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Laura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist

Raised On Unconventional Education

Laura Restrepo was born in Bogotá, Columbia, in 1950, the eldest of two daughters. Restrepo had an unconventional childhood; her father believed strongly in education, but he also believed that much of a child's education should be found through experience, rather than in conventional schooling. Restrepo's father left school when he was 13 years old, and her paternal grandfather had been completely self-educated, having never attended schools. Her grandfather, who was a published writer, proved the value of self-education by teaching himself six different languages, including Latin and Greek. Instead of attending school when she was a child, Restrepo learned about the world in much the same way as her grandfather had learned—through opening her mind to the world in which she lived. Restrepo entered college when she was 15 years old, and she finally became a more traditional student.

Restrepo's father loved to travel, but hated flying, and so he would pile his wife, Helen, and two daughters, Laura and Carmen, into a Volkswagen and leave for extended trips, never stopping anywhere long enough for his children to complete a year of schooling. In a lengthy interview with Jaime Manrique of BOMB magazine, Restrepo related a story about how she attended a public school in Corte Madera, California for only one day, because the following day, the family moved on to another location. She also told of how at the age of ten, when the family was in Denmark, she spent six months attending a ceramics night school. Later, when the family visited Madrid, the school rejected her because she failed required admission exams in arithmetic, grammar, and embroidery, which under the rule of fascism was considered a basic requirement for admission to the school. Instead of teaching his daughter competency in the required subjects, Restrepo's father located a flamenco guitar teacher who made house calls, although she had no affinity for the guitar. Instead of schools, there were visits to museums, to ancient ruins, and to the theater. Rather than learn about grammar and mathematics, Restrepo and her sister listened to her father's favorite music, read good books by important authors, and learned about geology and nature by exploring the land, rather than through photos in a book.

At a Glance . . .

Born in 1950 in Bogotá, Columbia; divorced; one child, Pedro. Education: Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, degree in philosophy and letters.

Career: Professor of literature at the Universidad Nacional and at the Universidad de Rosario in Bogotá; adjunct professor at the University of Seville; author, 1986–.

Awards: Mexico's Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize and the Prix France Culture Award for Dulce compañía.

For the first 15 years of her life, Restrepo led a idyllic existence, sheltered from much of the poverty and violence of the world by her protective father. Since Restrepo had not finished any primary or secondary program that would lead to a degree, she was obliged to take exams at the ministry of education. She took exams in all the required subjects, including organic chemistry and the geography of Colombia. Her father prepared Restrepo for the exams, in an intensive program of home schooling, and with her father's help, she passed all her exams. This was the first time that a member of her father's family had earned a diploma. After meeting the requirements for admission, Restrepo enrolled at the Universidad de Los Andes, in Bogotá.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyLaura Restrepo: 1950—: Journalist, Political Activist, Novelist Biography - Raised On Unconventional Education, Acquired A Different Social Awareness, Emerged As A Writer, Saw Writing As Historical Record