How Venezuela’s Oil Riches Fueled a Literary Explosion

In the Mid-20th Century, Writers Seized on the Conflicts Laid Bare by Petroleum's Power to Reshape Society

On December 14, 1922, a gusher of petroleum was discovered in Zulia, a rural area of western Venezuela. For nine days the oil showered onto the surrounding farmland, scaring the locals who thought it was an ill omen. Whether or not that was true, it was certainly a sign that Venezuela’s entanglement with oil—economically, politically, and culturally—would change the country forever.

Ever since, writers and intellectuals have spilled ink trying to understand how the oil changed the path of Venezuela, not to mention Venezuelans themselves. One of the first was Arturo …