Ocampo, Silvina (1903–1993)

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Ocampo, Silvina (1903–1993)

Argentinean poet and short-story writer. Born in 1903 (some sources cite 1906) in Buenos Aires, Argentina; died in Buenos Aires in 1993; daughter of Manuel Ocampo (an architectural engineer) and Ramona Máxima Aguirre; sister of writer VictoriaOcampo (1890–1979); studied painting in Paris; married Adolfo Bioy Casares (a writer), in 1934 or 1940; children: daughter Marta.

Selected writings:

Viaje olvidado (Forgotten Journey, 1937); (co-editor) Antología de la literatura fantástica (Anthology of Fantastic Literature, 1940, published with an introduction by Ursula Le Guin as The Book of Fantasy , 1988); Enumeración de la patria y otros poemas (Enumeration of the Mother Country and Other Poems, 1942); Autobiografia de Irene (Autobiography of Irene, 1948); Poemas de amor deseperado (Poems of Desperate Love, 1949); Los nombres (The Names, 1953); La furia y otros cuentros (The Storm and Other Stories, 1959); Lo amargo por dulce (Bitterness Through Sweetness, 1962); El pecado mortal (The Mortal Sin, 1966); Informe del cielo y del infierno (Report on Heaven and Hell, 1970); La naranja maravillosa: cuentos juveniles (The Marvelous Orange: Juvenile Stories, 1977, reissued 1998); Cornelia frente al espejo (Cornelia in Front of the Mirror, 1988); Leopoldina's Dream (translated by Daniel Balderston, 1988).

Argentinean writer Silvina Ocampo, who was once proclaimed "one of the best poets in Spanish" by her friend Jorge Luis Borges, is little known outside of her native country, and her works have only rarely been translated into English. Born into a wealthy family in Buenos Aires in 1903, Ocampo established a solid reputation as a poet and short-story writer and was a member of Buenos Aires' lively literary community from the 1930s. She and her husband, the writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, hosted a weekly open house attended by Borges, poet Ezequiel Martínez Estrada and Chilean novelist María Luisa Bombal , among others. Ocampo's sister Victoria Ocampo was a respected writer and founder of Sur magazine, and Bioy Casares, a frequent collaborator with Borges, also became an important figure in Argentinean letters.

Ocampo's first book of prose was Viaje olvidado (Forgotten Journey), published in 1937. Her first book of poetry, which has been described as an exploration of "the opposing ideas of the infinite and the apparent," Enumeracíon de la patria y otros poemas (Enumeration of the Mother Country and Other Poems), was published in 1942. Later volumes of poetry such as Poemas de amor deseperado (Poems of Desperate Love, 1949) and Lo amargo por dulce (Bitterness Through Sweetness, 1962) became more introspective. The latter, which was admittedly autobiographical, won the National Poetry Award. Her short stories, most of which focus on everyday life, were published in several collections, including La furia y otros cuentos (The Storm and Other Stories, 1959) and El pecado mortal (The Mortal Sin, 1966). In her later years, she also wrote a number of books for children.

Ocampo is probably best known to English-language readers for her collaboration with Bioy Casares and Borges as an editor of the Antología de la literatura fantástica (Anthology of Fantastic Literature). Originally published in 1940, it was released in English in 1988 as The Book of Fantasy, to huge acclaim from a select group of readers. In her introduction, Ursula K. Le Guin relates Bioy Casares' version of the book's genesis, which occurred one night in Buenos Aires in 1937 when the three friends were discussing "fantastic literature … the stories which seemed best to us. One of us suggested that if we put together the fragments of the same type, we would have a good book. As a result we drew up this book … simply a compilation of stories from fantastic literature which seemed to us to be the best." The book includes works by writers as varied as the three editors, Thomas Carlyle, Rabelais, Tsao Hsueh-Chin, Mary Shelley , and Petronius. Its impact on the many English-language writers who read it was described by Alberto Manguel, himself a first-rate anthologist, in the Ottawa Citizen: "It provided readers with a guide to realms that had until then belonged to either campfire tales or to the psychological novel, and it showed to writers vast areas of fiction that demanded neither the journalistic constraints of a Sinclair Lewis nor the fancies of children's fairy tales."


Borges, Jorge Luis, Silvina Ocampo, and A. Bioy Casares, eds. The Book of Fantasy. NY: Viking, 1988.

Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Contemporary Authors. Vol 131. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1991.

suggested reading:

Klingenberg, Patricia Nisbet. Fantasies of the Feminine: The Short Stories of Silvina Ocampo. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1999.

Jacqueline Mitchell , freelance writer, Detroit, Michigan

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Ocampo, Silvina (1903–1993)

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