Writer and politician José Américo de Almeida was born on the Olho d’Água sugarcane plantation in the municipality of Areia, Paraíba,on 10 January 1887, to Inácio Augusto de Almeida and Josefa Leopoldina Leal de Almeida.
He began his studies on the plantation where he was born, with teacher Julia Veronica Leal dos Santos. After the death of his father, aged nine, he was placed in the care of an uncle, Father Odilon Benvindo, who tried to engage him in a ecclesiastical careerat the João Pessoa Seminary. He didn’t have the vocation, however, and left the Seminary to join the Paraiba Lyceum and later the Recife Faculty of Law, graduating in 1908.
He returned to Paraíba after graduation, where he was appointed district attorney of Souza county.
He held important public positions at state and national levels. He was Attorney General, Legal Adviser, State Secretary of the Interior, Justice and Public Safety (duringthe government of João Pessoa), Governor of Paraíba, Minister of Transportation and Public Works, Minister of the Court of Audit (TCU) and Brazilian Ambassador to the Holy See under President Getúlio Vargas, and was also a federal representative and later senator for his state.
In 1937, he was a presidential candidate, but in November that year, Getúlio Vargasshut down the Congress and cancelled the presidential elections, initiating the Estado Novo (New State) (1937-1945).
José Américo moved away from Vargas, but continued as Minister of the TCU during the entire period of the Estado Novo, returning to his political activities in late 1944.
He was elected senator for Paraíba in February 1945, and reconnected politically with Getúlio Vargas, returning to the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works – a position he held until the death of Vargas in 1954.
He ran for the vice presidency in 1946, but lost the election to Senator Nereus Ramos.
In January 1947, he was elected senator for Paraíba and chosen to lead the National Democratic Union (UDN) party, but the following year he broke away from the partydue to political divergences and founded in Paraíbathe Liberator Party, with which he was elected governor in 1950.
He ran asa candidate for the Senate in 1958 but failed to get elected, and then withdrew from public life. In a voluntary retreat, he retired to his residence on the beach of Tambaú in João Pessoa, and later became known as the Tambaú Hermit.
Besides being a politician, Jose Américo also excelled as a writer. He wrote several works, but his masterpiece is the regionalist novel A bagaceira (Trash: a novel), launched in 1928 and currently has over thirty editions in Portuguese and translations into several languages, including Spanish, English, French and Esperanto.
In 1967, he was elected member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, occupying Chair 38, whose patron is Tobias Barreto, succeeding Professor Mauricio Medeiros.
He contributed to the Revista Era Nova (magazine) and the newspaper A União from João Pessoa, Paraiba.
When he withdrew from public life, devoted himself to writing his memoirs, publishing O ano do nego (The Year of Denying) in 1968, Eu e eles (Me and Them) in 1970 and Antes que me esqueça (Before I Forget), in 1976.
He was honoured by the Brazilian Union of Writers in 1976 with the title of Intellectual of the Year, receiving the Joça Patotrophy.
He published seventeen books: Reflexões de uma cabra (Reflections of a Goat)(1922), A Paraíba e seus problemas(Paraíba and its Problems) (1923); A bagaceira(Trash: a novel) (1928), Ministério da Viação no Governo Provisório (Ministry of Transportation in the Provisional Government) (1933); O ciclo revolucionário do Ministério da Viação(The Revolutionary Cycle of the Ministry of Transportation); O boqueirão(The Cove); Coiteiros ( 1935), As secas do Nordeste(Droughts in the Northeast) (1953); Ocasos de sangue: crônicas(Bloody Sunsets: chronic) (1954); Sem me rir, sem chorar(No Laughing, No Crying) (1957);Discursos do seu tempo(Discourses of TheirTime) (1964);A palavra e o tempo(The Word and the Time) (1965); Ad imortalitatem (speech held atthe Brazilian Academy of Letters, 1967), O ano do nego (The Year of Denying) (1968); Graça Aranha, o doutrinador: ensaio (Graça Aranha, the Counsellor: essay) (1968), Eu e eles (Me and them)(1970); Quarto minguante: poesia (Fourth Quarter: Poetry) (1975), Antes que me esqueça(Before I Forget)(1976).
José Américo de Almeida died on 10March 1980, in João Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba.
After his death, the house where he lived was transformed into a museum, keeping the same characteristicsas when he resided. Today the José Américo de Almeida Museum is part of the José Americo Foundation, a culturalorgan maintained by the Government of Paraiba.
Recife, 28 july 2005.
Updated on 28 august 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2012.
BIOGRAFIAS: José Américo de Almeida. Disponível em: <http://www.cpdoc.fgv/nav_historia/htm/biografias/ev_bio_joseamericoalmeida.htm>. Acesso em: 8 jun. 2005.
JOSÉ Américo de Almeida. Disponível em:<http://www.academia.org.br/imortais/cad/38americo.htm>. Acesso em: 6 jun. 2005.
JOSÉ Américo de Almeida. Disponível em: <http://www2.aplpb.com.br/academifcos/josea.htm>. Acesso em: 8 jun. 2005.
MENEZES, José Rafael de. José Américo de Almeida, um homem do bem comum. Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 1967.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. José Américo de Almeida. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.