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Latina Legends

Isabel Allende

(Peru, 1942– )
One of Latin America’s most highly esteemed writers, Isabel Allende is a bestselling author who has received worldwide critical acclaim and numerous awards for her work.

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“As long as it is written, it will be remembered.” ~Isabel Allende, www.isabelallende.com

Isabel Allende’s love of language and stories came from living with her grandparents. Her connection to her grandfather was fierce. He spoke in proverbs and was a great storyteller of folktales. He read the entire Bible and an encyclopedia set. Her grandmother was a clairvoyant and talked to the souls of the dead during her séances.

Their lives, planted deeply in Chile, centered around family and politics. Her father was a diplomat and secretary at the Chilean embassy. Her uncle, Salvador Allende, founder of the Chilean Socialist Party, became president of Chile in 1970. Her stepfather, also a diplomat, worked abroad in the Middle East and Europe until he was appointed ambassador to Argentina by Salvador.

Allende married Miguel Frias in 1962 and had two children. She wrote for a women’s magazine that promoted feminism and for a children’s publication. She also hosted a television show. Their world began to unravel in 1973. A military regime took control of the country and murdered President Salvador Allende in a violent, bloody uprising. Outraged, Isabel spoke publicly against the new military government. Her family feared for her safety. She was fired from both magazines and quit the television station.

She began helping people find asylum in foreign embassies, passed along information, and collected food for displaced families. In 1975 her family had to flee Chile and settled in Venezuela. In exile, she missed her family and country. Writing gave her a voice, rescued her memories, and enabled her to create a universe of her own, saving her from despair.

When Allende learned her grandfather was dying in 1981 and she could not return to see him, her heart tore open. She sat down and wrote him a letter nonstop for twelve hours. She continued writing to him daily, even long after his death. The letter turned into her first novel, The House of the Spirits.

The fictionalized version of her own family history chronicled four generations of a Chilean family set against the backdrop of a turbulent historical time. The book was published to critical acclaim, sold more than 6 million copies, was translated into twenty-seven languages, and was made into a movie.

Love and violence always seemed to fill Allende’s life and triggered profound emotion in her writing. She divorced her husband in the mid-1980s. Her first nonfiction work was the tragic story of her twenty-eight-year-old daughter who died due to a hereditary disorder, porphyria. Allende was unable to write fiction for three years following Paula’s death, but once she started, it is said she cried healing tears every day she wrote. When Paula was finished, she felt it captured the nightmare of her daughter’s untimely death and celebrated life in a collage of memories they shared together.

Allende believes destiny brought her book tour to Northern California where she eventually married lawyer, William Gordon, in 1990. They reside in California, where she continues to write. She started the Isabel Allende Foundation, which works for the vision of women’s rights, including economic and social justice, “reproductive rights, healthcare, education and protection from violence.”

Her books include Eva Luna, The Infinite Plan, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, and Daughter of Fortune. Her first young adult novels are in a trilogy: City of the Beasts, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies.

Allende won the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature (1996), the Gabriela Mistral Award (1990), and the Dorothy & Lillian Gish Award (1998) for “contributing to the beauty of the world.”

Excerpt from: THE BOOK OF LATINA WOMEN: 150 VIDAS OF PASSION, STRENGTH, AND SUCCESS By Sylvia Mendoza

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