Clarissa Pinkola Estés: 1943—: Writer, Psychologist
Childhood Embraced By Storytelling
Clarissa Pinkola Estés was born on January 27, 1943, in Indiana. The date of her birth has become somewhat less clear in recent years. Initially, her year of birth was listed as 1943, but in later interviews, she changed her year of birth to 1946 and later still to 1949; however, the most commonly cited date is 1943. When asked in interviews about her age, Estés declined to reveal how old she is, and so the differences in dates of birth may be her attempt to muddy the dates and create some mystery about her age. Estés is equally reluctant to provide biographical information. In the 1994 Marquis Who's Who, her entry consisted of about 150 words. In later editions of this book, the entry is reduced to ten words, presumably at her request. Thus her past, except for whatever information she chooses to tell in her books, remained less well known than that of other best-selling authors.
Yet much is still known about Estés' early years. She was born to Cepción Ixtiz and Emilio Maria Reyés, who were mestizos—Mexicans of Spanish and Indian descent. At the time of her birth, her parents were Mexican laborers, who worked near the Michigan-Indiana border. From her parents, Estés learned to speak Spanish, but for reasons that Estés has never explained, she was given up for adoption when she was a small child. She was adopted when she was four years old by Maruska Hornyak and Joszef Pinkola, immigrant Hungarians, who were uneducated, and who, like her biological parents, could not read or write.
As a child, Estés was surrounded by people from many different traditions, most of whom were first generation Americans, immigrants who were not educated but who were the repositories of much knowledge, which they passed on through the stories that they had learned. In her household, the oral traditions of the European storyteller were an important part of everyday life. She was told stories and was expected to remember and retell the stories that she heard. Her family bought their first television when she was 12 or 13 years old, but this object did not replace the family's storytelling tradition. How strongly Estés felt about both the oral tradition of storytelling and the intrusion of the television as a replacement for this tradition was made clear in a 1997 speech before the Catholic Press Association's national convention. Estés told her listeners that the television has turned "into a hole in the wall in our houses that pours sewage into our homes." The promise that it once held as a storyteller has emerged instead to contribute to a picture of society that is akin to a river "overflowing with filth and garbage set afire." Instead of television, Estés found that her family's stories and her own love of books, which grew from a gift of books when she was 14, have led to a lifelong love of books, poetry, and writers.
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