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Telles' first book of short stories, Praia Viva (Living Beach), was published in 1944. In 1949 she received the Afonso Arinos award for her short stories book O Cacto Vermelho (Red Cactus). Among her most successful books are Ciranda de Pedra (The Marble Dance) (1954), Verão no Aquário (1963), Antes do Baile Verde (1970), Seminário dos Ratos (1977) and As Horas Nuas, (1989). The book Antes do Baile Verde won the Best Foreign Women Writers Grand Prix in Cannes (France) in 1969.
Her most famous novel is As Meninas (The Girl in the Photograph), which tells the story of three young women in the early 1970s, a hard time in the political history of Brazil due to the repression by the military dictatorship. In 2005 she won the Camões Prize, the greatest literary award in the Portuguese language. She was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature by the Brazilian Writers' Union.