Writer, novelist and playwright, Hermilo Borba Carvalho Filho was born on 8 July 1917,on the Verde Plantation in the municipality of Palmares, in the Southern Forest Zone of Pernambuco, to Hermilo Borba Carvalho and Irinéa Portela de Carvalho.
From an early age, he was attracted to literature and to theatre. He began as a prompter (stagehand who, out of the public’s view, reminds actors of their lines), at the Palmares Culture Society, later being promoted to actor.
He moved to Recife and studied medicine and industrial chemistry, but finished neither course. He graduated with a Bachelor in Judicial and Social Sciences from the Recife Faculty of Law in 1950, however never practiced law.
His interest was always in the theatre and literature. He participated in important cultural initiatives in Pernambuco, such as the creation of the Teatro Operário do Recife (Recife Workers’ Theatre) in 1943; the Teatro do Estudante de Pernambuco (Pernambuco Student Theatre), in partnership with Ariano Suassuna and other artists and intellectuals, in 1946; the Cine Clube do Recife in 1950; the Teatro Popular do Nordeste (Northeast Popular Theatre) (TPN), the Teatro de Arena do Recife (Recife Arena Theatre)and the Movimento de Cultura Popular de Pernambuco (Pernambuco Popular Culture Movement) (MCP) in 1960.
He held various positions, among them that of professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco; director of the Departmentof Documentation andCultureand secretary-general of the Recife City Council; researcher and director of the Museum of Popular Art, of the Joaquim Nabuco Institute of Social Research (today the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation).
He translated and coordinated the publication of various literature, art and history books and contributed to magazines like: Renovação (Renovation)(1941); Contraponto (Counterpoint) (1946); Boletim da Cidade e do Porto do Recife (Bulletin of the City and Port of Recife) (1957); Revista da Academia Pernambucana de Letras (Magazine of the Pernambuco Academy of Letter) (1964); Estudos Universitários (University Studies) (UFPE, 1970), published in Recife; Visão (Vision), Realidade (Reality), Manchete (Headline), Playboy (São Paulo); Brasil Açucareiro (Sugarcane Brazil), Revista Civilização Brasileira(Brazilian Civilization Magazine) (Rio de Janeiro) and Colóquio Letras (Letters Colloquy), publishedin Lisbon, Portugal.
He also wrote for the Recife newspapersPraieiro, Folha da Manhã, Jornal Pequeno, Diário da Noite, Diario de Pernambuco, Jornal do Commercio and Jornal da Cidade, and for Última Hora and Correio Paulista, published in São Paulo, as well as being on the editorial board of the São Paulo weekly Movimento(1975),together with composer Chico Buarque de Holanda, sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso and indigenous anthropologist Orlando Vilas Boas.
He received various awards as a playwright and writer:Best New Director, from the São Paulo Association of Theatre Critics (1957); Best National Comedy Director,from the Rio de Janeiro City Council (1957); Best Theatre Director, from the Pernambuco Association of Theatre Critics (1958 to 1961 and 1968); Silvino Lopes de Teatro, from the Pernambuco Section of the Brazilian Association of Writers (1962): Romance OthonBezerra de Melo, from the Pernambuco Academy of Letters (1964); and theChevalier de l`Ordre des Artes et des Letters, awarded by the French government (1969).
Hermilo Borba Filho is the author of a large number of plays, novels, short stories and novellas.
The tetralogy Um cavaleiro da segunda decadência (A Gentleman of the Second Decadence) is considered his most important work. It is composed of four novels: Margem das Lembranças (Margin of Memories) (1966); A porteira do mundo (The World’s Gate) (1967); O cavalo da noite (The Night Horse) (1968) and Deus no pasto (God in the Pasture)(1972). Besides these, he wrote the following novels: Caminhos da solidão (Paths of Loneliness) (1957); História de um Tatuetê (The Story of a Tatuetê), published by Gráfico Amador(1958); Sol das almas (Sun of the Souls)(1964); Agá(1974). He is also the author of the short stories O general estápintando(The General is Painting) (1973); Setedias a cavalo (Seven Days on Horseback) (1975); As meninas do sobrado (The Girls of the Barn) (1976) and the novella Os ambulantes de Deus (The Wanderers of God) (posthumous edition 1976).
For using swear words in his novels, he received the label of ‘escritor maldito’ (damned writer).
A felicidade (Happiness) was his first play, staged and directed by him for the Palmares Culture Society in 1935. The short story as pernas daquela moça (The Legs of That Woman), reproduced in the magazine Renovação, in 1941, was his first published text.
He also wrote the following plays: Parentes de ocasião (Accidental Parents) (1943);O presidente da República (The President of the Republic) (1943); Soldados da retaguarda (Soldiers in the Rear-guard), in partnership withValdemar de Oliveira (1944); O círculo encantado (The Enchanted Circle), tragedy (1944); Vidascruzadas (Crossed Paths)(1944); O vento do mundo (The Wind of the World) (1948); JoãoSem Terra (Landless John)(1949); Cabracabriola (Prancing Goat), for the mamulengo theatre (1951); Noé (Noah), tragedy (1951); Osbailarinos (The Dancers) (1951); Três cavalheiros a rigor (Three Gentlemen in Black-Tie) (1953); A barca de ouro(The Golden Boat) (1955);Apena suma cadeira vazia(Just an Empty Chair) or Um paroquiano inevitável (An Inevitable Parishioner)(1956); Electra no circo (Electra at the Circus) (1956); Nossavida com mamãe (Our Life with Mother) (1957); O bom samaritano (The Good Samaritan) (1965); O cabofanfarrão(The Pompous Corporal) (1966); A donzela Joana (Lady Joana) (1966); As moscas (The Flies) (1969); Sobrados e mocambos (Shacks and Shanties) (1972).
Hermilo Borba Filho died in Recife on 2 June 1976.
Recife, 26 march 2007.
(Updated on 28 august 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
ALVES, Leda. Atos e cenas de Hermilo. Suplemento Cultural D.O. PE, Recife, ano 9, p.11-14, jul. 1996.
HERMILO Borba Filho 90 anos: galeria. Disponível em: <http://www.soniavandijck.com/hermilo_galeria.htm> Acesso em: 19 mar. 2007.
HERMILO Borba Filho [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <www.soniavandijck.com/hermilo_bfilho.gif>. Acesso em: 21 jun. 2007.
O HOMEM de teatro Hermilo Borba Filho: entrevista a Carlos Reis, Celso Marconi e Marcos Siqueira. Suplemento Cultural D.O. PE, Recife, ano 9, p.3-5, jul. 1996.
PRESENÇA viva de Hermilo Borba Filho. Suplemento Cultural D.O. PE, Recife, ano 9, jul. 1996.