João Cabral de Mello Neto

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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João Cabral de Mello Neto was born on 9 January 1920, in Recife, Pernambuco, to Luiz Antonio Cabral de Melo and Carmem Carneiro Leão.

He was the cousin on father’s side of the poet Manuel Bandeira and on his mother’s side of Gilberto Freyre.

The first ten years of his life were spent on the Pernambuco sugarcane plantations Poço do Aleixo, in São Lourenço da Mata, and Pacoval and Dois Irmãos in the Moreno municpality.

In 1930, the family returned to Recife, where João was enrolled in secondary school at Colégio de Ponte d'Uchoa, run by the Marist Brothers.

A fan of football, he was a player on the youth team of Recife’s Santa Cruz Futebol Clube, which won the title in 1935.

His first jobs were at the Pernambuco Commerical Association and the Pernambuco State Department of Statistics.

In 1938, aged 18, he begane to frequent Café Lafayette, the hangout of Recife intelligentsia, where he rubbed shoulders with various writers and the painter Vicente do Rego Monteiro, recently returned from Paris.

In 1940, he moved with his family to Rio de Janeiro, where he met Murilo Mendes, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Jorge de Lima and other intellectuals of the era.

He released, in 1940, his first book of poetry, Pedra do sono (Sleepy Stone), funded entirely by himself, with a circulation of 340 copies.

He entered, through public contest, the Administrative Department of the Public Service (DASP) in 1943, and began to attend Rio’s literary circuits. In 1945, he sat a public exam to enter Itamaraty (the Brazilian school for diplomats), being approved and named in December.

He married, in February 1946, Stella Maria Barbosa de Oliveira, with whom he had five children: Rodrigo (1946), Inês (1948), Luiz (1949), Isabel (1955) and João (1964).

During his diplomatic career, from 1946 to 1990 when he retired as an ambassador, he was appointed to a variety of positions in consulates in various locations, including Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, London, Marsailles, Geneva, Bern, Dakar, Mauritania, Mali, Quito and Porto, also being appointed as Brazilian ambassador to Honduras (1981).

In 1956, publishers José Olympio released his most famous work Morte e vida Severina: auto de Natal pernambucano, 1954-1955 (The Death and Life of a Severina), with which he received the Best Living Author Award at the Nancy Festival. He won several other award for his work: Criadores de Cultura (Creators of Culture), from the Recife City Council; Luis de Camões, granted by the Portuguese and Brazilian governments and considered the most important award for writers in the Portuguese language; Pedro Nava; Casa das Américas, awarded by the State of São Paulo; the Jabuti, by the Brazilian Chamber of Books and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, from the University of Oklahoma, in the United States.

In 1968, he was elected to the vacant chair of Assis Chateaubriand in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, taking possession in 1969.

He received numerous honorary titles, including the Grã-Cruz (Grand Cross) of the Order of Rio Branco (1974); the commendation of Grand Official of the Senegal Order of Merit (1976); the Grã-Cruz of the  Zila Mamede Order (1980); honorary doctorates from the Federal Universities of Rio Grande do Norte (1982) and of Pernambuco (1986).

In 1986, after the death of his wife, he married poet Marly de Oliveira.

In 1990, he retired as an ambassador and, in the same year, was elected to the Pernambuco Academy of Letters, in Recife.

He is the author of works including the following: Considerações sobre o poeta dormindo (Considerations of a Sleeping Poet)  (1941); Pedra do sono (Sleepy Stone) (1942); Os três mal-amados (The Three Unloved) (1943); O engenheiro (The Engineer) (1945); Psicologia da composição com a fábula de Anfion e Antiode (Psychology of the Composition With the Fable of Anfion and Antiode) (1947); Joan Miró (1950); O rio ou Relação da viagem que faz o Capibaribe de sua nascente à cidade do Recife (The River or Report of the Journey the Capibaribe Makes from its Source to the City of Recife) (1954); Morte e vida Severina: auto de natal pernambucano, 1954-1955 (Death and Life of a Severino) (1956); Quaderna (1960); Dois parlamentos (Two Parliaments) (1961); A educação pela pedra (Education by the Stone) (1966); O Arquivo das Índias e o Brasil (The Archive of the Indies and Brazil) (1966); Museu de tudo (Museum of Everything) (1975); A escola das facas, poesias, 1975-1980 (The School of Knives, Poems, 1975-1980) (1980); Auto do frade (Auto of the Friar) (1984); Crime da Calle Relator (Crime on Calle Relator) (1987); Primeiros poemas (First Poems) (1990); Sevilha andando (Walking Seville) (1990).
Some of his work has been translated into French, Spanish, German, English, Italian and Dutch.

He had a constant headache and discovered that he suffered from an incurable degenerative disease, which gradually caused him to lose his vision, making him stop writing and become depressive.

He died in Rio de Janeiro, at the age of 79, on 9 October 1999.


Recife, 21 December 2004.
Updated on 28 August 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
Updated january 25, 2018.






JOÃO Cabral de Melo Neto. São Paulo: Instituto Moreira Salles, 1996. 131 p. (Cadernos de literatura brasileira, 1).







Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. João Cabral de Mello Neto. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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