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Maranhão writer José Pereira da Graça Aranha was born in São Luís on 21 June 1868, the son of Themistocles da Silva Maciel Aranha and Maria da Glória da Graça. His father had in his house the typography and the editing of the daily newspaper O Paiz, and it was there that Graça Aranha learned to be typographer. His mother was responsible for teaching him to read and write.
His primary studies were conducted in the lyceums of Maranhão. In 1888, he left his hometown to study law in Recife. He gained his bachelor’s degree in 1886. At the Recife Faculty of Law he met Tobias Barreto, who had a major influence on his growth as a person and a writer. Their affinities were mainly towards Abolition and the Republic.
Another personality Graça admired greatly was the republican poet Martins Júnior, whom he had supported in the Recife Faculty of Law’s election for student representative. Graça defined himself as such: “I was an abolitionist, republican, anarchist, ally, modernist and revolutionary.” (ARANHA, 1968, p. 575).
Soon after graduating, he dedicated himself to law, teaching and the judiciary. In 1899, he went to Europe as Joaquim Nabuco’s secretary on the abolitionist special missions to London and Rome.
He served as secretary of the Bolivian-Brazilian court, whose assignment was to try to resolve the Acre land compensation issues created by the Treaty of Petrópolis. He was Plenipotentiary Minister [diplomatic agent vested with full powers, for a special mission] to Cuba and The Hague and a founding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, occupying Chair 39.
Considered one of the great names of Brazilian literature, he was a defender of Symbolism, later the precursor of the novel of ideas, and in 1922, he was a leader who influenced and encouraged young writers to join the renewal movement in defense of Modernism. He showed he was faithful to this position when he severed ties with the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Firstly, at a conference on 19 June 1924, he declared “the foundation of the Academy was unequivocally a mistake”; then later argued that the ‘Brazilianness’ was respected absolutely within the Academy and, therefore, presented as a founding member the following program, which was rejected:
1) The dictionary that the Academy must produce shall be a “Brazilian dictionary of the Portuguese language” and will contain all ‘Brazilianisms’ and eliminate all ‘Portuguesisms’.
2) The Academy will not accept for their competitions: a) Parnassian, Arcadian or Classical poetry; b) any work of fiction on mythological subjects that are not of Brazilian folklore, treated in a modern light; c) only accept Brazilian historical pieces treated with modern criteria.
3) The Academy will promote conferences on issues related to Brazilian themes.
4) All academic work will be purged of verbal Portuguese archaisms or classicisms.
5) Each semester there will be a critical study of Brazilian production.
6) It will publish works of young writers gifted with originality and modernism.
7) The Academy shall solicit articles by modern writers for its magazine.
Both his statement and his proposals provoked reactions for the Academy, which did not deter him from asking to leave the institution, under the “noisy demonstrations of its admirers”: “The Brazilian Academy is dead to me, as it does not exist for thought and the current life of Brazil. If I was incoherent in entering and staying there, I separate myself from the Academy for consistency.” (FRANCOVICH, 1979, p. 71).
A little known and valued side of Graça Aranha is as philosopher, that of the thinker revealed in four of his works: Canaan, Viagem Maravilhosa, Estética da Vida and Espírito Moderno. In the latter, published in 1921, his philosophical ideas were acclaimed by Paris’ Revue de l'Amérique Latine as “the birth of a ‘Brazilian metaphysics’.” (FRANCOVICH, 1979, p. 67).
Graça Aranha did not leave an abundant body of work. He published articles in the Revista Brasileira and the following books:
Canaã (Canaan), 1902 (translated into French, English and Spanish);
Malazarte, 1911 (play, drama);
Estética da Vida (The Art of Living), 1920;
Correspondência de Machado de Assis e Joaquim Nabuco (Correspondence between Machado de Assis and Joaquim Nabuco), 1923;
Espírito Moderno (Modern Spirit), 1925 (compilation of conferences and articles written under the motivation of the modernist campaign);
Manifesto de Marinetti e seus companheiros (Marinetti and His Companions’ Manifesto), 1926;
A Viagem Maravilhosa (The Wonderful Trip), 1929;
O Meu Próprio Romance (My Own Novel), 1931;
Obra Completa (Complete Works), organised by Afrânio Coutinho, 1969.
He died aged 63 on 26 January 1931, in Rio de Janeiro.
Recife, 27 November 2013.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.
ARANHA, Graça. Biografia. Available at: <http://www.academia.org.br/abl/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?infoid=595&sid=340>. Accessed: 21 nov. 2013.
ARANHA, José Pereira da Graça. Obra Completa. Organização de Afrânio Coutinho. Rio de Janeiro: INL, 1968. 903 p.
CARVALHO, Jose Lopes Pereira de. Os membros da Academia Brasileira em 1915: tracos bio-bibliographicos, acompanhados de excerptos de suas produccoes. Rio de Janeiro:[s.n.], [19--]. 630 p.
FRANCOVICH, Guillermo. Filósofos brasileiros. Rio de Janeiro: Presença, 1979. 126 p.
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BARBOSA, Virgínia. Graça Aranha. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar_en/index.php>. Accessed: day month year. Ex. 6 ago. 2009.