Jesús Colón (1918–1974), who was born in Cayey  but grew up in the United States.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the birth of a literary movement called Nuyorican literature. Nuyorican is the name given to New Yorkers of Puerto Rican heritage. Some of the most notable writers of this movement were Piri Thomas, author of Down These Mean Streets (1967), and Nicholasa Mohr, who wrote Nilda (1973), both of which dealt with life in the urban barrios of New York City. By the 1980s, the Nuyorican movement exploded on the spoken-word scene with work that had a strong political message. New York’s Nuyorican Poets Café was and still is the epicenter of this movement, providing a forum for such celebrated poets as Ponce-born Pedro Pietri (1944–2004), for whom a street in New York City was recently named, and New York–born Felipe Luciano, founder of the Young Lords activist group. Also once a regular at Nuyorican Poets Café was Gurabo-born Miguel Piñero (1946–1988), who was a playwright and actor. His play Short Eyes, about life in prison, won the New York Drama Critics Award for Best American Play in 1974. His life was depicted in a film starring Benjamin Bratt called Piñero.
Puerto Rican literature continues to flourish today thanks to many contemporary writers living on the island and in the United States, including poet Victor Hernández Cruz and novelists Esmeralda Santiago, who wrote When I Was Puerto Rican (1993) and El Amante Turco (2005), and Ernesto Quiñonez, author of Bodega Dreams (2000) and Chango’s Fire (2004), among others.
For an excellent survey of Puerto Rican literature, read Boricuas: The Influential Puerto Rican Writings, an Anthology (Ballantine, 1995), featuring excerpts of works by some of the writers mentioned here, as well as many others.