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Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994)

Robert O'Grady has presented the Department of Special Collections with more than fifteen letters of correspondence written from Juan Carlos Onetti to Julio Payró. Covering the years 1937 to 1946, the letters are remarkably candid and provide Onetti's opinions on a wide range of authors and books. They are especially valuable as Onetti also expounds upon his ideas of literary theory in detail.

Biographical Information

Rarely studied until the latter half of the twentieth century, the works of Juan Carlos Onetti represent a key period of transition between the South American avant-garde and the Boom generation. Nevertheless, the extent of the Uruguayan author's success is astounding given his childhood. Not blessed with a proper education, Onetti dropped out of high school and worked odd jobs as a teenager while at the same time becoming an avid reader. In 1930 he married and moved to Buenos Aires, where he lived until 1934, by which time he had become a father, remarried, and started work on his first novel. Not published until 1939, El pozo breaks from previous literary conventions with its complex narration and fragmented structure.

This achievement was accompanied by Onetti's appointment as director of the literary magazine, La marcha, a position he held until his return to Buenos Aires in 1941. There, he married again and occupied his time writing short stories as well as La vida breve, a 1950 novel that many consider to be his masterpiece. Onetti's return to Montevideo in 1955 brought his fourth and final marriage, as well as the prestige of being awarded Uruguay's National Prize in literature in 1962. Just over ten years later, however, the celebrated national figure was imprisoned for honoring a story deemed subversive by the Uruguayan dictatorship. International pressure brought about his release, after which the author moved to Spain. There, he was awarded the esteemed Premio Cervantes, and lived in exile until his death in 1994.

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Description of Archival Collection (MSH/SCL 1262-0 to 1262-68)

The Department of Special Collections currently holds more than fifteen letters of correspondence written from Onetti to Julio Payró. Covering the years 1937 to 1946, the letters are remarkably candid, and provide Onetti's opinion on a wide range of authors and works. He also comments on the progress of his own novels, as well as his involvement with La marcha. Specifically, in a letter dated November 2, 1938 (MSH/SCL 1262-2), Onetti discusses his opinions on literary theory, the definition of the novel, the reader's role in approaching a text, and the proper uses of poetry. The Department holds an additional 49 photocopied letters from Onetti to Payró from the collection of the Getty Research Institute. These letters may not be photocopied and may only be consulted onsite.

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Aira, César. "Juan Carlos Onetti." Diccionario de autores latinoamericanos. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2001. p. 401-402. (Hesburgh Library, Reference: PQ 7081.3 .A35 2001)

Gertel, Zunilda. "Juan Carlos Onetti." Spanish American Authors: The Twentieth Century. Ed. Angel Flores. New York: Wilson, 1992. p. 605-610. (Hesburgh Library, Reference: PQ 7081.3 .F57 1992)

Verani, Hugo J. "Juan Carlos Onetti." Latin American Writers. Ed. Carlos A. Solé. New York: Scribner, 1989. p. 1089-1097. (Hesburgh Library, Reference: PQ 7081 .A1 L37 1989)

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