Jorge Luis Borges ( 1899-1986)
"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream"
Jorge Luis Borges was born in Argentina in 1899. His parents were middle class and well educated. His grandmother was English and his father taught at an English school. The first books Borges read were in English. In fact, he learned English before Spanish. Eventually he mastered several languages. Unlike some of his ancestors, Borges was not destined to be a "man of action" as he put it. He was a shy, frail boy whose favorite room in his home was his father's extensive library. He was encouraged by his parents to read widely. It soon became apparent that he was destined for a literary career. In 1914, he and his sister were taken to Germany by his parents. When World War One started, the family successfully moved to Switzerland, a safe, neutral country. In 1916, his English grandmother joined them as did other relatives. It is not clear if Borges enjoyed his time in Geneva, but it is known that he was very popular with his high school classmates. He earned his B.A. from the College de Geneve, mastereing French ( with difficulty) and German. After the war, his family spent time in Majorca and mainland Spain, where he joined a group of young writers who were rebelling against the established writers of "The Generation of 1898."
Borges returned to Buenos Aires in 1921. He wrote poems about the beauty of his city and published the collection in 1923. He continued writing and publishing in the 1920's and 30's. He accepted a post at a Buenos Aires library in 1938 and remained there for several years. That same year, his father died and Borges suffered a very serious head wound and blood poisoning. He almost died, but recovered from the injury and illness. The experience somehow released creative energy and for the next several years, he published his best fantastic stories. He also published detective stories jointly with another writer. During this productive period, Borges expanded on creating his complex and fascinating dreamworld. In 1955, he became the director of the National Library and a professor of English and American Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. By this time, he was blind, a condition he inherited from his father. Despite his blindness, he continued to publish, dictating to his friends and secretaries.
Borges did not become widely know until the early 1960's when he and Samual Becket shared an important literary award. Before this time, he was known only in his own country, During his remaining years he was a visiting professor or guest lecturer at many universities in the United States and around the world. He was interviewed frequently. Many of these interviews, mostly in Spanish, can be found on YouTube.
Borges was shy, very erudite and humble. He never stopped learning--he became deeply interested in Old English and Norse literature. ( an interest he actually held for years). Near the end of his life he returned to Geneva, a city that he came to appreciate. For many years, his devoted assistant and loving friend ( and wife near the time of his death) helped him and was holding his hand when he died at the age of 86. He is buried in Geneva. His grave is often visited by readers of his many works.