Juan Rulfo, Biography of a Genius of Literature

Juan Rulfo is one of the most acclaimed authors of his generation. Self-taught, ambiguous and, above all, one of the most mythologized authors in all of Mexico.

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Juan Rulfo was a vital and moving writer who gave the Mexican peasants a universal voice. He is perhaps the only one who managed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature with only two works written and published: the novel Pedro Páramo and the story book El llano en llamas, both masterly.

His real name was Juan Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Rulfo Vizcaíno. It is not known exactly where he was born and several locations are being considered: Sayula, as his birth record says; Apulco, where was the estate of his mother; or San Gabriel, the town that marked his heart. What these places have in common, apart from being in Jalisco, are the scars of the Mexican Revolution and the Cristera counterrevolution.

“And I opened my mouth to let him go (my soul). And he left. I felt when the trickle of blood with which I was tied to my heart fell into my hands.”

-Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo-

An act of violence marked the childhood of this fabulous writer. He was born on May 16, 1917 and witnessed the great social upheavals of the 1920s in Mexico. When he was only 6 years old, his father was murdered. His mother was very affected and died 4 years later. This caused that the childhood of Juan Rulfo was sunk in an emotional fracture for which only it found consolation in the art.

Books, life…

The education of Juan Rulfo was unstable, had to change several times of school for diverse reasons. After the death of his mother, in 1927, he was admitted to the Luis Silva School in Guadalajara, by decision of his uncle, who had been in charge. He remained there until he was 15 years old.

One of his teachers, Father Irineo Monroy, unwittingly gave him a definitive legacy: the books. That priest had been an ecclesiastical censor, went through the houses reviewing the publications to determine if it was lawful to read them. He stayed with what he considered forbidden, in this way, he formed an extensive library.

When he left, he left all his books in the house where Juan Rulfo lived. From this moment on, reading would become Rulfo’s great hobby. Once Rulfo himself said: “I spent all my time reading, you could not go out because I could hit you with a bullet.” That’s how it grew and how it was formed: between books by Alejandro Dumas, Victor Hugo and any work that fell into his hands.

Rulfo was not an author who liked to talk about his life, sometimes he fell into ambiguities or gave uncertain data. For a long time, he claimed to have been born in 1918, but, according to the most reliable documents, he was born in 1917. Surely, he changed his date of birth to approach chronologically the youngest authors of the literary boom that lived on the continent.

Juan Rulfo, a traveler and a creator

Juan Rulfo belongs to that group of writers who never obtained a university degree, he was a self-taught author. He tried to start his studies at the University of Guadalajara, but a long strike prevented him. He wanted to validate his academic credentials, but they denied it. So, in 1934, he decided that he would not go into academic life, choosing to take a new path. From this moment, his soul of traveler seized him.

In 1937, he began working as a filing classifier in the Secretariat of the Government of Guadalajara. At that time, he also started a decisive friendship with Efrén Hernández, the first person who believed in his writing and encouraged him to make it public. In 1941, he held the position of migration agent and there he met the writer Juan José Arreola, who had a strong influence on Rulfo.

In those times, he had already developed the other passions that always accompanied him: photography, history and anthropology. Juan Rulfo, who later became known through great works, was already formed.

A universal writer

In the year of 1948, Juan Rulfo married Clara Aparicio, with whom he had several children. Gradually his fame as a writer and intellectual grew and he was awarded several scholarships that were conferred by the Mexican Writers Center, this allowed him to devote himself fully to writing.

In 1953 he published El llano en llamas and, in 1955, Pedro Páramo. The latter is considered one of the great novels of universal literature.

These two great works gave Juan Rulfo national and international fame. At the time, he was the most recognized writer in all of Mexico, receiving praise from great writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Susan Sontag, Gabriel García Márquez and many others.

The last twenty years of his life he dedicated them to the National Indian Institute of Mexico, where he made the edition of one of the most important collections of anthropology. He also made several photographic exhibitions and published new literary works in the 80s.

Rulfo was one of the first authors who managed to incorporate popular and local speech into his novels without the need to include a glossary, that is, without the need for a manual that allows decoding. The text itself already served to interpret the meaning and understand those most popular aspects of its language. In Latin America, there is a growing trend towards the regionalist and even criollista.

Herminio Martínez and Juan Rulfo

Rulfo would mark a before and after; Without his work, we could not understand the later literature. The world of Rulfo is not so much the regionalist, but the rural, but will be responsible for becoming a mythical author who would be referenced and praised by countless authors.

The legend of Rulfo is constructed as a kind of myth, it marks a kind of ironic distance between the reader and him. This legend was reinforced from its silence, Rulfo stopped publishing from 1955, but the reasons are uncertain. Some scholars have wanted to see some anxiety in them, but they have not been able to clarify either. The paradoxical thing about this author is that, as his fame as a writer increases, his production decreases.

His fame established him as one of the most recognized authors of Mexico and the awards were immediate. In 1983, he received the Prince of Asturias prize for letters, although he died a few years later, in 1986.

It is not easy to describe with words what the work of Juan Rulfo provokes. Suffice it to say that it does not look like anything and, at the same time, it is familiar to everything.