Those unfamiliar with the literary scene may not know very much about Brazilian authors—after all, no Brazilian literary figures have become household names in the West. However, that doesn’t mean that Brazilian literature doesn’t have a strong footing. Indeed, South America’s biggest country has given rise to great literary minds, and here are just a few of Brazil’s best in literature.
1. Machado de Assis
The man widely regarded as the greatest-ever Brazilian literary figure is Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, usually known as just Machado de Assis. He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1839 and grew up in a poor family, the descendant of freed slaves. He never attended university and barely went to public school, with most of his knowledge self-taught. He even taught himself four foreign languages later in life. His works were typically keen critiques of society, with his biggest work being Dom Casmurro.
2. Euclides da Cunha
Euclides da Cunha, born in 1866 in Rio de Janeiro, was a Brazilian journalist, sociologist, and engineer who is mostly known for his nonfiction book Os Sertões, which tells of the Brazilian army’s military conquests against the rebellious village of Canudos. As a young man, da Cunha attended a military school and later participated in the Brazilian army fighting against the rebellious peasants of Canudos. He died at 43 after a failed attempt to kill his wife’s lover, who instead shot and killed da Cunha.
3. Clarice Lispector
Clarice Lispector was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in Western Ukraine, who relocated to Brazil in Lispector’s infancy to escape the turmoil created by World War I. In Brazil, she grew up in the northern state of Recife, moving to Rio de Janeiro after her mother died. Lispector rose to fame at just 23, following the publication of her book Near to the Wild Heart (Perto do Coração Selvagem), with a writing style seen as revolutionary in Brazil.
4. Jorge Amado
Jorge Leal Amado de Faria was a modernist Brazilian writer whose works have been widely translated and even adapted into film, such as his fantasy novel Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. He was born in the eastern state of Bahia, where the ubiquity of cocoa plantations exposed him to the misery and struggles of their workers, who lived almost like slaves. As a militant communist and a representative of the Brazilian Communist Party, he was exiled, first in Argentina and Uruguay and later in France.
5. Rubem Fonseca
Born in 1925, Fonseca made a name for himself telling dark, gritty stories filled with violence and sexual content, following his belief that writers should say what most people are afraid to. His stories were usually set in an urban context, distinguishing them from the typical rural setting of contemporary Brazilian literature. He inspired many modern-day Brazilian writers, such as such as Patrícia Melo or Luiz Ruffato, living a long 94 years before dying in April 2020.