In honor of Women’s History Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential immigrant and refugee women who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we salute international best-selling author Isabel Allende.
Isabel Allende is a Chilean author who has written more than 20 books that have been translated into more than 35 different languages. Her best-known novels include the international bestsellers House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover, Eva Luna, and City of the Beasts. She has been referred to as “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author.”
Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, on August 2, 1942. She is the goddaughter of former Chile president Salvador Allende, her father’s cousin. But her father abandoned her when she was only two years old, forcing her, her siblings, and her mother to move in with her grandfather. The family frequently moved after her mother remarried to a Chilean diplomat. Ambitious for the successes that had evaded her mother, Isabel started a career in writing and worked her way into jobs as a prominent television and print journalist by the 1960s.
In 1973, Allende’s life was deeply affected after a 1973 military coup toppled her godfather’s government, leading to his suicide during an attack on his palace. Afterward, she worked to relieve victims of subsequent Chilean president and dictator Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime. The dangerous work led Allende to flee to Venezuela with her husband, where the two lived in exile for 13 years.
In 1981, Isabel wrote her dying grandfather a letter, which inspired her first novel, The House of Spirits – an account of two families living in Chile during the 1973 military coup that ousted her godfather. The book is an international bestseller and solidified her literary career. Her work has pulled inspiration from her personal world experience, along with historical events. She’s said that her feminist convictions, commitment to social justice, and the harsh political realities that shaped her destiny informed her career.
Allende has received numerous awards for her work, including the Chilean National Prize for Literature and the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction. In 2014, Allende was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom. She gained her U.S. citizenship in 1993.