Hilda Hilst

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Hilda Hilst
Hilst in 1970
Hilst in 1970
BornHilda de Almeida Prado Hilst
(1930-04-21)April 21, 1930
Jaú, São Paulo, Brazil
DiedFebruary 4, 2004(2004-02-04) (aged 73)
Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Poetry
  • novel
Years active1950–2004
Dante Casarini
(m. 1968; div. 1980)
Hh assinatura.GIF

Hilda Hilst (April 21, 1930 – February 4, 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—is evident in her own work.[1][2]

Personal life[edit]

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, their suffering with 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.[1] 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.[3]

After graduating from Mackenzie, Hilst began studying for her second degree at the law school 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.[4]

Hilst published her first book of poetry in 1950, Omen (Presságio), which received great acclaim from her contemporaries like Jorge de Lima and Cecília Meireles. It wasn't long before she published her second book, Ballad of Alzira (Balada de 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.[4]

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.[5]

She ordered the construction of a new house on the same property, nicknamed the Sun House Casa do Sol, 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 died.

Hilst married Casarini in 1968. Although the marriage only lasted twelve years, the two continued to live together in the Sun House.[6] Hilst lived somewhat secluded in Campinas for the rest of her life, accompanied by other artists. She made the Sun House 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 the Sun House, Hilst also engaged in her own experiments with electronic voice phenomena, an electronic recording method that supposedly interprets the voices of the dead.[3]

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 the Sun House, 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.[1]

After her death, Hilst 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.[4] Author Yuri Vieira, who lived in the Sun House for two years, wrote a book about his experiences there.[7]


Hilda Hilst wrote for almost 50 years, and collected the most important Brazilian literary prizes. Her work proceeded in several stages: she began as a poet, publishing Presságio in 1950; started publishing and staging plays in 1967; and shifted into prose in 1970, with her experimental text Fluxo-Floema. Throughout her career, beginning in 1958, with Adoniran Barbosa, musicians selected poems of hers to be set to music.[8]

In 1962 she won the Prêmio PEN Clube of São Paulo, for Sete Cantos do Poeta para o Anjo (Massao Ohno Editor, 1962). In 1969, the play O Verdugo took the Prêmio Anchieta, one of the most important in the country at the time. The Associação Brasileira de Críticos de Arte (APCA Prize) deemed Ficções (Edições Quíron, 1977) the best book of the year. In 1981, Hilda Hilst won the Grande Prêmio da Crítica para o Conjunto da Obra, by the same Associação Brasileira de Críticos de Arte. In 1984, the Câmara Brasileira do Livro awarded her the Jabuti Prize for Cantares de Perda e Predileção, and the following year the same book claimed the Prêmio Cassiano Ricardo (Clube de Poesia de São Paulo). Rútilo Nada, published in 1993, took the Jabuti Prize for best short story, and finally, on August 9, 2002, she was awarded at the 47th edition of Prêmio Moinho Santista in the poetry category.

From 1982 to 1995 Hilst participated in the Programa do Artista Residente (Artist-in-Residence program), at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas - UNICAMP. Since 1995 her personal files have been in IEL-UNICAMP and are available to researchers worldwide.

In several of her writings Hilst tackled politically and socially controversial issues, such as obscenity, queer sexuality, and incest. The tetralogy that comprises O caderno rosa de Lori Lamby and Contos d'escárnio. Textos grotescos (1990); Cartas de um Sedutor (1991); and Bufólicas (1992), includes overtly pornographic material, if not "pornography" per se.[9] She explored theological issues in her work as well.[10]


Hilst died on February 4, 2004, in Campinas at the age of 73. She had been hospitalized at the Hospital das Clínicas da Unicamp since January 2, following surgery for a fractured femur.[11] Her health sharply declined after contracting an infection, aggravated by a chronic heart and pulmonary condition, before she eventually passed away due to multiple organ failure.[12][13] Following her death, Hilst's friend Mora Fuentes created the Hilda Hilst Institute in her honor, an organization whose mission is to uphold the Sun House as a space for artistic creation and serves as a library and cultural center.[14]


A number of Hilst's books were originally published by smaller Brazilian publishers, but beginning in 2001, Editora Globo, the publishing branch of the Brazilian media organization Globo, began reissuing nearly all her works, as part of its Coleção Reunidas de Hilda Hilst.,[15][16] Some of her texts have been translated from Portuguese to French, English, Italian and German. In March 1997, her works Com meus olhos de cão and A obscena senhora D were published by Éditions Gallimard, translated by Maryvonne Lapouge. A obscena senhora D was translated into English as The Obscene Madame D collaboratively by Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araújo, and published jointly by Nightboat Books in New York and A Bolha Editora in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.[17] In 2014, Letters from a Seducer, John Keene's translation of Brazilian Hilda Hilst's 1991 novel Cartas de um sedutor, was published by Nightboat Books and A Bolha Editora,[18] and With My Dog Eyes, Adam Morris's translation of Hilst's 1986 novella Com os meus olhos de cão, was published by Melville House.[19]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bueno, M. A., & Hilst, Hilda (1996). Quatro mulheres e um destino: Hilda Hilst, Fernanda Torres, Fernanda Montenegro, Eliane Duarte. Rio de Janeiro, UAPE. ISBN 85-85666-17-X
  • Pécora, Alcir (org.), Luisa Destri, Cristiano Diniz, and Sonia Purceno (2010). Por que ler Hilda Hilst. São Paulo: Editora Globo. ISBN 85-25048-45-3
  • Querioz, Vera. (2000). Hilda Hilst: três leituras. Editora Mulheres. ISBN 85-86501-22-0
  • Siqueira de Azevedo Filho, Deneval (2007). A bela, a fera e a santa sem a saia: ensaios sobre Hilda Hilst. Vitória: GM Gráfica e Editora. ISBN 85-99510-20-7


  1. ^ a b c Sadlier, Darlene J. (1992). One hundred years after tomorrow : Brazilian women's fiction in the 20th century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780253206992. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  2. ^ Lezard, Nicholas (April 29, 2014). "With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst review – not for the faint-hearted". The Guardian. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "In the funnel of infinity: Life Portraits by Hilda Hilst » Quarterly Conversation". Quarterly Conversation. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Gerard, Sarah (April 10, 2014). "The Hilda Hilst Roundtable". Music & Literature. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  5. ^ Coelho, Kamilla Kristina Sousa França. "KAZANTZAKIS, Nikos - Deus-segundo-o-olhar-de-Kazantzakis-e-Hilda-Hilst-Kamilla-Kristina-Sousa-Franca-Coelho.pdf" (PDF) (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved April 7, 2023. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Vasconcelos, Ana Lúcia (February 4, 2012). "Musa Rara » Minhas memórias de Hilda Hilst – Parte I". Musa Rara (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  7. ^ Vieira, Yuri (2018). O exorcista na Casa do Sol : relatos do último pupilo de Hilda Hilst (1a edição ed.). Rio de Janeiro. ISBN 978-85-03-01351-2. OCLC 1054269123.
  8. ^ Pécora, Alcir; Destri, Luisa; Diniz, Cristiano; Purceno, Sonia (2010). Por que ler Hilda Hilst (in Brazilian Portuguese). São Paulo: Editora Globo. pp. 57–62. ISBN 9788525048455.
  9. ^ Alcir Pecora (March 2004). "Hilda Hilst has died. Long live Hilda Hilst!". Pesquisa FAESP.
  10. ^ "Hilda Hilst: Biography and Poems | Brazilian Poetry". Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  11. ^ "Folha Online - Ilustrada - Morre escritora Hilda Hilst; enterro será às 16h em Campinas - 04/02/2004". Folha de São Paulo (in Brazilian Portuguese). February 4, 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  12. ^ "Morre a escritora Hilda Hilst". Estadão (in Brazilian Portuguese). February 4, 2004. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  13. ^ Shimizu, Heitor (February 4, 2004). "Hilda Hilst morre aos 73 anos". AGÊNCIA FAPESP (in Brazilian Portuguese). Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  14. ^ "Instituto Hilda Hilst apresenta: Obscena Lucidez | Hilda Hilst". December 21, 2016.
  15. ^ Pécora, Alcir; Destri, Luisa; Diniz, Cristiano; Purceno, Sonia (2010). Por que ler Hilda Hilst (in Brazilian Portuguese). São Paulo: Editora Globo. pp. 109–111. ISBN 9788525048455.
  16. ^ ".: Globo Livros - Editora Globo". globolivros.globo.com. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved January 17, 2022.
  17. ^ "Nightboat Books". Nightboat.org. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  18. ^ "Letters from a Seducer: Hilda Hilst". UPNE.com. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  19. ^ With My Dog Eyes » Melville House Books. Mhpbooks.com. April 15, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2015.

External links[edit]