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FIVE in BLOOM: Latin American Authors

by Mollie Weisenfeld

This collection of Bloomers was inspired by my reading of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I wanted to explore more in the world of Latin American writers. These authors have wide-ranging international experience as the children of government officials, as professors, as immigrants, as those impacted by coups—completed or attempted. They are multi-lingual artists and translators of their diasporic experiences.

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Gabriela Alemán was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1968. Her father was an Ecuadorian diplomat and she is the granddaughter of Ecuadorian poet Hugo Alemán. She spent much of her childhood traveling to Geneva and Paraguay with her parents prior to their settling in Ecuador. Alemán has a master’s in Latin American Literature and a PhD in Latin American Cinema. She taught at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Tulane. She also studied translation and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Film, Video, and Radio Studies.

Alemán’s first novel in English appeared as a 2018 translation by Dick Cluster. Poso Wells is a “noir, feminist eco-thriller” published by City Lights and includes fragments of poetry and newspaper articles in addition to the narrative text. She was 50 years old at publication.

Alemán is also a journalist and won an award in 2014 for her reportage. She has written plays, short stories, and a radio series that aired in Spain. She lives in Ecuador.

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Adriana Lisboa was also born in Rio de Janeiro, in 1970. She writes in Brazilian Portuguese and her works are translated into English. Lisboa graduated the Federal State University of Rio de Janeiro with a BFA in Music and has an MFA in Brazilian Literature and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Rio de Janeiro State University. She was a visiting scholar in Kyoto, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas. Most recently she was a writer in residence at UC Berkeley.

Prior to launching her writing career, Lisboa worked as a musician, singing Brazilian Jazz music in France and then as a professional flautist and music instructor in Brazil. She translates fiction, poetry, and nonfiction into Portuguese from English, French, and Spanish.

Lisboa’s range is broad and she has published novels, poetry, short stories, and books for children. Her first book to appear in English was the novel Symphony in White (Sinfonio em branco), translated by Sarah Green and published by Texas Tech University Press a decade after its laudatory launch in Brazil. She was 40 years old at the time. Her most recent work into English will be a poetry collection, titled in Spanish Deriva. Lisboa resides in the US.

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Isabel Allende was born in 1942 in Lima, Peru to Chilean parents. Her father was a secretary at the Chilean embassy, but her parents divorced when Allende was three years old. Isabel and her mother returned to Chile, where she was raised for a few years in her grandparents’ home. Her mother remarried, to a diplomat, and they lived in Bolivia, then Lebanon, before returning to Chile.

Allende graduated high school at age sixteen. She worked with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in Santiago and Brussels. In 1973, her uncle, Chilean president Salvador Allende, was assassinated during the Pinochet coup, and she and her husband of fourteen years fled to Venezuela with their children.

Allende’s time in exile and the news that her grandfather was dying inspired her debut, The House of Spirits, published in its first English translation in 1985 by Knopf. She was 43 years old at publication. Allende began by writing a letter to her grandfather detailing their family’s history. In time the letter spun out into a novel about four generations of the Trueba family in Chile. Allende never sent the letter.

Allende divorced in 1987 and married again in 1988, though the couple separated in 2015. Around the time of her second marriage, Allende quit her job as a school administrator to write full-time. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and has received numerous awards, including the National Book Award, the Grand Prix, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1996, Allende started the Isabel Allende Foundation in honor of her daughter Paula, who died at age twenty-nine.

Arriving in English in 2020 from Penguin Random House, Allende’s next novel, titled A Long Petal of the Sea, is an epic story of two young people who flee the 1930s Spanish Civil War and end up living in exile in Chile.

Arriving in English in 2020 from Penguin Random House, Allende’s next novel, titled A Long Petal of the Sea, is an epic story of two young people who flee the 1930s Spanish Civil War and end up living in exile in Chile.

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Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York City to Dominican-American parents, who moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was an infant. The family remained there until, when Alvarez was ten years old, her father’s involvement in a failed plot to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo forced them to flee back to the US. Alvarez endured racism at her Catholic school in Brooklyn, as one of the few Latin American students. She used her writing as an emotional escape. Alvarez earned her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, where she is now a writer in residence, and her master’s from Syracuse University. She lives in Vermont with her partner, Bill Eichner. They founded Alta Garcia, a center dedicated to environmental sustainability, literacy, and education.

Alvarez’s first novel was the now-classic How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, published in 1991 by when she was 41 years old. The semi-autobiographical story follows four sisters as their family flees the failed coup in the Dominican Republic and resettles in Brooklyn, gradually taking on American ways and forsaking their Spanish. Her upcoming novel, Afterlife, will be available from Algonquin in 2020. Alvarez received the Hispanic Heritage Literature Award, the National Medal of the Arts, and many other tokens of recognition for her contribution to Latin American literature.

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Yuri Herrera was born in Mexico in 1970. He studied political science at the Nacional Autonomous Universidad de Mexico and received his master’s in creative writing at the University of Texas as well as a PhD in Hispanic Language and Literature at UC Berkeley. He is the editor of a literary magazine, El perro, and a Mellow Postdoctoral Fellow at Tulane.

Herrera’s first novel translated into English by Lisa Dillman, Signs Preceding the End of the World, was published in 2015 by And Other Stories. It won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Herrera was 45 years old. His Spanish-language work has won the Premio Binacional de Novela Border of Words award and the Premio Otras Voces, Otros Ámbitos award.

Herrera’s most recent work to appear in English is a short story (one of six) in the anthology Unrepentant Times, a collection of work by Mexican authors, revolving around the themes of joy and violence. The book was published by katakana editions in 2018.

Bloom Post End

Mollie Weisenfeld is an Assistant Editorf at Hachette Books. Her poetry has been published in Folio, Lilith, and Guildscript, and her children’s story was published in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. Visit her Facebook @MollieWeisenfeldAuthor for updates on her mocha addiction, worldwide quest for the perfect writing café, and attempts to write everything except the next Great American Novel. Also Twitter @TheMollieJean

homepage image via qz.com

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