Part of the second largest Island in the Caribbean and with a diverse culture defined by Spanish, French and African influences, the Dominican Republic occupies two thirds of Hispaniola, along with the former French colony of Haiti in the west. Previously the home of the indigenous Arawak speaking Taino tribes, Hispaniola is well known as the site of the first European colonies in the New World, which Christopher Columbus founded during his voyage in 1492. He named it ‘La Isla Española’, which later became Hispaniola, and the city of Santo Domingo was anointed the first Spanish capital of the New World, and still remains the largest populated city in the Caribbean. The Taino population was gradually reduced in number following colonial rule, and the arrival of African slaves to work on plantations in 1503.
French troops seized control of the western part of the Island, known as Haiti, after it was ceded to them by Spain in 1697. However a slave revolt led to the island being taken over by Black African American slave workers, and renaming the area as ‘Ayiti’ meaning mother earth. Led by the Dominican revolutionary Juan Pablo Duarte, the eastern part of the island came to be known as the Dominican Republic in 1844, when it was seized from the Haitian rulers of Hispaniola. Preceding the rule of President Rafael Trujillo, the Dominic Republic was occupied by the United States between 1916 and 1924. Trujillo acquired power in 1930 leading a repressive, totalitarian regime in the country, and was responsible for the death of 20,000 civilians. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, and democratic elections were soon held. Following decades of social and political unrest, the Dominican Republic still remains one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean.
Notable writers to emerge from the Dominican Republic include the author Junot Diaz. Born in Santo Domingo, his critically acclaimed novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. The Dominican-American novelist Julia Alvarez also writes about post-colonial Dominican experience in the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991).