Who is Isabel Allende?
Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende is the prolific author of twenty books which have been translated into numerous languages and sold over 65 million copies. Her career has spanned three decades. In addition to writing novels, she has written short fiction, plays, and stories for children, as well as authored numerous articles in magazines and journals. She began her writing career as a journalist but became renowned after the publication of her first novel. Two of her novels have been made into feature films, with options to film three others in the works. Allende has been a highly influential voice in Latin American literature, often providing an important feminine perspective on the world. Her writing is generally characterized as "magical realism," a genre that combines realistic writing with surprising elements of magic and fantasy. Her work is sometimes compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous Colombian novelist known for his work in the magical realist genre. However, her voice is also considered distinct, with a style that blends concern for the inner, personal lives of her characters and their physical and political contexts. Her own exile from Chile has informed much of her writing through the years.
Childhood & Early Life
Isabel Allende's was born Isabel Allende Llona, on 2nd August, 1942. Her father Tomas worked at the embassy in Chile and was the first cousin of Chilean president Salvador Allende. Salvador was president of Chile for three years.
Allende was one of three children. She and her mother and siblings moved from Peru to Santiago, Chile in 1945, when Allende was a little girl.
In the 1950s, Allende's mother remarried. Her stepfather, Ramon Huidobro, became the Chilean ambassador to Argentina when she was a teenager. Because of her stepfather's diplomatic career, her family moved often. Her education included private schooling and homeschooling.
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She began her career as a journalist. She was a co-founding editor of the women's magazine 'Paula.' From 1969-1973, she was an editor for a children's magazine. Around this time, she also authored two children's stories.
She began a decade of work in television journalism during the 1960s and eventually became a television host. While working in television, she interviewed famous poet Pablo Neruda.
Her first published book was a compilation of her journalistic articles. She also scripted the screenplay for, ‘El Embajador', produced in 1973.
After the government coup in Chile, she moved to Venezuela. She worked as a journalist and an administrator in a school there.
A letter to her ailing, elderly grandfather became the manuscript of her first novel. 'The House of Spirits' was published in 1982.
Many of her works have been adapted for film and stage. Her 1985 novel, 'Of Love and Shadows', was made into a feature film.
She has published twenty books. Her 1995 book titled 'Paula' is a memoir of her childhood and youth in Chile and her exile from that country, as well as a loving homage to her daughter.
A memoir of her more recent life was published in 2008. It is titled 'The Sum of Our Days'.
She is considered an influential modern voice in Latin American literature. Her work often features magical realism, and her writing has sometimes been compared to the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
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The novel 'Eva Luna', published in 1987, draws on her experiences both in Chile and Venezuela. The story-telling protagonist lives in an anonymous South American country; some of tales appear in a later published collection of short stories called 'The Stories of Eva Luna'.
Awards & Achievements
Her first novel, ‘The House of Spirits’, was named book of the year in Chile for 1983.
In 1987, she was nominated for the ‘Los Angeles Times book Prize’. That same year, she won the ‘Premio Mulheres a la Mejor Novela Extranjera’ in Portugal.
In 1998, she won the ‘Dorothy and Lilian Gish Prize’ in the United States. This prize is given each year to someone who has contributed to ‘the beauty of the world’ and to our understanding of it.
Allende received the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ in 2014. It was presented to her by President Barack Obama.
Personal Life & Legacy
She met and married her first husband, Miguel Frias, in Chile in 1962. The couple had two children, Paula and Nicolas.
When Pinochet came to power in Chile in 1973, she received threats and had to flee the country. That was when she moved to Venezuela.
She met and married her second husband, Willie Gordon, while visiting the United States in 1988. She eventually moved to the U.S., and currently lives in California, near her son and grandchildren.
Her daughter Paula died at the age of 29. She suffered from the disease porphyria and was in a coma for some time before her death, having suffered the ill effects of wrong medication.
In 1998, Allende founded the ‘Isabel Allende Foundation’ in memory of her daughter Paula, who had done humanitarian work in poor communities. The foundation supports programs that support the rights of women and children.
Although she has an internationally renowned reputation for writing, this famous author has stated that she doesn't consider her books her greatest achievements. She considers her family and her time helping others to be more important.