Carmen Lyra (January 15, 1887, San José, Costa Rica – May 13, 1949) was the pseudonym of the first prominent female Costa Rican writer, born Maria Isabel Carvajal. She was politically active in the Communist Party of Costa Rica, and was one of the earliest writers to criticise the dominance of the fruit companies.
Her first novel En una silla de ruedas (In a Wheelchair), in 1918, portrays national customs and manners through the eyes of a paralysed boy who grows up to become an artist, with a strong dose of sentimentalism and intimations of the bohemian life of San Jose. A collection of folk tales Cuentos De Mi Tia Panchita (Tales of My Aunt Panchita) was published in 1920 and has remained continuously in print; the entirety of this collection appears in English translation in Horan's "The Subversive Voice of Carmen Lyra."
Carmen Lyra was a notable educator, working first as a nurse, then as a journalist, co-founding the Centro Germinal for evening classes in 1910 and starting the first Montessori pre-school in Latin America in 1926.
She had a major role in organizing women schoolteachers to burn down the building that housed the official newspaper and to overthrow the dictatorship of Costa Rica's Tinoco brothers in 1916, after which she was given a scholarship to study abroad, at the Sorbonne, in France. She is credited with translating the Communist Manifesto into Spanish in 1920. As Costa Rican politics, under pressure from the United States, moved to the right, she and other leftists were dismissed from their teaching posts in 1933. She went on to take a leading role in the banana workers' strike of 1934, writing Bananos y Hombres (Bananas and Men) and touring Costa Rica with a radical puppet theater.
In 1948, she was forced into political exile in Mexico after the Costa Rican Civil War and died there. The Costa Rica Legislative Assembly awarded her the honour of Benemérita de la Cultura Nacional in 1976.
As of 2010 Carmen Lyra is depicted in the twenty thousand colones bill.