Corretjer was born in Ciales, Puerto Rico, into a politically active pro-independence family. His parents were Diego Corretjer Hernández and María Brígida Montes González. His father and uncles were involved in the "Ciales Uprising" of August 13, 1898, against the United States occupation. As a lad, he would often accompany his father and uncles to political rallies. He received his primary and secondary education in his hometown. In 1920, when he was only 12 years old, Corretjer wrote his first poem "Canto a Ciales" (My Song to Ciales). In 1924, Corretjer published his first booklet of poems.
Corretjer joined the "Literary Society of Jose Gautier Benitez", which later would be renamed the "Nationalist Youth", while he was still in elementary school. When he was in 8th grade, he organized a student protest against the United States in his town. He was expelled from his local high school for organizing a strike to have it renamed for José de Diego. Corretjer was then sent to school in the town of Vega Baja.
In 1927, he moved to San Juan and worked as a journalist foe the newspaper "La Democracia". He later moved to the city of Ponce where he published his first two books of poetry: "Agüeybaná" (1932) and "Ulises" (1933). Throughout his life, he wrote for various newspapers and publications in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the United States.
In 1935, Corretjer travelled to Cuba and joined an anti-Batista group whose aim was to overthrow the U.S.-backed Cuban dictator. He also traveled to Haiti and to the Dominican Republic looking for international support for Puerto Rico's independence movement. In 1936, Corretjer met and became friends with the nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos. He was named Secretary General of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party soon after. Corretjer, Campos and fellow poet Clemente Soto Vélez were arrested. Corretjer was sent to "La Princesa" prison for one year in 1937, because he refused to hand over to the American authorities the Book of Acts of the Nationalists Party, as result of his political beliefs. Later that year, Campos and Corretjer were accused of "Conspiring against the Government of the United States in Puerto Rico" and even though a local jury found then innocent, the ruling was overturned and later they were found guilty and sent to the US Federal prison at Atlanta, Georgia.
On October 30, 1950, the Nationalists staged uprisings in the towns of Ponce, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Utuado (Utuado Uprising), San Juan (Nationalist attack of San Juan), and Jayuya (Jayuya Uprising). Corretjer was among the many nationalists arrested.
The themes and inspiration for his poems and essays were devoted to his defense of his native land. Corretjer's epic poem "Alabanza en la Torre de Ciales" (Praise in the tower of Ciales) (1953), is considered one of the representative works of the "neocriollismo" movement and has had a strong influence on many later poets. In Corretjer's poetry the Taino is no longer an idealized figure but allegory of revolutionary legacy. In the prologue of "Yerba bruja", Corretjer states it was not his intent to "dig up a mummy" but to bring to light "the splendor of the indigenous imagination that lives on in our own."
His poetry spans several decades and transcended any particular literary movement. The Puerto Rican Athenaeum awarded him the honorary title of Puerto Rico National Poet.
Selected list of works
"Amor a Puerto Rico" (1937) (Love of Puerto Rico),
"Cantico de Guerra" (1937) (Song of War),
"El Leñero" (1944) (Timberman),
"Tierra Nativa" (1951) (Native Land),
"Yerba Bruja" (1957) (Bewitched Grass)
Puerto Rican musician Roy Brown Ramírez set many of Corretjer's poems to music, particularly "En la vida todo es ir" (later versioned by artists such as Joan Manuel Serrat, Mercedes Sosa, Antonio Cabán Vale, Haciendo Punto en Otro Son, Fiel A La Vega, Lucecita Benítez and others), "Sal a caminar", "Diana de Guilarte" and "Oubao-Moín".
"Juicio Historico" (Historic Trial)
"La Revolucion de Lares" (The Revolution of Lares)
"Nuestra Bandera" (Our Flag)
"Albizu Campos and the Ponce massacre" (1965)
"Imagen De Borinquen, IV Yerba Bruja", (1970)
"Aguinaldo escarlata", (1974)
"Aguinaldo escarlata", (1974)
"Prisionero 70495", 1976
"Pausa Para El Amor", (1976)
"La lucha por la independencia de Puerto Rico", (1977)
The "Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña" (The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture) published a collection of his poems in 1976. Corretjer died in San Juan, Puerto Rico on January 19, 1985. The government named a high school in Ciales after Corretjer thereby honoring him.