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Rachel de Queiroz

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Rachel de Queiroz

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Last update: 30/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

She was born on 17 November 1910, at 86 Senador Pompeo St in Fortaleza, Ceará, to Daniel de Queiroz and Clotilde Franflin. On her mother’s side, the Alencars, were related to the writer José de Alencar.

45 days after her birth, the family returned to Quixadá, 170 kilometres from Fortaleza, where Rachel father was a Judge. Until the age of three, she lived between Quixadá and the Junco Farm owned by her family.

In 1913 the family returned to Fortaleza because of Daniel de Queiroz’ nomination for the role of prosecutor. However, after one year her father resigned and began teaching Geography at the Lyceum. With more time to spend with his family, he took over his daughter’s education, teaching her to ride a horse, swim and read.

Facing the consequences of the great drought of 1915 became an essential fact for Rachel de Queiroz’ work. In July 1917, the Queiroz family moved to Rio de Janeiro, relocating in November to Belém, in the State of Pará, where they remained for two years before returning to Ceará.

In 1921, Rachel’s father enrolled her in the Colégio Imaculada Conceição, in Fortaleza. Rachel did the standard course and, at only 15, received her teaching diploma. Returning to the farm in Quixadá, in 1925, and with guidance from her mother, she dedicated herself to reading national and foreign authors. Stimulated by the intensive reading, she wrote her first stories. But because of shyness, she didn’t show them to anyone.

Using the pseudonym Rita de Queluz, she made fun of the Queen of Students competition in 1927, sending a letter to the newspaper O Ceará, the event’s promoter. Because of the success of the letter, she was invited to work at the paper. Ironically, she ended up being elected Queen of Students three years later. A substitute teacher of history at the school where she had finished her standard course, she was, interestingly enough, younger than most of the students. Living again in Fortaleza, she began to regularly contribute to O Ceará, organising the literary page of the newspaper. She published the supplement História de um nome (History of a Name).

Health problems (a pulmonary congestion and suspected tuberculosis) forced Rachel de Queiroz to undergo rigid treatment in 1930. During this time she began writing O quinze (The Fifteen), her first novel dealing with the drought. It was published in august with a run of one thousand copies. Contrary to reticent critiques published in the Ceará newspapers, the book was a hit in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of the country, receiving compliments from Augusto Frederico Schmidt and Mário de Andrade.

In March 1931, Rachel de Queiroz received the award in the novel category from the Graça Aranha Foundation, funded by the writer, in Rio de Janeiro. There she met members of the Communist Party and on her return to Fortaleza she participated in its set up in the Northeast, being subjected to harassment from right-wingers.

She married the poet José Auto da Cruz Oliveira in 1932. An incident provoked her departure from the Communist Party. She was invited to a meeting and informed that her second novel João Miguel had not been approved, because of a passage where one worker kills another. Rachel gathered the originals, declared that she did not recognise the Party’s authority to censor the piece and ran from the place. She ended up publishing the work through Editora Schmidt, in Rio de Janeiro, and moved to São Paulo, breaking off contact with the Trotskyite group.

The following year, once again in Fortaleza, her daughter Clotilde was born. In 1935, she moved to Maceió, where she struck up a friendship with the writers Graciliano Ramos, Jorge de Lima and José Lins do Rego. A victim of septicaemia, Clotilde died at eighteen months.

Her third novel Caminho de pedras was published in 1937 by Editora José Olympio. Her novels were burned during the ‘New State’ along with those of Jorge Amado, José Lins do Rego and Graciliano Ramos, for being considered subversive. Due to her political activities, she was arrested for three months. In 1939, she separated from José Auto and published her fourth novel As três Marias (The Three Marias).

In 1940 she met the physician Oyama de Macedo, with whom she would live until 1982, when her second husband passed away. Upon hearing of the death of Trotsky, by order of Stalin, she decided to step away from the left and declared herself a socialist and an anarchist. She worked for the Correio da Manhã, O Jornal and the Diário da Tarde, become the exclusive chronicler for the magazine O Cruzeiro. She moved, in 1945, to Governador Island in Rio de Janeiro.

She published a collection of chronicles entitled A donzela e a moura torta (The Maiden and the Crooked Moor) in 1948, the year her father died. In 1953, at the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro and at the Leopoldo Fróes Theatre in São Paulo, the play Lampião was staged. Rachel won the Saci Award from the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo for the São Paulo production.
For her body of work, the Brazilian Academy of Letters gave her the Machado de Assis Award in 1957. Ten years after editing her first book of chronicles, she released 100 crônicas escolhidas (100 Chosen Chronicles) in 1958, also publishing the play A beata Maria do Egito (The Beata Maria of Egypt).

In 1964 she involved herself with the conspirators to bring down President João Goulart – her house hosted various preparatory meetings for the 1964 military coup – losing the sympathy of part of the best literary critics.

She was named in 1966, by countryman and kindred President Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, as Brazilian delegate to the 21st session of the UN General Assembly, working on the Commission of Human Rights. A year later, she joined the Federal Council of Culture. With Menino mágico (The Magic Boy), she entered into children’s/youth literature in 1969. Only in 1975 did she publish a new novel, Dôra, Doralina.

Elected on 4 August and admitted on 4 November 1977, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Letters, winning by 23 votes to 15 over the jurist Francisco Cavalcanti Pontes de Miranda, occupying Chair no. 5.

In 1978, the novel O quinze was published in Japan and Germany. Dôra, Doralina was published in France in 1980, the year the soap opera As três Marias, based on her book, debuted on Globo TV. In 1981, Dôra, Doralina was also adapted for cinema and in 1985 the book O galo de ouro (The Golden Rooster) was published, a supplement that was written in forty editions of the magazine O Cruzeiro in the 1950s.

In 1986, she launched the children’s book Cafute & Pena-de-Patra, with illustrations by Ziraldo. Permanently attracted to journalism, she began to write chronicles for the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo in 1988.

All her books written for adult readers were released by Editora José Olympio in 1989 in five volumes under the title Obra reunida (Reunited Work). In 1992, Editora Siciliano, who had won the rights to publish the complete works of Rachel de Queiroz, published the novel Memorial de Maria Moura (Memorial of Maria Moura), which was again adapted for TV, being launched by Rede Globo as a miniseries in 1994. With the participation of her sister Maria Luiza, she began her memoirs in 1995.

Rachel de Queiroz was not just a writer. A respected translator, she converted over forty books in French, English, Italian and Spanish to Portuguese. Rachel projected herself nationally with a socially-based novel, portraying in a realistic manner the struggle of the people against misery and drought. She consolidated, literally, the character of the ‘sertaneja’ (country woman). She renewed the novel based on popular roots, and guaranteed herself a prominent place in Brazilian literature.

At the age of 92, she died in her sleep on 4 November 2003 in her home in Rio de Janeiro.

Recife, 22 March 2004.
(Updated on 31 August 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.


sources consulted


ADEUS a Rachel, pioneira e feminista. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 5 nov. 2003. Caderno C, p. 1.

RACHEL de Queiroz. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 4 nov. 2003.

RACHEL de Queiroz (foto). Disponível em: >.Acesso em:  20 mar. 2004.

RACHEL de Queiroz. São Paulo: Instituto Moreira Salles, 1997. 127p. (Cadernos de literatura brasileira, 4 ).


how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Rachel de Queiroz. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.