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Isabel Allende—from The House of Spirits to Paula, get to know this essential Latina writer

By- Angela Padrón

Isabel Allende is a Latina writer who was born in Lima, Peru on August 2, 1942. Her writing can be categorized as realistic, inspired by her upbringing and real-life events. When Allende was three years old, her mother moved the family to Santiago, Chile, where Allende spent several years of her youth. After attending school in Bolivia and Lebanon, Allende returned to Chile to complete college. From 1959–1965, she worked for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Santiago. In 1962, she married, and a year later gave birth to her daughter Paula. The family traveled throughout Europe, living in Switzerland and Belgium.

Allende and her family returned to Chile in 1966. There, she co-founded the magazine Paula, for which she wrote informational articles and satirical columns. From 1970–1975, Allende hosted a popular television show that included humor and interviews. During this time, she also wrote a play called El Embajador, which was performed in Chile, and she wrote for a children’s magazine called Mampato, later becoming the editor-in-chief. In addition, Allende published two children’s books, La abuela Panchita and Lauchas y lauchones.

In 1970, Allende’s cousin Salvador was elected president of Chile. But in 1972, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup to overthrow the government. Isabel Allende became an advocate for and supporter of people suffering under the new government regime. Because of her outspokenness, she was blacklisted by the government, and so in 1975, she and her family emigrated to Venezuela. During their thirteen years in Venezuela, Allende wrote for the newspaper El Nacional and worked as a school administrator. In 1981, she learned that her grandfather was dying and wrote him a letter. This letter would go on to influence her manuscript for the novel The House of Spirits, published in Spanish in 1982 and in English in 1985. The book later became a play in London in 1993, as well as a movie, starring Winona Ryder, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Antonio Banderas. Allende’s book Of Love and Shadows (1984) also became a 1994 movie, again starring Antonio Banderas.

In total, Allende has written twenty-three books that have been translated into thirty-five languages and have sold more than seventy million copies. She has been awarded fifteen international honorary doctoral degrees and has received over sixty awards in fifteen countries. They include the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in 1998, the honor of Ambassador to Hans Christian Andersen’s Bicenentary in 2004, induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004, the Hubert Howe Bancroft Award from the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley in 2007, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 from President Obama.

Sadly, in 1991, Allende’s daughter Paula became ill and fell into a coma. A year later, Paula passed away. In response, Isabel wrote a novel called Paula that documents her daughter’s life as well as her illness and death. Besides being a writer, Isabel Allende has devoted her life to human rights. She established the Isabel Allende Foundation in 1996 in honor of her late daughter, with a focus on the protection and empowerment of women around the world. Allende became a U.S. citizen in 1993 and resides in California, though she still considers Chile her true home.

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