Hilda Hilst

Hilda Hilst (April 21, 1930—February 4th, 2004) was a Brazilian poet, novelist, and playwright. She is lauded as one of the most important Portuguese-language authors of the twentieth century. Her work touches on the themes of mysticism, insanity, the body, eroticism, and female sexual liberation. Hilst greatly revered the work of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and the influence of their styles like stream of consciousness and fractured reality in her own work.[1][2]

Personal Life

Hilda de Almeida Prado Hilst was the only daughter of Apolônio de Almeida Prado Hilst and Bedecilda Vaz Cardoso. Her father owned a coffee plantation and also worked as a journalist, poet, and essayist. He struggled with Schizophrenia throughout his life. Her mother came from a conservative Portuguese immigrant family. Her parents conditions suffering from mental health and oppressive conservative social standards greatly influenced Hilst’s writing. Her parents separated in 1932 while she was still an infant, and it was only three years later when her father received the diagnosis of Schizophrenia and thereafter spent much of his life in mental institutions. Her mother was also institutionalized at the end of her life for dementia. [3]

Hilst grew up in Jaú, a town in the state of São Paulo with her mother and half brother from her mother’s previous marriage. Hilst attended elementary and high school at Collegia Santa Marcelina in São Paulo before enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program at Mackenzie Presbyterian University.[4] Before starting college, Hilst’s mother told her of her father’s condition, and Hilst went to visit him for the first time in a mental institution. Her visits with her father gave her unusual exposure to the severe cases of mental illness patients there suffered, which would come to impact Hilst’s treatment of the mind and surrealism in her writing.[5]

After graduating from Mackenzie Presbyterian, Hilst began studying for her second degree with the faculty of law at the University of São Paulo. While attending law school, Hilst met her lifelong friend Lygia Fagundes who would introduce her to contemporary Brazilian poetry.[6]

Hilst published her first book of poetry in 1950, Presságio (Omen), which received great acclaim from her contemporaries like Jorge de Lima and Cecília Meireles. It wasn’t long before she published her second book, Balada de Alzira (Ballad of Alzira) in 1951. That same year Hilst took over guardianship of her ailing father. Later in 1957, Hilst began her seven month tour of Europe, traveling through France, Italy and Greece.[7]

Upon her return to São Paulo, Hilst remained a constant fixture on the city’s nightlife scene for several years. However, after reading Report to Greco, an autobiography by Nikos Kazantzakis, Hilst decided to leave the bustling city life in 1964 and return to her childhood home in Campinas.[8]

She ordered the construction of a new house on the same property, Casa do Sol (Sun House), which she personally designed in order to be an artistic space for inspiration and creativity. When it was completed in 1966, she moved into the house with sculptor Dante Casarini. In September of the same year, her father passed away.

Hilst married Casarini in 1968. Although the marriage only lasted twelve years, the two continued to live together in Casa do Sol.[9] Hilst lived somewhat secluded in Campinas for the rest of her life, accompanied by her hundred dogs and other artists. She made Casa do Sol into a sort of artists’ hub, inviting writers to spend time there and enjoy the creative atmosphere. Two of the most important Brazilian authors to do so were Bruno Tolentino and Caio Fernando Abreu. During her time at Casa do Sol, Hilst also engaged in her own experiments with Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), an electronic recording method that supposedly interprets the voices of the dead.[10]

Hilst wrote for fifty years with great success. The different periods of her life are reflected in the phases of her work. Beginning with her first book in 1950 through the time before she moved into Casa do Sol, Hilst primarily published poetry. Around the death of her father and her marriage in 1967, Hilst began writing and staging plays. After her divorce and through the rest of her life, Hilst’s work was mostly fiction.[11]

Author Hilda Hilst died on February 4th, 2004, in Campinas at the age of 73. She spent her final days in the hospital following surgery for a fractured femur. Due to a chronic heart and pulmonary condition, Hilst was unable to recover.[12]

Following her death, Hilst’s friend Mora Fuentes created the Hilda Hilst Institute in her honor, an organization whose mission is to uphold Casa do Sol as a space for artistic creation and serves as a library and cultural center.[13]

Hilst has recently garnered more fame among English language readership as several of her novels were translated and became available in English, such as With My Dog Eyes, The Obscene Madame D., and Letters from a Seducer.[14]

Other Languages
català: Hilda Hilst
Deutsch: Hilda Hilst
español: Hilda Hilst
français: Hilda Hilst
português: Hilda Hilst
русский: Хилст, Хилда