Widely regarded as one of her country’s greatest contemporary writers, she was also the first woman elected president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Nélida Piñon, an elegantly dressed older woman with straight black hair, sits with her chin resting on her left hand. She wears a dark jacket, a red patterned blouse and much jewelry (ring, bracelet, necklace).
The Brazilian author Nélida Piñon in Madrid in 2019. Although the global reach of her work never matched that of her better-known Latin American contemporaries, her writing found an enthusiastic public outside of Brazil and was translated into some 30 languages.Credit…Zipi/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Ana Ionova

Dec. 27, 2022

Nélida Piñon, a trailblazing Brazilian author whose provocative writing won some of the world’s most prestigious prizes, and who made history when she became the first woman to preside over the country’s literary academy, died on Dec. 17 in Lisbon. She was 85.

Her secretary and longtime friend Karla Vasconcelos da Silva said the cause was complications of emergency surgery that she had undergone after battling stomach cancer.

Ms. Piñon is widely regarded as one of Brazil’s greatest contemporary writers, admired for her masterly use of Portuguese and her playful approach to literary form.

“Literature opened the doors of paradise and, at the same time, of hell to me,” Ms. Piñon told a Portuguese radio station in 2021, referring to the highs and lows of the writing process. “I always lived with intensity. I didn’t shy away from deeply loving the Portuguese language, which is my life’s great purpose.”

Her whimsical use of religious symbolism and her exploration of sexuality and eroticism were considered daring in deeply Catholic Brazil, which was ruled by a repressive military dictatorship until 1985. And her experimentation with the baroque and the surreal set her apart from most other Brazilian writers of her time.

Ms. Piñon wrote more than two dozen books, including the novels “The House of Passion” (1972) and her best-known work, “The Republic of Dreams” (1984), which was inspired by her family’s migration to Brazil from Galicia, an autonomous region of Spain. She also wrote short stories, memoirs, essays and speeches.

From 1996 to 1997, Ms. Piñon was the president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, a cultural institution that acts as the country’s main authority on the Portuguese language. She was the first woman to hold that position.

“She was a pioneer in so many ways,” said Isabel Vincent, an author and investigative journalist whose friendship with Ms. Piñon spanned four decades. “And she was aware of the sort of trailblazing things that she was doing.”


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