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|Born||Octavio Paz Lozano
March 31, 1914
Mexico City, Mexico
|Died||April 19, 1998
Mexico City, Mexico
|Occupation||Writer, poet, diplomat|
|Literary movement||Surrealism, Existentialism|
|Notable award(s)||Nobel Prize in Literature
Octavio Paz Lozano (Spanish pronunciation: [okˈtaβjo pas loˈsano]; March 31, 1914 – April 19, 1998) was a Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1982 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Paz was born to Octavio Paz Solórzano and Josefina Lozano. His father was an active supporter of the Revolution against the Díaz regime. Paz was raised in the village of Mixcoac (now a part of Mexico City) by his mother Josefina (daughter of Spanish immigrants), his aunt Amalia Paz, and his paternal grandfather Ireneo Paz, a liberal intellectual, novelist, publisher and former supporter of President Porfirio Díaz. He studied at Colegio Williams. Because of his family's public support of Emiliano Zapata, they were forced into exile after Zapata's assassination. They served their exile in the United States.
Paz was introduced to literature early in his life through the influence of his grandfather's library, filled with classic Mexican and European literature. During the 1920s, he discovered the European poets Gerardo Diego, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Antonio Machado, Spanish writers who had a great influence on his early writings. As a teenager in 1931, under the influence of D. H. Lawrence, Paz published his first poems, including "Cabellera". Two years later, at the age of 19, he published Luna Silvestre ("Wild Moon"), a collection of poems. In 1932, with some friends, he founded his first literary review, Barandal. By 1939, Paz considered himself first and foremost a poet.
In 1935, Paz abandoned his law studies and left for Yucatán to work at a school in Mérida for sons of peasants and workers. There, he began working on the first of his long, ambitious poems, "Entre la piedra y la flor" ("Between the Stone and the Flower") (1941, revised in 1976), influenced by T. S. Eliot, which describes the situation of the Mexican peasant under the greedy landlords of the day.
In 1937, Paz was invited to the Second International Writers Congress in Defense of Culture in Spain during the country's civil war, showing his solidarity with the Republican side and against fascism. Upon his return to Mexico, Paz co-founded a literary journal, Taller ("Workshop") in 1938, and wrote for the magazine until 1941. In 1938 he also met and married Elena Garro, now considered one of Mexico's finest writers. They had one daughter, Helena. They were divorced in 1959. In 1943, Paz received a Guggenheim fellowship and began studying at the University of California at Berkeley in the United States, and two years later he entered the Mexican diplomatic service, working in New York for a while. In 1945, he was sent to Paris, where he wrote El Laberinto de la Soledad ("The Labyrinth of Solitude"), a groundbreaking study of Mexican identity and thought. In 1952, he travelled to India for the first time and, in the same year, to Tokyo, as chargé d'affaires, and then to Geneva, in Switzerland. He returned to Mexico City in 1954, where he wrote his great poem "Piedra de sol" ("Sunstone") in 1957 and Libertad bajo palabra (Liberty under Oath), a compilation of his poetry up to that time. He was sent again to Paris in 1959, following the steps of his lover, the Italian painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis. In 1962 he was named Mexico's ambassador to India.
In India, Paz completed several works, including El mono gramático (The Monkey Grammarian) and Ladera este (Eastern Slope). While in India, he came into contact with a group of writers called the Hungry Generation and had a profound influence on them.
In 1963, he broke up with Bona and married Marie-José Tramini, a French woman who would be his wife for the rest of his life. In October 1968, he resigned from the diplomatic corps in protest of the Mexican government's massacre of student demonstrators in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco. He sought refuge in Paris for a while and returned to Mexico in 1969, where he founded his magazine Plural (1970–1976) with a group of liberal Mexican and Latin American writers.
From 1970 to 1974, he lectured at Harvard University, where he held the Charles Eliot Norton professorship. His book Los hijos del limo ("Children of the Mire") was the result of those lectures. After the Mexican government closed Plural in 1975, Paz founded Vuelta, a publication with a focus similar to that of Plural, and continued to edit that magazine until his death. He won the 1977 Jerusalem Prize for literature on the theme of individual freedom. In 1980, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard, and in 1982, he won the Neustadt Prize. Once good friends with novelist Carlos Fuentes, Paz became estranged from him in the 1980s in a disagreement over the Sandinistas, whom Paz opposed and Fuentes supported. In 1988, Paz's magazine Vuelta carried an attack by Enrique Krauze on the legitimacy of Fuentes's Mexican identity, opening a feud between Fuentes and Paz that lasted until the latter's death. A collection of his poems (written between 1957 and 1987) was published in 1990. In 1990, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. In India he met the Hungryalist poets and was of immense help to them during their 35 month long trial.
He died of cancer in 1998.
Guillermo Sheridan, who was named by Paz as director of the Octavio Paz Foundation in 1998, published a book, Poeta con paisaje (2004) with several biographical essays about the poet's life up to 1968.
A prolific author and poet, Paz published scores of works during his lifetime, many of which are translated into other languages. His poetry, for example, has been translated into English by Samuel Beckett, Charles Tomlinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser and Mark Strand. His early poetry was influenced by Marxism, surrealism, and existentialism, as well as religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. His poem, "Piedra de sol" ("Sunstone"), written in 1957, was praised as a "magnificent" example of surrealist poetry in the presentation speech of his Nobel Prize. His later poetry dealt with love and eroticism, the nature of time, and Buddhism. He also wrote poetry about his other passion, modern painting, dedicating poems to the work of Balthus, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Antoni Tàpies, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roberto Matta. As an essayist Paz wrote on topics like Mexican politics and economics, Aztec art, anthropology, and sexuality. His book-length essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude (Spanish: El laberinto de la soledad), delves into the minds of his countrymen, describing them as hidden behind masks of solitude. Due to their history, their identity is lost between a pre-Columbian and a Spanish culture, negating either. A key work in understanding Mexican culture, it greatly influenced other Mexican writers, such as Carlos Fuentes. Ilan Stavans wrote that he was "the quintessential surveyor, a Dante's Virgil, a Renaissance man".
Paz wrote the play "La hija de Rappaccini" in 1956. The plot centers around a young Italian student who wanders about Professor Rappaccini's beautiful gardens where he spies the professor's even more beautiful daughter, Beatrice. He is horrified when he discovers the poisonous nature of the garden's beauty. Paz adapted the play from a 1844 short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that was also entitled "Rappaccini's Daughter".
He combined Hawthorne's story with sources from the Indian poet Vishakadatta and influences from Japanese Noh theatre, Spanish autos sacramentales and the poetry of William Butler Yeats. The play's opening performance was designed by the Mexican painter Leonora Carrington. First performed in English in 1996 at the Gate Theatre in London, the play was translated and directed by Sebastian Doggart and starred Sarah Alexander as Beatrice. In 1972, Surrealist author André Pieyre de Mandiargues translated the play into French as La fille de Rappaccini (Editions Mercure de France). Mexican composer Daniel Catán turned the play into an opera in 1992.
Paz's other works translated into English include several volumes of essays, some of the more prominent of which are Alternating Current (tr. 1973), Configurations (tr. 1971), The Labyrinth of Solitude (tr. 1963), The Other Mexico (tr. 1972); and El Arco y la Lira (1956; tr. The Bow and the Lyre, 1973). In the United States, Helen Lane's translation of Alternating Current won a National Book Award. Along with these are volumes of critical studies and biographies, including Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Duchamp (both, tr. 1970), and The Traps of Faith, an analytical biography of the Mexican 16th-century nun, feminist poet, mathematician, and thinker Sor Juana de la Cruz.
His works include the poetry collections ¿Águila o sol? (1951), La Estación Violenta, (1956), Piedra de Sol (1957), and in English translation the most prominent include two volumes which include most of Paz in English: Early Poems: 1935–1955 (tr. 1974), and Collected Poems, 1957–1987 (1987). Many of these volumes have been edited and translated by Eliot Weinberger, who is Paz's principal translator into American English.
Originally Paz showed his solidarity with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, but after learning of the murder of one of his comrades by the Republicans themselves he became gradually disillusioned. While in Paris in the early 1950s, influenced by David Rousset, André Breton and Albert Camus, he started publishing his critical views on totalitarianism in general, and against Joseph Stalin in particular.
In his magazines Plural and Vuelta, he exposed the violations of human rights in the communist regimes, including Castro's Cuba. This brought him much animosity from sectors of the Latin American left. In the prologue to Volume IX of his complete works, Paz stated that from the time when he abandoned communist dogma, the mistrust of many in the Mexican intelligentsia started to transform into an intense and open enmity. Nonetheless, Paz always considered himself a man of the left; the democratic, "liberal" left, not the dogmatic and illiberal one.
In 1990, during the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, Paz and his Vuelta colleagues invited several of the world's writers and intellectuals to Mexico City to discuss the collapse of communism, including Czesław Miłosz, Hugh Thomas, Daniel Bell, Ágnes Heller, Cornelius Castoriadis, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Jean-François Revel, Michael Ignatieff, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Edwards and Carlos Franqui. The Vuelta encounter was broadcast on Mexican television from 27 August to 2 September.
Octavio Paz has been critical of most aspects of the Zapatista uprising. He spoke broadly in favor of a "military solution" to the uprising of January 1994, and hoped that the "army would soon restore order in the region". With respect to President Zedillo's offensive in February 1995, he signed an open letter that described the offensive as a "legitimate government action" to reestablish the "sovereignty of the nation" and to bring "Chiapas peace and Mexicans tranquility" 
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