Lygia Bojunga Nunes (1932-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1932, in Pelotas, Brazil; married.
Writer, translator, and actor. Member of theatre troupe Theatre Duse and of Repertoire Theatre of Henriette Morineau; cofounder of rural school, TOCA. Presenter of dramatic monologues at libraries, universities, and cultural centers.
Jabuti award, 1973; Hans Christian Andersen award, 1982, for body of children's books; Moli'ere prize, Theatre Critics of Paris, and Mambembe Trophy, Ministry of Education and Culture, Brazil, both 1986, both for play O pintor; Rattenfänger Literaturpreis, 1986; Astrid Lindgren Memorial award, 2004.
Os colegas, Sabia (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1972, translated by Ellen Watson as The Companions, illustrated by Larry Wilkes, Farrar, Strauss (New York, NY), 1989.
Angélica, illustrated by Vilma Pasqualini, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1975.
A bolsa amarela (title means "The Yellow Bag"), illustrated by Marie Louise Nery, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1976.
A casa de madrinha (title means "Godmother's House"), illustrated by Regina Yolanda, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1978.
Corda bamba (title means "Tightrope"), Civilizacão (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1979.
O sofá estampado (title means "The Chintz Sofa"), illustrated by Elvira Vigna, Olympio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1980.
Tomie Ohtake, [Rio de Janeiro, Brazil], 1983.
Tchau (title means "Bye"), Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1984.
Nós três (for children; title means "The Three of Us"; also see below), 1987.
O meu amigo pintor (for children; also see below), Olympio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1987, translated by Giovanni Pontiero as My Friend the Painter, illustrated by Christopher DeLorenzo, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1991.
Livro (autobiography; title means "Book"), Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1988.
O pintor (play; based on O meu amigo pintor), 1989.
Nós três (play; based on book of the same title), 1989.
Fazendo Ana Paz (title means "Creating Ana Paz"), illustrated by Regina Yolanda, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1991.
Paisagem (collected works; title means "Landscape"), Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1992.
Seis vezes Lucas, illustrated by Roger Mello and Regina Yolanda, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1996.
Feito à mão, Artes Graficas Industrias Reunidas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1996.
O rio e eu, illustrated by Roberto Magalhães, Salamandra (São Paulo, Brazil), 1999.
A cama, Artes Graficas Industrias (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1999.
Retratos de Carolina, Editoria Casa Lygia Bojunga Ltd. (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 2002.
Nunes's works have been translated into several languages, including French, German, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Basque, Hebrew, Italian, Icelandic, Dutch, Czech, Bulgarian, Galician, and Catalan.
Winner of the 1982 Hans Christian Andersen award and the 2004 Astrid Lindgren Memorial award, Brazilian author Lygia Bojunga Nunes has written several children's books that have been translated into a variety of languages. Though her work is known in many countries, only two of her works have been translated into English: The Companions, originally published in 1972 and translated to English in 1989, and My Friend the Painter, published in 1987 and followed by an English translation in 1991.
Though Nunes's titles are usually directed to children, they are noted for containing social commentary. The author is a critic of the Brazilian school system; in fact, Nunes was concerned enough about illiteracy that she co-founded a school for rural children to help them better their education. Her titles have also focused on topics such as women's rights, poverty, and the desire for freedom and democracy. When Nunes began writing, her country's government was in turmoil; from 1959 until 1989, there were no democratic elections held in Brazil, and in that time, there were military coups and dictators running the country. Nunes turned to children's books for her social commentary because, as she explained, "Generals don't read children's books." This commentary does not bog down Nunes's work, in the opinion of critics and readers. On the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Web site, a biographer noted that Nunes "constantly offsets the serious with playfulness and absurd humor."
Nunes's work is also noted for its use of magical realism. Like many Brazilian writers, she does not establish a boundary between the fantastic and the realistic. Animals may become addicted to television—the problem of a cat in O sofá estampado—while a girl may have her dreams literally pricked by a safety pin—which happens in A bolsa amarela. And fighting cocks may have their brains sewed together so they can only think of fighting, which also occurs in A bolsa amarela. Nunes also uses symbolism that nearly crosses the boundaries into the fantastic: young Maria walks a tight-rope in Corda bamba, opening the doors she encounters and opens up memories she has blocked, while Alexander of A casa de madrinha seeks for his imaginary godmother's house through many adventures, hoping to find someplace where he can be safe.
Os colegas, or The Companions, was Nunes's first novel. In the book, a young rabbit is abandoned by his family and left to fend for himself. He befriends a bear who has escaped from the zoo and a pampered dog who ran away from home to be free. When the rabbit's two friends are captured, the frightened rabbit rescues the dog, who joins him to rescue the bear. On the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Web site, Mats Berggren stated that Nunes presents "a wide-ranging view of the contrasts between oppression and freedom" at a level that young readers can understand.
O meu amigo pintor, or My Friend the Painter, is aimed at older elementary and middle-grade readers. In the book young Claudio must cope with the suicide of his adult friend, a painter who encouraged the boy's interest in art. The story is told in a realistic fashion, though Claudio's dreams are an important part of the grieving process. Berggren commented that Claudio comes to understand that he "needs to think of [the painter] … in his entirety, with all the details," in order to begin to comprehend his questions about the painter's death. According to some critics, Nunes's treatment of her subject is emotionally intense, while other reviewers found My Friend the Painter too abstract and subtle for young readers. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the book as "a rich, poetic glimpse of universal feelings filtered through an unfamiliar culture," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer described the writing as exhibiting "remarkable, sustained intensity." And a reviewer in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called Nunes's conclusion "a lyrical celebration of a remembered friendship."
Nunes adapted My Friend the Painter as a play, and also dramatized her earlier novel, Nós três. She began utilizing playwriting as a medium with her second novel, Angélica, in which part of the story is told entirely as a play. The main characters—a pig, a stork, an elephant, and a crocodile—put on a play to show how people in power are able to make lies become popular thought. Throughout the course of the play, these characters defy the stereotypes other animals have against them and learn that by working together they can improve their own lives.
In other books the author uses short-story and episodic forms, such as in Tchau and Seis vezes Lucas. In the latter, Nunes illuminates six moments in Lucas's life, showing his fears of not living up to his father's expectations. In both Tchau and Seis vezes Lucas the author confronts the issue of marital infidelity through the eyes of a child hurt by the occurrence. Retratos de Carolina, like Seis vezes Lucas, focuses on moments in Carolina's life, from the time she is six years old until she is aged twenty-nine, at which point she encounters Nunes and asks the author to write her a happy ending.
Nunes once told Something about the Author: "Since I was seven I began reading stories, and right from the beginning I fell in love with books. But it was a love of reading, not doing. My affair took me by surprise because it was so overwhelming, so much a part of me, that before I realized what was happening, I'd been taken over entirely by literature."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1991, review of My Friend the Painter, p. 224.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1991, review of My Friend the Painter, p. 607.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1991, review of My Friend the Painter, p. 66.
School Library Journal, February, 1998, Louise Yarian Zwick, review of A bolsa amarela, p. 93; January, 1990, Susan Helper, review of The Companions, p. 76; October, 1991, p. 125.
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Web site, http://www.alma.se/ (September 7, 2004), Mats Berggren, "Lygia Bojuna Nunes."*