Turning to another important author in Brazilian history, this week we look at Rachel de Queiroz, who would have celebrated her 102nd birthday yesterday.
Rachel de Queiroz was born in 1910 in Fortaleza, capital of the Northeastern state of Ceará. Her father was a judge, and on her mother’s side, she was a not-too-distant relative of José de Alencar, author of O Guarani and one of the most famous of the Brazilian romanticists of the nineteenth century. After a few years in Rio de Janeiro and Belém in the state of Pará in the North, her family returned to Fortaleza, where at the age of 15 she completed her secondary schooling as a schoolteacher. In 1927, under the pen name Rita de Queluz, she sent off a piece critical of a contest to the local newspaper, O Ceará, supported; the editor, impressed with her style, published it, and thus began her journalistic career. In the newspaper, she regularly published poems, chronicles, and commentaries.
In 1930, at the young age of 20, de Queiroz gained national fame with her first novel, O Quinze. The work drew on her experiences as a child in the northeast during the drought of 1915 and her memories of her family’s suffering, and the novel’s realistic portrayal of poverty and society in the Northeast made a deep impact on the wealthier southeast and came to serve as an early example of the ways in which realism in Brazilian fiction could address and raise awareness of social struggles in different parts of the country.
In 1932, she married poet José Auto da Cruz Oliveira; that year, she also published her second novel, João Miguel. She also began to affiliate with leftists and communists, as well as with other realist authors like Graciliano Ramos whose work chronicled the suffering and poverty of the Northeast and embraced explicit and implicit political messages of social justice. These ties led police to label her a “communist agitator.” By 1937, with the emergence of Getúlio Vargas‘ repressive right-wing Estado Novo, she was accused of being a communist herself, and some of her novels were publicly burned, as were works by Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, and others.
By 1939, she had separated from her husband and relocated to Rio de Janeiro, where she continued to write novels even while working for newspapers like Correio da Manhã and O Cruzeiro, where her commentaries and works were published into the 1970s. She continued to produce fiction and other works at a fast pace; in 1953, she published her first play, “Lampião,” and in 1957, at the still relatively-young age of 47, she was awarded the Machado de Assis prize for her works. Nor did she limit herself to her own works; a voracious reader, she began translating renowned novels from Europe and the US into Portuguese, including works by Dotstoyevsky, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Pearl Buck, Honoré de Balzac, Jack London, and Agatha Christie, among others.
This is part of an ongoing series – other posts have included Clarice Lispector and Gilberto Gil. My thanks to David McKenzie, who alerted me to the fact that this past week marked 102 years since her birth. You can check out his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.