Lygia Bojunga Nunes

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography; Critical essay
Length: 2,671 words

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About this Person
Born: August 26, 1932 in Pelotas, Brazil
Nationality: Brazilian
Occupation: Children's writer
Other Names: Nunes, Lygia; Bojunga-Nunes, Lygia



  • Os colegas, as Lygia Bojunga Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: Sabiá, 1972); translated by Ellen Watson as The Companions (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989).
  • Angélica, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1975).
  • A bolsa amarela, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1976).
  • A casa da madrinha, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1978).
  • Corda bamba, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1979).
  • O sofá estampado, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1980).
  • Tomie Ohtake: 7 cartas e 2 sonhos, by Bojunga, as Nunes, and Tomie Ohtake (Rio de Janeiro: Berlendis & Vertecchia, 1983).
  • Tchau, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1984).
  • O meu amigo pintor, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: J. Olympio, 1987); translated by Giovanni Pontiero as My Friend the Painter (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991).
  • Nós três, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1987).
  • Livro: um encontro com Lygia Bojunga Nunes, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1988).
  • Fazendo Ana paz, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1991).
  • Paisagem, as Nunes (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1992).
  • O abraço (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1995).
  • Seis vezes Lucas (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1995).
  • Feito à mão (Rio de Janeiro: Casa Lygia Bojunga, 1996).
  • A cama (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1999).
  • O Rio e eu (Rio de Janeiro: Salamandra, 1999).
  • Retratos de Carolina (Rio de Janeiro: Casa Lygia Bojunga, 2002).


In 1982 the International Board on Books for Youth gave the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, considered the Nobel Prize of children's literature, to Lygia Bojunga, the first author writing in Portuguese to receive the prize. Although she had already published six innovative works by this time, none had been translated into any of the major languages of the world. A short version translated into English by Bojunga and one French translation were all that the jury for the Hans Christian Andersen Award had on which to judge her works. Bojunga, who had begun publishing ten years earlier with a book for children, Os colegas (1972; translated as The Companions, 1989), was surprised by this unusual international recognition for a Brazilian writer.

Lygia Bojunga was born in Pelotas, in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Uruguay, on 26 August 1932. Her father, who was in the military, moved the family to Rio de Janeiro in 1940. His career took the family to Belo Horizonte for a short time during Bojunga's adolescence, but she spent most of her youth in Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. In a rare statement to the press in the 1980s the writer spoke of her early interest in literature, beginning at age seven. Later, she was studying to enter medical school when she won first place in auditions given by the theatrical director Paschoal Carlos Magno. She gave up her plans to become a physician and joined the professional acting company of Henriette Morineau.

This experience led Bojunga not only to perform but also to translate, adapt, and write. As she stated, "meu encontro com o fazer literário me pegou de surpresa; foi tão forte tão cheio de afinidades que, quando me dei conta, eu tinha assumido por completo minha vocação de escritora" (my encounter with making literature caught me by surprise; it was such a strong experience, filled with such possibilities, that before I realized it I was already totally dedicated to being a writer). She went on radio and then on television to one of the most important theatrical series for children, Teatrinho Trol, presented on Sunday afternoons. The theater was to have an even greater impact later in her life.

Determined to dedicate herself to writing, Bojunga decided to move to the mountains a few hours outside of Rio de Janeiro to be closer to nature. Here she met and married an Englishman and opened a small rural school that they operated from 1964 to 1969, during the first phase of the military dictatorship in Brazil. Her husband, Peter, however, had wanderlust, so the couple left Brazil and traveled around the world while he worked as a supervisor for the International Air Transport Association (IATA). During their trips Bojunga generally wrote by hand in a notebook.

Even though the dictatorship imposed harsh censorship measures on writers, the 1970s were a promising period for literature in Brazil. The government required the reading of national authors in the schools, including José Bento Monteiro Lobato, Ofélia and Narbal Fontes, Maria Dupret, Origines Lessa, Câmara Cascudo, and Cecília Meireles. At this time several writers emerged who experimented with fiction for young people. This group, mostly writing for a journal dedicated to children, Recreio (Recreation), included Ana Maria Machado, Ruth Rocha, and Joel Rufino e Ziraldo. Several new illustrators of books for children worked with these writers.

Bojunga, however, was not a part of the group that worked for Recreio. She shunned publicity, refusing to give interviews or be photographed. She dispensed with parties celebrating the publication of her works, and she never went to schools to promote them. This situation is interesting since she began her professional life as an actress.

Bojunga has received prizes for all of her books published in Brazil. Os colegas, her first book, is a story about individual freedom that features animal characters. Angélica, which came out in 1975 and was well received by the critics, discusses the directions in life taken by a disillusioned stork upon discovering that her status among the animals is based on a lie: storks do not deliver babies. Bojunga's third work, A bolsa amarela (1976, The Yellow Purse), which was popular with young readers, narrates the story of a young girl who, by means of a yellow purse thrown away by an aunt, experiences her three greatest wishes: to be a child, to grow up, and to become a writer. The book deals with family relationships, school, childhood repressions, and the joy of the imagination that allows for anything to happen.

When Bojunga published A casa da madrinha (The Godmother's House) in 1978 and Corda bamba (an idiomatic expression meaning to find oneself in a dangerous situation with no protection) in 1979, Brazilian children's literature reached a new level of maturity. She demonstrated that authors writing for children could use the same stylized diction present in works for adults, as long as the content was kept at a level accessible to the child. In these two works Bojunga deals with the social and cultural impact on children who are abandoned and those who are overly protected.

In 1982, the year that Bojunga won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, she and her husband moved to England, where, as she says, she discovered that the writer is a citizen of her language: "comecei então a alternar meu tempo entre Londres e Rio: mas não ouvir a minha língua vai ficando uma penalidade cada vez maior e eu ando esticando cada vez mais o meu tempo do Rio . . ." (I began then to divide my time between London and Rio: but not hearing my own language became a great burden and I began to prolong my time in Rio on each trip . . .).

Prior to her travels Bojunga left a sixth book, O sofá estampado (1980, The Printed Sofa), in press in Brazil. The book, which concerns the relationship of young people with the medium of television, is a courageous criticism of television programming. Although critical of the medium, Bojunga is not propagandistic in tone. On the contrary, her narrative is allegorical and metaphorical in its approach to the problem as she discusses the lack of communication that television fosters, even among people who love each other.

After Bojunga won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, her works were translated into twenty languages, including English. The success of international recognition did not change her rhythm of writing; she continued to publish books at about the same rate. For a special volume in the series Arte para crianças (Art for Children), Bojunga wrote the text for Tomie Ohtake: 7 cartas e 2 sonhos (1983, Tomie Ohtake: 7 Letters and 2 Dreams), a book illustrated by Tomie Ohtake, a well-known Japanese-Brazilian artist. In 1984 she published Tchau (Ciao), a small book that is somewhat different from her previous novellas. The work is a collection of four short stories linked by the recurrence of the notion of saying good-bye, as the title suggests. In simple, colloquial language Bojunga explores difficult situations of separation involving a mother and daughter, friends, and sisters.

O meu amigo pintor (1987; translated as My Friend the Painter , 1991) is the story of a reclusive artist, a former political prisoner, who tells his secrets and stories to a child living in the same building. The youth observes the life of the artist and perceives his prejudices, relationships, and solitude up to the moment of his suicide. Bojunga handles the painful issue of suicide in a delicate and subtle manner for her young readers. Her stage adaptation of the story as O pintor (The Painter) won two important theatrical awards in 1986, the Molière Prize (France) and the Mambembe Prize (Brazil).

Nós três (We Three), also published in 1987 and adapted for the stage in 1989, is presented through the eyes of an adolescent who accompanies a sculptress, a friend of her mother, on a trip to the beach. The child intuits the artist's obsessive passion for her model. The strong emotional involvement kills the woman at the end of the narrative.

Livro: um encontro com Lygia Bojunga Nunes (1988, Book: An Encounter with Lygia Bojunga Nunes) is a mixture of literature, autobiography, reading theory, and Proustian reflections on the formation of the reader. The work is composed of six stories that present the love affair between a reader and literature. Narrated in the first person under her own name, the stories have the tone of a memoir and may be seen as depicting the relationship between Bojunga and her model reader. The work, which has the structure of a theatrical monologue, was a success in Brazil and Portugal. This particular type of writing represented Bojunga's renewed contact with the stage. The experiment fascinated her, and in 1991 she published Fazendo Ana paz (Making Peace with Ana), which features a similar mixture of autobiography and fiction. She uses the narrative as a space in which to come to grips with her past and find some sense of closure. She admits that she is not successful and presents the story as unfinished.

Bojunga's next book, Paisagem (Landscape), much anticipated by critics, was published in 1992. In this work she establishes an elaborate theory of reading and writing through an exchange of correspondence with a young reader in London.

Bojunga admitted in a 1995 interview that the face-to-face contact with her public afforded by the stage was better than the visibility created by an interview: "Não é isso (teatralização do texto literário) que ando querendo fazer. O que eu quero agora é investigar melhor essa nova forma de me relacionar com meus leitores . . . eles passam de leitor para espectador; eu largo a escrita e conto meu livro ao vivo" (This [the theatricalization of the literary text] is not what I want to do. What I want to do now is to research better this new way of creating a relationship with my readers . . . they go from being my reader to being my spectator; I stop writing and narrate my book in the flesh). This process kept Bojunga occupied for three years.

Bojunga began to publish again in 1995 with two new books. Both Seis vezes Lucas (Six Times Lucas) and O abraço (The Embrace) were daring works for the genre of children's literature. In the first, a young boy experiences the breakup of his home because of his parents' childish behavior and is forced to grow up quickly. O abraço is an even more daring but masterful work. Bojunga deals with the issue of child molestation in a story told by a young woman facing her attacker. Even the author's most supportive critics were hesitant in their acceptance of the book; they did not criticize its literary quality but questioned the treatment of such a theme in a work for children. Bojunga has never commented on or responded to reviews or analyses of her writing.

Until 1996 Bojunga published all her works with her first two publishers, AGIR and José Olympio. That year she finally fulfilled her lifelong dream of setting up her own publishing firm, Casa Lygia Bojunga (House of Lygia Bojunga), which published her next book, Feito à mão (Handmade). She was involved in every aspect of the production of this autobiographical work, including even the selection of the paper and the binding.

Bojunga published two books in 1999, O Rio e eu (Rio and I) and A cama (The Bed). The Rio of the first title is Rio de Janeiro, which the writer has loved since her childhood. She transforms it into the city of her dreams in a flowing narrative that vacillates between love and hate for the streets and neighborhoods that once enchanted her. She establishes an even-tempered but emotional dialogue with the city, which becomes a protagonist, as she describes a society that lives in a mixture of wealth and poverty. The style that emerges in the narrative is a combination of the autobiographical, the lyrical, and the magical. In A cama a bed serves as the protagonist, with whom the narrator carries on a dialogue. The bed is a two-hundred-year-old family heirloom that is about to be passed from father to son in a poor family. A cama is the first work by Bojunga that is identified as a novel on the cover.

Bojunga spent six years working on Retratos de Carolina (2002, Portraits of Carolina), which, like Feito à mão, is autobiographical in nature. She has discussed how she and her main character, Carolina, are fused in the narrative: "Aqui eu me misturo com a Carolina, viro personagem também: queria ver se dava pra ficar todo mundo morando junto na mesma casa: eu, a Carolina, e mais os outros personagens: na casa que eu inventei" (Here I become fused with Carolina, I become a character also; I wanted to see if we all--I, Carolina, and the other characters--could live in the house that I invented).

An issue that clearly stands out in Bojunga's work is the question of reading and the formation of the reader. She explores this issue in her narratives through titles and themes that revolve around her own reading, the processes of writing, the failure of schools in teaching, and the importance of language as a liberating force. Diaries play an important role in some of her works, linking the acts of writing and reading.

Bojunga's works seem to mature with the readers she addresses in each successive book. In Os colegas she speaks to a reader aged seven or eight. Each following work then becomes more complex as she increases her expectations of the reader. From one narrative to the next, up to Retratos de Carolina, she poses new questions, problems, and conflicts through allegorical situations. Because of this pattern of development, critics have constantly asked if her work was ever really intended for children. For Bojunga this question is not important. Although adults and children perceive and interpret life in different ways, an interesting story has something for readers of all ages.

Lygia Bojunga's works provide good examples of the artistic possibilities inherent in the delicate and difficult genre of children's literature. In her narratives, which appeal also to adults, she uncovers prejudices and power structures in lucid, playful writing that offers various levels of interpretation. In a style reminiscent of Lobato that respects young people's sensibilities and intelligence, Bojunga has created works that inspire a happiness in reading. Her writings have earned her a place among the best Brazilian writers of children's literature.




  • Amélia Lacombe, Lygia Bojunga (Rio de Janeiro: AGIR, 1989).
  • Marta Morais, "Narrar e criar: Lygia Bojunga Nunes," Proleitura, 2, no. 8 (1995): 4-8.
  • Morais, "Por que ler Bojunga," Proleitura, 2, no. 9 (1996): 6-10.
  • Morais, "Transpondo a dor em cor, a letra em palco: textos de Lygia Bojunga Nunes," Letras, 41-42 (1992-1993): 51-61.
  • Eliana Yunes, "A maioridade da literatura infantil brasileira," Revista tempo brasileiro: literatura infanto-juvenil, 63 (1980): 106-130.


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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200012354