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Isabel Allende

2017 Lifetime Achievement

The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende—novelist, feminist and philanthropist—is considered the most widely-read writer working in Spanish, having sold more than 67 million books. At 40, she burst upon the literary scene with her first novel, The House of the Spirits, begun as a farewell letter to her grandfather, who was dying at age 100.

Born in Lima, Peru, to Chilean parents, she was a second cousin to Salvador Allende, elected Chile’s president in 1970, and killed in Augusto Pinochet’s military coup three years later, a defining event in the life of a nation and the Allendes. “This sounds very corny but my life has been determined by two things that have been extremely important: love and violence,” the writer says. “There is sorrow, pain and death, but there’s another parallel dimension, and that is love.”

Allende’s gift for storytelling has yielded 21 books translated into 35 languages. The protagonists are frequently strong women; the genre is often magical realism. Allende has written three plays, several children’s books, an opera and a luminous memoir, Paula, about her daughter’s untimely death at age 29. It is sometimes singled out as her finest book.

In 2014, former President Obama awarded Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. (She became a citizen in 1993, but thinks of herself as half Californian and half Chilean.)

Not quite five-feet tall, Allende jokes about her stature and longevity—“I look good for my age, don’t I? It takes a lot of work and money.” Her poignant, laugh-out-loud Ted Talk in 2007 about leading a passionate life has attracted more than 3.5 million viewers.

The death of her daughter, Paula Frias, from a rare blood disorder, created a three-year writer’s block in Allende, and eventually, the Isabel Allende Foundation, established in 1996 with the proceeds from the eponymous memoir. It works toward the betterment of girls and women.

“It is a wonderful truth that the things we want most in life – a sense of purpose, happiness and hope – are most easily attained by giving them to others,” Allende writes in a credo inspired by her daughter.

The author, who lives in San Raphael, California, makes a ritual of beginning all her books on January 8, the date on the original 1981 letter to her grandfather.

“I am a writer because I was blessed with an ear for stories, an unhappy childhood, and a strange family. (With relatives as weird as mine there is no need to invent anything. They alone provide all the material for magical realism.),” she says. “Literature has defined me.”

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Blog Posts about Isabel Allende

Cleveland Residents Invited To Anisfield-Wolf Reading Series

  Pull up a chair at Case Western Reserve University's new reading seminar for a hearty discussion of four Anisfield-Wolf award-winning books, covering everything from the modern, urban Native experience to the consequences of political upheaval in Chile. Organizers invite you to explore four Anisfield-Wolf award winning books: "There There" by Tommy Orange (2019, fiction) — January 23 Orange, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations, launched his literary career with :"There There," a layered, multi generational... Read More →

Put These 2019 Titles On Your 2020 Book List

In the onslaught of titles published each year, friends of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards can deploy a powerful technique to sift the wheat from the chaff: Find the new work from those writers already in the canon. Here are some gems sitting atop the 2019 pile: “Black Leopard Red Wolf” by Marlon James The Jamaican American novelist most celebrated for “A Brief History of Seven Killings” goes genre. Actor Michael B. Jordan bought the film rights to this epic fueled by African mythology even before it published in February. The story... Read More →

Isabel Allende's "The House of The Spirits" On Its Way To Hulu

Add Isabel Allende's groundbreaking first novel, "The House of the Spirits," to the golden age of television adaptations. Streaming giant Hulu has acquired the classic 1982 story, which has been translated into more than 35 languages. Allende began it at a low moment in her life when she was 40 years old and living in Venezuela.  This consummate Chilean story follows the Trueba family over four generations and catapulted its author to fame. Deeply personal, “The House of the Spirits” began as Allende’s farewell letter to her... Read More →

Cleveland Book Week Highlights: Isabel Allende Speaks At The City Club Of Cleveland

During Cleveland Book Week, the incomparable Isabel Allende joked at age 75 about her new boyfriend, and about her approach to literature: "I've been writing for 35 years and I have no idea how I do it. I don't have an idea of what the book is about until it's published and I read the reviews," she quipped in a talk on life and literature at the City Club of Cleveland. She begins each book on January 8, commemorating the day she sat down at her kitchen table -- a stymied 40-year-old exile -- to begin a letter to her century-old... Read More →

That's A Wrap! Cleveland Book Week 2017, From Cover To Cover

From left to right: Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Isabel Allende, Ansfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove, Margot Lee Shetterly, Karan Mahajan, Anisfield-Wolf Jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. Photo by Robert Muller. Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our... Read More →

Introducing Our Class Of 2017

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 82nd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2017 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: • Isabel Allende, Lifetime Achievement • Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, Fiction • Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Poetry • Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, Fiction • Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Nonfiction “The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said... Read More →
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