Belarmino Maria Austregésilo Augusto de Athayde, professor, journalist, chronicler, essayist and orator, was born in Caruaru, Pernambuco on 25 September 1898, to judge José Feliciano Augusto de Athayde and Constância Adelaide Austregésilo de Athayde.
While still a child, he moved to Ceará where he lived in various places because of the professional activities of his father. At the age of two, he was placed in the Prainha Seminary, where he studied until the third year of Theology, continuing his studies at the Lyceum of Ceará. He was a teacher at Colégio Cearense and Colégio São Luis, dedicating himself to private classes and began to write for the press in 1918, when he moved to Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio, which was then the capital of the Federation, he continued teaching and began a journalism career, frequently writing for the newspapers A Tribuna and Correio da Manhã. Then he began writing for A Folha as a literary critic. In 1921 he released his first book, Histórias amargas (Bitter Stories). He was a translator and reporter for the American press agencies Associated Press and United Press.
He graduated from the Rio de Janeiro Law Faculty in Judicial and Social Sciences in 1922, however his true vocation was journalism.
In 1924 he accepted the invitation of Assis Chateaubriand to assume the directorship of O Jornal, which began the company Diários Associados (Associated Dailies), an empire of newspapers, magazines and television stations spread across the country.
He was an ardent opponent of the Revolution of 1930, which took Getulio Vargas to power, and was arrested and had to go into exile in Europe in November of the same year. Then from 1933-1934, he lived in Buenos Aires. Upon his return to Brazil, he recommenced his journalism activities at Diários Associados as a columnist and director of Diário da Noite, chief editor of O Jornal, where he was also a reporter for the daily column Boletim Internacional. He also wrote weekly for the magazine O Cruzeiro. For his outstanding journalism activities, he received the Maria Moors Cabot prize, at Columbia University, USA, in 1952, important international recognition in the field of journalism.
In 1948, he became a member of the commission to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a Brazilian delegate in the 3rd Assembly of the United Nations Organisation (UN), in Paris, standing out in debates and playing a decisive role in group workshops. Other participants in the drafting of this document were: the American journalist Eleanor Roosevelt, Lebanese professor Charles Malek and the Soviet professor Pavlov, with assistance from the French jurist René Cassin. Austragésilo de Athayde was acknowledged by his colleagues on the Commission as the most active collaborator in the drafting of the text.
In 1968, on the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the jurist and philosopher René Cassin received the Nobel Peace Prize. Upon becoming aware of the fact that the award was bestowed on him for his role in the drafting of the declaration, he called a press conference and announced:
I wish to share the honour of this award with the great Brazilian thinker Austregésilo de Athayde, who at my side for three months, contributed to the success of this great task that the United Nations had entrusted to us.
Then in 1978, on the 30th anniversary of the document, the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, universally recognised through a letter sent to Austregésilo de Athayde, the “vital leadership” he gave during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Gaining a diploma from the Escola Superior de Guerra (Advanced School of War), in 1953, he began to lecture at this centre for advanced studies. Besides his activities in the press, he spoke at hundreds of conferences about the defence of human rights and other contemporary themes, at the invitation of cultural organisations from around the country.
When the name Austregésilo de Athayde is mentioned, he is immediately associated with the Brazilian Academy of Letters. He was elected to it in August 1953 to occupy the 8th chair, and became president of the House of Machado de Assis in 1959, a position he held for 35 years through continuous re-elections.
Under his charge, apart from the regimental rights of the body, the construction of the building destined to become the Cultural Centre of Brazil, inaugurated on 20 July 1979, stands out.
In the same year, he was awarded the São Paulo Association of Art Critics Prize, given for his contribution as a literary critic. He also authorised the creation of the Academy’s Database and Memory Centre, inaugurated in 1968.
He received many awards and honours during his lifetime, totalling one hundred and seventy medals, plaques and accolades. He said that the most important act of his life was helping to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a work that was projected to the whole world and became his greatest pride.
Austregésilo de Athayde died on 13 September 1993 at the age of 105, in Rio de Janeiro.
Histórias amargas (Bitter Stories) (tales), 1921;
A influência espiritual americana (The American Spiritual Influence) (conference), 1938;
Fora da imprensa (Outside the Press) (essay), 1948;
Mestres do liberalismo (Masters of Liberalism) (essay), 1951;
D. Pedro II e a cultura do Brasil (Dom Pedro II and the Culture of Brazil) (essay), 1966;
Vana verba (Empty Words) (chronicles), 1966;
Epístola aos contemporâneos (Epistle to Contemporaries) (essay), 1967;
Vana verba: conversas na Barbearia Sol (Empty Words: Conversations at Sun Barber’s) (chronicles), 1971;
Filosofia básica dos direitos humanos (Basic Philosophy of Human Rights) (essay), 1976;
Vana verba: alfa do centavo (Empty Words: The Cent’s Alpha) (chronicles), 1979.
Recife, 27 August 2010.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
ACADEMIA Brasileira de Letras: Austregésilo de Athayde: Biografia. Disponível em: <http://www.academia.org.br>. Acesso em: 16 ago. 2010.
AUSTREGÉSILO de Athayde. In: MENEZES, Raimundo de. Dicionário Literário Brasileiro Ilustrado. São Paulo: Saraiva, 1969. v. 1.
GRANDE Enciclopédia Barsa. 3.ed. São Paulo: Barsa Planeta Internacional, 2005.
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Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Austregésilo de Athayde. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.