Faces & TracesClarice Lispector, an influential and original Brazilian writer [Archives:2008/1164/Culture]

June 16 2008
Photo from archived article: photos/1164/culture2_1
Photo from archived article: photos/1164/culture2_1
Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Faces & Traces is a cultural series of concise biographies of local or international famous and obscure personalities in fields such as literature, arts, culture and religion in which these individuals contribute affirmatively. It is a short journey in contemporary history, attempting to tackle numerous effective characters in human civilization.

Brazilian novelist, short story writer, newspaper columnist and translator Clarice Lispector was born Dec. 10, 1920 in southern Ukraine's Chechelnik village. Her family suffered terribly during the unstable political situations following the dissolution of the Russian Empire in 1917.

In 1920, they eventually managed to escape to Bucharest, Romania, where they were issued passports for Brazil. They arrived at Maceio, an Atlantic Ocean seaport and the capital of Alagoas state.

Lispector spent her childhood at Racife, capital of Pernambuco state, attending Joao Barbalho Elementary School before entering junior high in 1932. Her family moved to Rio de Janeiro when she was 14.

Lispector eventually enrolled in Brazil University's college of law in 1939. While still in law school in 1940, she began working as a journalist, first at the official government press service, Ag'ncia Nacional (the Brazilian News Agency), and then at A Noite (The Night) newspaper.

Lispector graduated from law school and was granted Brazilian citizenship in the same year, 1943. That same year, she also married her colleague, Maury Valente, who was embarking upon his career as a Brazilian diplomat.

Lispector left Brazil in mid-1944 bound for Naples, Italy, where her husband was posted at the Brazilian consulate. While there, she worked at the hospital, taking care of wounded Brazilian troops fighting against the Nazis alongside the Allies.

Lispector then moved to Bern, Switzerland with her husband in 1946 when he was posted to the Brazilian Embassy there. After leaving Switzerland in 1949 and spending nearly a year in Rio de Janeiro, Lispector next accompanied her husband to Torquay, England.

She returned to Rio in 1952, working under the pseudonym Teresa Quadros at the short-lived newspaper, Com”cio (Rally). That same year, Lispector's family moved to Washington in the United States, living there for several years.

In the late 1950s, although she did perfectly what she had to as a diplomat's wife, Lispector found herself becoming discontent with the diplomatic milieu; consequently, she left her husband in mid-1959 and returned to Rio de Janeiro, where she would spend the rest of her life.

Back in Brazil, she struggled financially, working as a journalist at the Correio da Manha (Morning Gazette) newspaper. In the early 1960s, Lispector had her own column in the Diario da Noite (Evening Daily News) newspaper and began writing a weekly column for the Jornal do Brasil in 1967.

During this time, she intensified her journalistic activities, also conducting interviews for the glossy magazine, Manchete (Headline). However, at the end of 1973, Lispector was fired from the Jornal do Brasil, which put her under increasing financial pressure. Accordingly, she began painting and increased her translating activities.

Lispector is widely considered the 20th century's most original and innovative female Brazilian writer. Her literary works include nine novels, eight short story collections, four children's works and translations of several classic literary works.

The primary importance of Lispector's works is that they are a first definitive step in women's search for a female voice in Latin America. Her writings also reveal a constant preoccupation with the interconnectedness between literature, ethics, language and gender.

Lispector published her first novel, “Perto do Coracao Selvagem” (Near the Wild Heart), in December 1943. Marked by an intense focus on interior emotional states, the book won the prestigious Graca Aranha Prize in 1944, in addition to being awarded the best debut novel of 1943 by the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Her second novel was 1946's “O Lustre” (The Chandelier), while her third, “A Cidade Sitiada” (The Besieged City, 1948), chronicled the story of a female protagonist and the growth of her town from a small settlement to a large city.

However, Lispector's most famous short story collection is “Lacos de Fam”lia” (Family Ties, 1960). A compilation of 13 short stories, it provides a comprehensive picture of Lispector's private world of deep psychological complexities.

“A Maca No Escuro” (Apple in the Dark, 1961) was her fourth novel and the first to be translated into English, also receiving the 1962 Carmen Dolores Barbosa Prize.

Among Lispector's other renowned novels are 1964's “A Paixao Segundo G.H.” (The Passion According to G.H.) and 1973's “cgua Viva” (The Stream of Life). Her last novel, “A Hora da Estrela” (The Hour of The Star, 1977), focused directly and explicitly on poverty and marginality in Brazil.

Published posthumously in 1984, “A Descoberta do Mundo” (Discovering the World), contains Lispector's so-called “cronicas” or columns she wrote for Jornal do Brasil. The volume comprises a miscellaneous collection of maxims, reminiscences, interviews, travel observations, serialized stories and brief essays somewhat loosely defined as 'chronicles,' a genre particular to Brazil.

Lispector published her first children's book, “O Misterio do Coelho Pensante” (The Mystery of the Thinking Rabbit), in 1967. Her other children's literature includes “The Woman Who Killed the Fish” (1968) and “Laura's Intimate Life” (1974).

In 1976, Lispector was awarded a prize by the Federal District Cultural Foundation for her entire body of work.

Lispector died of cancer in Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 9, 1977. However, during her lifetime, she was able to awaken Brazilian literature from a depressing and degrading lethargy, elevating it to a level of universal perfection. In a television interview, she once stated, “When I'm not writing, I'm dead.”