Juan José Arreola Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Juan José Arreola (ahr-ee-OHL-ah) ranks as one of the major short-story writers of the twentieth century in Latin America, yet he is rarely studied outside his homeland. Born in Zapotlán, a large town near Guadalajara, Jalisco, he had formal schooling until he was twelve years old, at which point he found his first job as an apprentice with a master bookbinder. Arreola moved to Guadalajara in 1934 and to Mexico City in 1937, working odd jobs, most of which were menial, while attempting to break into the literary scene. He had a brief spell as an actor in the Teatro de Medianoche (midnight theater) while in Mexico City, but this venture ended in failure.

Returning to Zapotlán in 1940, he began to teach in a secondary school. His short story “Hizo el bien mientras vivió” (he did good while he lived), published in Eos in 1943, attracted some attention in Mexico City. Arreola married in 1944, but his marriage was not a happy one. In 1945, he won a government scholarship to study in Paris but because of ill health was forced to return to Mexico the following year. He subsequently worked at the prestigious publishing house Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City, writing blurbs for new books. In 1949, he brought out his first significant literary work, Various Inventions, a collection of eighteen short stories, which attracted positive reviews. This was followed in 1952 by Confabulary, which contains animal tales, existentialist horror and Magical Realist stories, and satiric essays. Arreola reused these two titles later on; rather than invent new titles, he would usually reprint earlier stories and add new work written in the intervening years. Arreola’s literary work thus should be seen as a series of concentric ripples emanating from these two early works rather than as a linear trajectory of separately conceived works.

In 1954, Arreola, always drawn to the theater, published a serious farce, La hora de todos (moment of truth), but it was a flop and convinced him that his talents lay elsewhere. In the early 1950’s, he embarked on two new projects: He founded a book series, Los Presentes, which aimed to publish new Mexican writers, and he collaborated with the Centro Mexicano de Escritores (Mexican writers’ center). In this collaboration, he and Juan Rulfo, one of...

(The entire section is 956 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in 1918 in Zapotlán, Jalisco, Juan José Arreola saw the destruction wrought by warring factions during the Mexican Revolution, which had begun eight years earlier. The fourth of fourteen children, Arreola was neglected by his parents, who could barely provide for the family. He was a mischievous schoolboy, but it was also clear that he was very bright. Blessed with an amazing memory, he could recite huge amounts of literary material to astounded audiences. Strongly influenced by José Ernesto Aceves, an inspiring teacher, Arreola read a number of literary anthologies with samples of the works of authors from around the world. The short story being of particular appeal, he read thousands of these during his early years. His formal schooling ended at the age of twelve, when the local school closed. For several years, he worked at various jobs, including bookbinding and printing, always gravitating toward the cultural life that Guadalajara offered.

At the age of eighteen, he moved to Mexico City, where he held odd jobs and studied acting. His first serious literary attempts resulted in three short theatrical pieces that never circulated. He continued to educate himself by reading constantly in various disciplines. When his theater group failed and a love affair fell apart, Arreola suffered a nervous breakdown, leading him to return to Jalisco. There, in the early 1940’s, he tried to settle down by teaching school and getting married to a local woman, but the relationship soon ended in divorce. He spent a considerable amount of his time writing, and he succeeded in having several stories published in local newspapers and literary reviews such as Pan and Eos, the latter of which he founded with friends. An early piece called “Hizo bien minetras vivió” (“He Did Good...

(The entire section is 739 words.)