Biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel José García Márquez was born on March 6, 1927 to Luisa Santiaga Marquez Iguaran and Gabriel Eligio Garcia in Aracataca, Colombia. The prized author and journalist is known to many as simply Gabo. With lyricism and marked wisdom, Marquez has been recognized as one of the most remarkable storytellers of the 20th century.

Luisa's parents did not approve of her marriage to a telegraph operator, and her son Gabriel, the oldest of twelve children, was sent to live with his maternal grandparents. Marquez later would claim that his love of storytelling came from his grandparents. On December 6, in the Cienaga train station, about 3,000 striking banana workers were shot and killed by troops from Antioquia. The incident was officially forgotten, and it is omitted from Colombian history textbooks. Although Marquez was still a baby, this event was to have a profound effect on his writing.

When Marquez was eight years old, his grandfather died. At that time it was also clear that his grandmother, who was going blind, was increasingly helpless. He was sent to live with his parents and siblings, whom he barely knew, in Sucre. A bright pupil, he won scholarships to complete his secondary education at the Colegio Nacional. There he discovered literature and admired a group of poets called the piedra y cielo ("stone and sky"). This group included Eduardo Carranza, Jorge Rojas, and Aurelio Arturo, and their literary grandfathers were Juan Ramon Jimenez and Pablo Neruda.

In 1946, Marquez entered law school at the National University of Bogota. There he began reading Kafka and publishing his first short stories in leading liberal newspapers.

Marquez's literary career was sparked, oddly enough, by the long period of political violence and repression known in Colombia as la violencia. On April 9, 1948, the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate led to three days of riots. One of the buildings that burned was Marquez's pension, and his manuscripts were destroyed along with his living quarters. The National University was closed, and Marquez was forced to go elsewhere. He went to the university in Cartagena and took up journalism to support himself. In 1950 he abandoned his legal studies and began writing columns and stories for El Heraldo, a Liberal newspaper. He also began associating with a group of young writers in the area, who admired modernists like Joyce, Woolf, and Hemingway and who introduced Marquez to Faulkner. In 1954 he returned to Bogota as a reporter for El Espectador.

Marquez's first novel, Leaf Storm, was published by a small Bogota press in 1955. That year he also began attending meetings of the Colombian Communist Party and traveling to Europe as a foreign correspondent. He also wrote his second novel, In Evil Hour, and began work on a collection of short stories called No One Writes to the Colonel. In 1956, Marquez was in Paris as a correspondent for El Espectador when he learned that the dictator Rojas Pinalla had closed the newspaper. Stuck in France, Marquez cashed in his return plane ticket, went hunting for journalism work, and collected bottles to help pay the cost of his rent. The next year he managed to travel to Eastern Europe and secure an editor position at a newspaper in Caracas. In 1958 he returned to Barranquilla to marry Mercedes Barcha, his childhood sweetheart. (He claimed that she was 13 when he first proposed.) They lived together in Caracas from 1957 to 1959, while Marquez continued to work as a journalist and wrote fiction.

On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro's guerrilla revolution triumphed and the fighters marched into Havana. This revolution was of crucial importance to contemporary Latin American history, and its impact on Marquez cannot be overstated. That year he became the Bogota correspondent for Prensa Latina, the new Cuban news agency. Also of note that year—this becomes of importance in One Hundred Years of Solitude—was the birth of his first child, Rodrigo, on August 24. Marquez spent the next two years in the United States working for Prensa Latina. In 1961 he won the Esso Literary Prize in Colombia for In Evil Hour. When the book was republished in Madrid a year later with unauthorized language changes, he repudiated the edition.

For four years, Marquez wrote no new fiction and was subject to derision for his writer's block. Instead, he concentrated on raising his family (his son Gonzalo was born in April 1962) and writing screenplays, one of them with the famed Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. In January 1965, his writer's block broke on a family trip to Acapulco. He turned the car around, drove back to the home they were staying at in Mexico, and barricaded himself there for, as he claims, "15 months." When he emerged, the 1967 book One Hundred Years of Solitude was immediately hailed as a classic. It was an incredible popular success as well and at one point was selling out an edition every week. It was published in English in 1970 and won many prizes in various countries.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is commonly accepted as Marquez's greatest work, as well as a literary masterpiece. It became known as the turning-point work between modernism and postmodernism, and it helped to revive the novel. The publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude also predicted the success of other Latin American novelists, marking the end of Western domination of the novel.

In 1973, following the assassination of Chile's president Salvador Allende, Marquez decided to take a more active political role. He founded a left-wing magazine, Alternativa, in Bogota and participated in the Russell Tribunal to publicize human rights abuses in Latin America. In 1975, he published The Autumn of the Patriarch and traveled frequently to Havana, where he prepared a book on Cuban life under the U.S. blockade. He also established personal relationships with Fidel Castro and the Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos, and in 1978 he established a human rights organization in Mexico City.

Three important events happened for Marquez in 1981. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration France gives to a foreigner. After a warning that the Colombian military had accused him of conspiring with guerrillas, he was forced to seek asylum at the Mexican Embassy in Bogota. Finally, he published Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In 1982, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He used the money to start a daily newspaper, El Otro, in Colombia, after the Colombian government promised him that he would be safe in Colombia.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Marquez lived in Mexico City and Colombia. He continued to take an active role in politics and organization, and in 1986 he organized the Foundation of New Latin American Cinema in Havana. He also wrote screenplays, plays, and two novels: Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) and The General in his Labyrinth (1989). As the century closed, he continued to live in Colombia and write, although under heavy security for fear of kidnapping or other crimes with which he has been threatened.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has many trademarks in his novels. For instance, both Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude start out in medias res, or in the middle of things, with a declaration that their protagonists are going to die in the novel. Also, Marquez often uses events and characters from his own life in his books. For example, Mercedes Barcha, his wife, is in Chronicle of a Death Foretold under her own name as the narrator's young wife. The narrator even says he proposed to her as soon as she finished primary school, much like the real-life Mercedes Barcha. Luisa Santiaga is the name of both the narrator's mother in the book and Marquez's mother in reality. Marquez's brother is named Luis Enrique; both the narrator and Marquez have a sister who is a nun.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez suffered from lymphatic cancer and passed away on April 17, 2014.

Study Guides on Works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez