Coronavirus in Chile CULTURE

Luis Sepúlveda, Writer, Filmmaker, and Journalist, Dies of Coronavirus

OVIEDO – Chilean writer, filmmaker, and journalist Luis Sepúlveda died from complications of COVID-19. He spent six weeks in a hospital in Spain after contracting the disease during a trip to Portugal. A supporter of Salvador Allende, Sepúlveda was imprisoned and forced into exile during the dictatorship.

Luis Sepúlveda, one of Chile’s most famous writers, had died after contracting COVID-19. The 70-year-old writer came down with the virus after returning home to Spain after the Correntes d’Escritas literary festival in Portugal. On Feb. 25, he began having symptoms; on Mar. 1, he was confirmed as the first case of COVID-19 in the Asturias province; and, by Mar. 11, he was in critical condition and induced into a coma. Today, Apr. 16, he was declared dead.

The death of Sepúlveda is a tremendous loss to the Chilean cultural world. He was an influential writer who reached worldwide fame in 1988. Later in life, he also became an accomplished filmmaker

Early Life in Chile

Sepúlveda was born in 1949 in the city Ovalle. His father was a Communist Party militant and his mother a Mapuche nurse, who had run away from her family, as they didn’t approve of her relationship with Sepúlveda’s father. The family left for Santiago, and Sepúlveda grew up in San Miguel. He attended the National Institute and started writing there.

After graduating from school, he studied theater at the University of Chile. By 17, he had already published his first collection of poems and began working at Clarín, a Chilean newspaper that was closed in the first months of the dictatorship. By the time he was 20, he had written enough short stories to publish his first book, Crónicas de Pedro Nadie in 1969.

According to Sepúlveda, he was born “deeply red,” referring to communism, which led him to join the Communist Party’s juvenile group at 15. When he was 19, however, he was kicked out for ideological differences, and he joined the Socialist Party (PS) youth movement.

Thanks to his activism for the PS and his background as a writer, Sepúlveda worked at the cultural department during the administration of President Salvador Allende, where he was in charge of adapting classic literature to cheaper editions for the public.

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After the 1973 military coup, Sepúlveda was imprisoned and tortured in Temuco by the military dictatorship. He remained in jail for over two years and was later given house arrest, thanks to the efforts of Amnesty International. He was arrested again in 1977, after which he was sent into exile.

During his exile, he traveled South America, and ended up in Ecuador with the Shuar, a tribe indigenous in the Amazon rainforest. In 1979, he joined the Simón Bolivar Brigade, which brought him to Nicaragua to fight in the Sandinista Revolution.

After the revolution’s success, he left Latin America and went to live in Hamburg, Germany, where he met and married Margarita Seven, with whom he had three children. During this time, he joined Greenpeace as a correspondent and traveled the oceans from 1983 to 1988.

In 1989, he published his most renowned book, Un viejo que leía novelas de amor (“The old man who reads love stories”). The book was inspired by his time living with the Shuar tribe. Thanks to that book’s success, his other works received international attention.

Life in Spain

In 1997, Sepúlveda moved to Gijón, Spain, where he started an annual book festival in Gijón, which is celebrated during the second week of May.

Later in life,  he also became a filmmaker, writing the movie Tierra del Fuego, which was released in 2000, and chronicled the massacre of the Selk’nam indigenous tribes. He also directed a feature film titled Nowhere, which premiered in 2002. His short documentary Corazón Verde won him the award for Best Documentary at the 2003 Venice Film Festival.

In 2011, he wrote and directed a one-hour autobiographical film entitled, Luis Sepúlveda, el escritor del fin del mundo, (“Luis Sepúlveda, the writer at the end of the world”). The movie was broadcast by a French-German television channel, Arte.

His most recent work was a book titled La historia de la Ballena Blanca (“The story of the white whale”), which narrates the story of the evocative white whale that lived near Isla Mocha and served as the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Sepúlveda last published articles on the Le Monde Diplomatique website, where he talked about his support for the student protests and the social protests  that followed in Chile.


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