Augusto Roa Bastos enjoyed a reputable career as a journalist, screenwriter, and professor. In his youth, both his mother and uncle exposed him to philosophical literature that would influence his writing. As a teenager, he enlisted in the Chaco War as a hospital orderly. There he witnessed the atrocities of combat and declared himself a pacifist. After the conflict, he became an outspoken dissenter of dictatorship and wrote several articles against two military governments. The results of his writings forced him to live in exile for 29 years. Although his displacement brought him much distress, his writings gained him a nine-month travel fellowship from the British Council. The fellowship allowed him the opportunity to develop program material about Latin America for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In addition, he acted as a journalist for a Paraguay newspaper. In the evening, he experimented with magical realism, a writing style that fictionalizes events by using metaphorical examples to describe actual settings. At the beginning of his career, the author penned several poems and numerous plays that he never published. However, years later, his publication of, ‘Hijo de hombre’ (Son of Man), earned him admiration and success. Even so, his book ‘Yo, el Supremo’ (I, the Supreme) is considered his masterpiece
Childhood & Early Life
Augusto Roa Bastos was born on June 13, 1917 in Iturbe Paraguay, the only child of Lucio Roa and Lucia Bastos.
Lucio Roa worked as a manager for a sugar plantation. His son described Lucio as a strict authoritarian, which resulted in the young boy’s resentment of power.
Lucia Bastos enjoyed singing and reading. She was the first to expose her son to William Shakespeare and other influential writers.
In 1925, he lived with his uncle, Hermenegildo Roa, a Catholic priest in Asunción, who paid for his education. Hermenegildo also introduced his nephew to his vast library that contained books from the Enlightenment era.
In 1932, at age 15, he volunteered as a hospital assistant during the Chaco War. His interaction with wounded and dying soldiers moved him deeply and thus, dominated his writing throughout his career.
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From 1940 to 1941, Bastos wrote numerous poems and plays. Even though he never published this work, some of his plays did come to life on stage.
In 1942, he published his first book of poetry, ‘El Ruiseñor De La Aurora’ (The Nightingale of Dawn). Later he dismissed the book as an imitation of other writers.
In 1944 while under the British travel fellowship, he studied journalism and wrote for ‘El Pais’, an Asunción paper.
During his stay in Argentina, he penned scripts and adapted his writings for the movie industry. Then in 1947, he became a music publisher and translated Guaraní songs to Spanish.
In 1953, while serving as an attaché for the Argentine government, his collection of short stories thrived with the publication of ‘El trueno entre las hojas’ (Thunder Among the Leaves).
During 1959 to 1964, he wrote the screenplays for, ‘La Boda’, ‘La sangre y la semilla’ and ‘Alias Gardelito’, which contributed to the ‘Nuevo Cine movement’.
By 1960, he published his first major novel, ‘Hijo de hombre’, which earned him an invitation to teach literature at the ‘National University of Rosario’.
The same year, his literature received notoriety outside of Paraguay with the publication of his pamphlet, ‘El naranjal ardiente’ (The Burning Orange Grove).
The publication of ‘Yo, el Supremo’ in 1974 launched Roa Bastos to the forefront of Latin American authors.
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From 1976 to 1985, he taught Guaraní and Spanish at the ‘University of Toulouse’, in the South of France. After he retired, the eminent writer continued to teach courses although he remained focused solely on his writing.
Roa Bastos became a renowned member of the Buenos Aires literary circle. The body of his literature encompasses 25 different translations and covers 60 years and several genres.
‘Hijo de hombre,' published in 1960, portrays a Christ-like figure who sacrifices his life for the good of the people. Roa Bastos adapted this story into a movie, which earned him critical acclaim and awards.
‘Yo, el Supremo' published in 1974, dramatizes the life of Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. The book fictionalizes a private journal that notates the daily musings of a dictator, including family stories and historical records.
Awards & Achievements
Although unpublished, his first novel attempt, ‘Fulgencio Miranda’, won the ‘Ateneo Paraguayo Prize’, in 1941.
In 1959, the book ‘Hijo de hombre’ won the ‘Losada’ prize. A year later, the screenplay received an award at the ‘Argentine Instituto de Cinematografia’.
In 1971, he received another fellowship with the ‘Guggenheim Foundation for Creative Arts’.
In 1989, this prolific writer won the ‘Premio Cervantes Prize’ for his entire body of work. He donated his ‘Cervantes’ award money to buy books for the Paraguayan people.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1947, Stroessner took control of Paraguay after a failed coup in which Bastos participated. While in Argentina, the writer described his exile as depressing. Not until the fall of the Stroessner’s government will he return to his homeland.
In 1974, a militarized dictatorship seized Argentina and his novel, ‘Yo, el supremo’, appeared on a list of seditious books.
In 1980, he married his third wife, Iris Gimenéz, a specialist of ancient languages and cultures of Mexico. Iris is the mother of his three children.
The literary genius suffered from a heart attack which eventually became the cause of his death on April 26, 2005 in Asunción, Paraguay.
During his time with the British travel fellowship, he interviewed Charles de Gaulle, an opportunity the author notes as one of his prize achievements.
Even though he denounced dictators, in 2003, during his treatment in Cuba for his heart condition, he befriended Fidel Castro.