Nélida Piñon, Provocative Brazilian Novelist, Is Dead at 85

Nélida Piñon, a pioneering Brazilian author whose provocative writing style has won some of the world’s most prestigious awards and made history by becoming the first woman to chair the literary academy of country, died on December 17 in Lisbon. She was 85.

Her secretary and longtime friend, Karla Vasconcelos da Silva, said the cause was complications from the emergency surgery she underwent after battling stomach cancer.

Miss Piñon is considered by many to be one of Brazil’s greatest contemporary writers, admired for her fluency in Portuguese and her playful approach to literary form.

“Literature opened the door to heaven and hell for me,” Ms. Piñon told a Portuguese radio station in 2021, referring to the ups and downs of the writing process. “I have always lived with high intensity. I don’t mind loving Portuguese deeply, it’s my life’s greatest purpose.”

Her uncanny use of religious symbols and her exploration of sexuality and eroticism is seen as bold in deeply Catholic Brazil, ruled by a repressive military dictatorship for until 1985. And her experimentation with baroque and surrealism set her apart from most other Brazilian writers. her time.

Ms. Piñon has written more than two dozen books, including the novel “House of Passion” (1972) and her most famous work, “The Republic of Dreams” (1984), which was inspired by Her family’s emigration to Brazil from Galicia, an autonomous region of Spain. She also wrote short stories, memoirs, essays and speeches.

From 1996 to 1997, Ms. Piñon was president of the Brazilian Academy of Literature, a cultural institution that serves as the country’s main body for the Portuguese language. She was the first woman to hold that position.

“She was a pioneer in many ways,” said Isabel Vincent, an author and investigative journalist whose friendship with Ms. Piñon spans four decades. “And she is aware of the pioneering things she is doing.”

Piñon’s work has won many awards at home and abroad, including the prestigious Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, considered the Spanish equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She is also a two-time winner of Brazil’s top literary award, the Jabuti Prize.

Her writing was first brought to English-speaking readers in the 1970s by Gregory Rabassaa renowned translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature, who has also worked with the likes of Gabriel García Márquez.

Although the global reach of Ms. Piñon’s work has never been matched by that of prominent Latin American contemporaries such as García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa or Isabel Allende‌, her work has It was well received by the public outside of Brazil and has been translated into about 30 languages.

“A wonderful work, a literary work of high caliber,” Publishers Weekly wrote of “The Republic of Dreams” in 1991. “The rich Amazonian imagination of the Piñon took her to her. into the genius category.”

Nélida Cuiñas Piñon was born on May 3, 1937 in the Vila Isabel neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Her father, Lino Piñón Muíños, a merchant, was a Galician immigrant; Her mother, Olivia Carmen Cuíñas Piñón, a homemaker, was born in Brazil to Galician parents.

As a child, Miss Piñon was an avid reader, fascinated by the world of fantasy storytelling. She started writing very early, selling her handwritten stories to her father and other family members for a few dollars each.

“I want to be a writer,” she told Brazilian newspaper Estadão in 2021. “I don’t know how or why, I just know I love stories. On top of that, the impossible stories and, who knows, the illogical ones. Because the absence of logic gives the story more power.”

When Miss Piñon was 10 years old, her family moved to a rural village in Galicia, where her father had grown up. Living there for two years, she cemented her ties to her family legacy, which she would refer to later in her work, frequently writing about ideas of belonging and ancestor.

After her family returned to Brazil, Ms. Piñon continued her studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, where she earned a degree in journalism. She began her career writing newspapers and magazines.

“The Republic of Dreams,” published in 1984, is Piñon’s most famous novel.Credit…University of Texas Press

In 1961, she published her first book, “Guia-mapa de Gabriel Arcanjo,” a novel that mimics the lengthy dialogue between an archangel and a woman who wants to live outside the Catholic faith. governor. But it was not until the “Republic of Dreams” more than two decades later that Ms. Piñon’s status in the Brazilian literary world was consolidated.

Described by friends as energetic and restless, Ms. Piñon has traveled extensively and spent time living in Europe and the United States, although Rio de Janeiro remains her home base. She taught at the University of Miami from 1990 to 2003, and was a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Columbia, and Georgetown.

In recent years, she has spent a lot of time in Portugal, researching the last novel she published in her life, “Someday I will go to Sagres” (2020), the book that She writes by hand because her eyesight is rapidly fading.

Miss Piñon relies on meticulous research when writing her novels. According to Vincent, when she wrote “Voice of the Desert,” an erotic retelling of the “One Thousand and One Nights,” she read the Quran twice.

Her artistic tastes are varied. A lover of Western films, she enjoys revisiting films like “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” When she writes, it’s usually while listening to Wagner’s opera.

Piñon struck up a conversation with nearly everyone she met, forever seeking a deeper understanding of human nature, Vincent said in a phone interview.

“She is curious about people; Everyone is in love with her,” she said. “It’s part of her mission, to try to understand how people think, to try to understand human psychology.”

Miss Piñon had no immediate survivors. She has never been married or had children, choosing to focus on her writing work, Ms. da Silva said. A well-known figure in literary elite both at home and abroad, she considers Clarice Lispecter, Jorge Amado, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag to be her close friends over the years.

“She used to say, ‘Literature owes me nothing. I owe everything to literature,’” Ms. da Silva said.

Towards the end of her life, Miss Piñon began transcribing her work on a tape recorder. Ms. da Silva transcribed her words and printed them in a large font so that Ms. Piñon could correct her prose.

Ms. Piñon wrote one last book before her death, slated for publication in the spring of 2023.

Ms. da Silva said: “She said goodbye to this book. “It was her farewell to the world.”


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