Gabriel García Márquez Biography

In Gabriel García Márquez’s world, truth and fiction are very relative terms. As part of the Latino artistic movement of magical realism, Márquez masterfully navigates between fantasy and reality. His lyrical writing is best revealed in One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the most-read pieces of Spanish-language literature in history.

Chronicling a century in the life of a small town not so different from the one in which Márquez grew up, the epic novel captures the cyclical nature of time using a fluidly poetic style that would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet for all their fanciful constructions, Márquez’s novels also evoke the very real political and social concerns of some of the most turbulent years in Latin American history.

Facts and Trivia

  • Márquez was born and raised by his grandparents in Colombia. 
  • Early in his career, Márquez belonged to the Barranquilla Group, a loose association of Colombian writers and journalists whose mutual association spurred tremendous creative output.
  • Márquez’s colorful family was a rich source for his storytelling. The oral tradition that was part of his family life growing up manifests itself in some of the author’s best works, including the story “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.”
  • In 2007, Oprah Winfrey selected Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera for her book club shortly before the film version featuring Javier Bardem was released.
  • The highly political Márquez was a longtime friend of Cuban president Fidel Castro.
  • Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold—a dissection of a decades-old murder—was adapted into a stage musical by choreographer-director Graciela Daniele.
  • Due to his views on U.S. imperialism, Márquez was for a long time denied visas to visit the United States. However, President Bill Clinton lifted the ban, citing One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of his favorite novels. 

Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2666

Article abstract: Nobel laureate García Márquez is one of the best-known and most admired writers of Latin American fiction. His mythic accounts—which reflect a vibrant blending of history, legends, and folktales—have been instrumental in bringing recognition to Latin American authors for their significant contribution to contemporary world literature.

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Early Life

Gabriel José García Márquez was born on March 6, 1928, in Aracataca, a small Colombian village in the banana country coastal region. The eldest of twelve children of Luisa Santiaga Márquez Iguarán and Gabriel Eligio García, García Márquez was reared by maternal grandparents. He grew up in a huge house with an extended family of aunts and great aunts who, like his grandmother, were constant storytellers of local myth, superstition, and legend. His grandfather, a retired colonel, was the most important figure in García Márquez’s life. He filled the boy with tales of the civil wars of 1899-1903 and of past times, and young García Márquez himself developed a nostalgia for the way things used to be. Such childhood influences are reflected in García Márquez’s fiction—which abounds with old houses, ancient matriarchs, nostalgia, civil wars, colonels, and banana companies—and many of his works are set in Macondo, a fictional village with a strong resemblance to Aracataca.

In 1936, his grandfather died, and García Márquez was sent first to school in Barranquilla, then to the National Secondary School in Zipaquirá. After graduation in 1946, he was enrolled in the National University of Colombia in Bogotá to study law. During this time, he also read poetry avidly and began to write short stories. In 1947, his first story, “La tercera resignación” (“The Third Resignation”), was published in the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador, and, during the next five years, he published many others therein. Though most were immature and hard to understand, these stories presaged the Surrealist quality of his later fiction.

In 1948, an assassination in Bogotá initiated a civil revolution in Colombia that politicized García Márquez’s writing and provided source material for his later works. When this strife also forced the closing of the National University, García Márquez continued his studies at the University of Cartagena, where he took up journalism. In 1950, he left the university and became a columnist for El Heraldo in Barranquilla, where he lived in poverty and spent considerable time with journalists and writers in local cafés and bookstores. Through these friends, with whom he read and discussed European and North American fiction, García Márquez first became acquainted with the works of the authors who have particularly influenced his writing: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, and Joseph Conrad.

Life’s Work

García Márquez’s literary development occurred concurrently with his career as a journalist. In 1954, he returned to Bogotá, where he worked for El Espectador and wrote short stories in his spare time. One of them, “Un día después del sábado” (“One Day After Saturday”), won for García Márquez a competition sponsored by the Association of Artists and Writers of Bogotá. In 1955, his first novel was published. La hojarasca (1955; Leaf Storm and Other Stories, 1972) presents life in the fictional town of Macondo from 1900 to 1930 and is generally considered to be his most Faulknerian novel. García Márquez also wrote his short fiction Isabel viendo llover en Macondo (1967; Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo, 1972) during this time as well as a true account of the shipwreck of a Colombian naval destroyer, which El Espectador published in fourteen installments without attribution. This story included material about illegal government activity and caused much controversy. Consequently, the editor of El Espectador thought it wise to send García Márquez abroad to Geneva, where he worked as a foreign correspondent and also studied filmwriting and directing. When the Colombian government eventually closed down El Espectador because of the shipwreck story, García Márquez stayed on in Europe, moving to Paris for several years of writing—and literally starving—in a garret. There, he wrote two political novels: La mala hora (1962; In Evil Hour, 1979) received the Colombian Esso Literary Prize in 1961, and El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1961; No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, 1968) has been highly praised for its precise style and psychological insights. Although García Márquez’s fiction did not attract significant attention outside literary circles until the publication of his masterpiece, Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), those who did know him recognized an extraordinary talent.

In 1958, García Márquez returned to Venezuela to work for the newspaper Momento in Caracas and, in that same year, married Mercedes Barcha. Over the next several years, García Márquez wrote most of the stories published as Los funerales de la Mamá Grande (1962). Until this point, except for Leaf Storm, García Márquez’s style had been Hemingway-like, appropriate for conveying the political turmoil which was then a characteristic theme in his work, but the title story in Los funerales de la Mamá Grande, which was allegorical and relied heavily on hyperbole, reflected a significant departure. The years 1959-1965 were a period of crisis for García Márquez. Caught between his former sparse style and a burgeoning mythical approach rich in language and imagery, García Márquez wrote no fiction and focused, instead, on journalism.

Like most Latin American intellectuals, he supported the Cuban Revolution. In 1959, García Márquez opened the Bogotá office of Fidel Castro’s Cuban news agency Prensa Latina and went to open its New York bureau in 1961, but stayed only a short time. Leaving New York City on a Greyhound bus, he traveled through the south to see Faulkner country firsthand and then settled in Mexico, where he lived with his wife and sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, until 1967. From 1961 to 1965, García Márquez worked as an editor, scriptwriter, and copywriter. In January, 1965, he had an experience that ended his six-year hiatus from writing fiction and initiated a period of great productivity. While driving from Mexico City to Acapulco, García Márquez had a vision of how he could, at last, tell the story of his childhood. Immediately turning around and returning home, he secluded himself from everyone—including his family—for the next one and a half years and wrote constantly, sometimes as much as fourteen hours a day. The result was One Hundred Years of Solitude, acclaimed as one of the major novels of the twentieth century. It became an immediate sensation in Spanish-speaking countries upon publication in 1967. A best-seller in translation in two dozen languages, One Hundred Years of Solitude won the Chianchiano Prize in Italy and was named the Best Foreign Book in France in 1969; in 1970, it was chosen as one of the twelve best books of the year by critics in the United States. The novel chronicles a mythical and adventurous history of six generations of the founding family of Macondo, in which García Márquez blurs the dichotomy between objective and subjective reality in a hilarious world of miracles. Its many levels have been interpreted as commentary on social, economical, and political changes in Colombia and Latin America as well as—in microcosm—a somewhat biblical allegory of the history of humanity.

After the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez was financially secure and able to devote himself full time to writing. He also traveled widely, speaking out on political and social issues. From 1967 to 1974, he and his family lived mostly in Barcelona, where he wrote fiction and contributed articles to such magazines as Mundo Nuévo and Casa del las Américas. In 1971, García Márquez received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University and, in 1972, won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in Venezuela and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

García Márquez then reestablished residence in Latin America and continued to support human rights issues and oppose dictatorship. In 1974, he founded the leftist periodical Alternativa in Bogotá and, throughout the 1970’s, wrote political articles that were published in 1978 as Periodismo militante. His novel El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975) and a collection of short stories entitled Todos los cuentos de Gabriel García Márquez appeared in 1975 and, in 1981, another novel, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982), was published.

In recognition of his international success as a storyteller of exceptional vigor, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. His One Hundred Years of Solitude was singled out for particular praise, and his success as a journalist and author of nonfiction articles was also noted. In 1983, García Márquez resumed work on the novel that he had started before receiving the Nobel Prize, El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985; Love in the Time of Cholera, 1988), a magical best-seller that highlights themes of love and old age and emphasizes the value of human dignity and happiness. He also continued to write articles expressing his leftist political views and, in 1986, published La aventura de Miguel Littin, clandestino en Chile (Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin, 1987), an account of the secret return of exiled film director Littin to his native Chile.

García Márquez published his next novel in 1989, after three years of preliminary research and two years of writing. El general en su laberinto (1989; the general in his labyrinth) chronicles the last months in the life of Simón Bolívar, who is generally considered to be Latin America’s greatest hero. The novel challenges Bolívar’s image, however, and portrays him as a man of considerable imperfection. It has sparked great controversy among critics, historians, academics, and the reading public in Latin America, and the controversy has been especially strong in Colombia. Many have criticized García Márquez for insufficient research, sensationalism, and unpatriotic conduct. Others praise his masterful blend of facts and imagination and emphasize that the work should be read as a novel, not as history. García Márquez himself says he is certain that the novel presents Bolívar as he really was. El general en su laberinto became an immediate best-seller upon publication in the Spanish-speaking world.

Although García Márquez’s reputation stems from his fiction, he is also a longtime supporter of Latin American film and has served as president of the Foundation for the New Latin American Film in Havana since its founding in 1985. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, he intermittently collaborated with film directors to bring his works to the screen. In such projects as well as in his fiction, García Márquez deals with Latin America’s struggle to find its own identity. Ironically, after publication of El general en su laberinto, García Márquez told reporters that he would like to return home to Colombia after many years of self-imposed political exile, and the Colombian government indicated that he would be welcome to do so.

Summary

Latin American fiction experienced a flowering in the 1960’s and became recognized as a powerful force in contemporary literature. With Julio Cortázar, Ernesto Sábato, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez is acknowledged as one of the most influential writers of what is often referred to as this “boom” period. His style, which reflects a more expanded vision of Latin American reality than did the novels of the previous generation, has been termed “magical realism” by some critics: the bold interweaving of imagination and realism that is at once both fantasy and social commentary. García Márquez has explained that the imagination is an instrument for producing reality—a reality that is not “limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs”—and cites daily life in Latin America as proof that “reality is full of the most extraordinary things.”

García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude has been called one of the greatest novels of the Hispanic tradition since Don Quixote. García Márquez characteristically captures both the essence of Hispanic culture and the universality of human experience in his work, and he has been especially instrumental in the rising popularity of Latin American literature in the English-speaking world. In addition to his literary achievements, García Márquez is also recognized as a prominent journalist in the struggle for political self-determinism and social justice in Latin American countries. He considers himself most of all to be a storyteller, not an intellectual or even a writer. “I’m a storyteller,” he told an interviewer. “It doesn’t matter to me whether the stories are written, shown on a screen, over television or passed from mouth to mouth. The important thing is that they be told.” The mythical fiction of García Márquez has introduced the art of storytelling within the context of the modern novel, and the response of both popular and scholarly audiences indicates that the story of Latin America is indeed being heard.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold, ed. Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Part of the Modern Critical Views series, this volume presents a representative selection of the criticism available in English on García Márquez’s fiction. In addition to the eighteen essays, it includes a chronology and a detailed secondary source bibliography.

Fau, Margaret Eustella. Gabriel García Márquez: An Annotated Bibliography, 1947-1979. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Fau, Margaret Eustella, and Nelly Sfeir de Gonzalez. Bibliographic Guide to Gabriel García Márquez, 1979-1985. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. These extensive, annotated bibliographies list the works (fiction and nonfiction) of García Márquez; translations; books, chapters, articles, and media materials about him and his work; and personal interviews.

García Márquez, Gabriel. The Fragrance of the Guava: Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza in Conversation with Gabriel García Márquez. Translated by Ann Wright. London: Verso, 1983. In this series of fascinating conversations with a fellow Colombian journalist, García Márquez discusses his life and work. The volume includes twelve candid photographs.

Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices. Translated by Frances Partridge. New York: Random House, 1973. This book presents transcribed interviews with seven of the most important writers in Latin America. In his chapter, García Márquez discusses his craft, his response to public and critical reception, and his political views. Through García Márquez’s playful delivery, the reader gets a feeling for his personality.

McGuirk, Bernard, and Richard Cardwell, eds. Gabriel García Márquez: New Readings. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. These twelve essays on García Márquez’s major fiction reflect the diverse critical approaches to literature. The collection includes an extensive bibliography as well as an English translation of García Márquez’s Nobel Prize address.

McMurray, George R. Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977. This perceptive discussion traces García Márquez’s development from realism to fantasy and looks at his recurrent themes of power and solitude. McMurray quotes liberally from his own translations of García Márquez’s novels and stories, and he includes a chronology and bibliography.

McMurray, George R., ed. Critical Essays on Gabriel García Márquez. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. These reprinted reviews and articles enable the reader to see García Márquez and his work from multiple perspectives. McMurray’s introduction offers an accessible survey of both scholarly and popular response to García Márquez’s work.

Williams, Raymond L. Gabriel García Márquez. Boston: Twayne, 1984. This volume surveys García Márquez’s life and works and is an excellent resource for both the general reader and the scholar. It discusses his major periods in detail and includes a chronology, an index, and a selected bibliography.

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Critical Essays