Today in Literary History – December 28, 1932 – Argentine novelist Manuel Puig is born

The Argentinian novelist and screenwriter Manuel Puig was born on December 28, 1932.

Since his remote hometown had no high school Puig was sent to Buenos Aires at the age of 14 to study. In his childhood Puig had fallen in love with American movies and in the big city he became enthralled with European cinema. Learning French and Italian to keep up with the latest releases, he was determined to become a film director.

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He studied cinematography in Italy and worked for several years as an assistant director at Rome’s famed Cinecittà studio but eventually found his career stagnating. From 1964 to 1967 he lived in New York, working as a clerk at Kennedy Airport and writing his first novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth.

Published in Spanish in 1968 and translated into English in 1971, the book is a humorous semi-autobiographical novel about a young boy, Toto, growing up in the Argentine pampas, obsessed by American pop culture and struggling with his own homosexuality.

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It is told in a collage-like style, blending interior monologues, telephone conversations and school compositions.

Puig’s seven later novels also use elements of low culture (movies, soap operas, pulp novels, camp) to cut through society’s romantic illusions.

Puig, whose political leanings were leftist, lived most of his life in exile from Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship, mostly in Mexico and New York.

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His greatest literary success came with his novel Kiss of The Spider Woman, the story of two South American political prisoners who share the same cell – Molina, imprisoned for the crime of homosexuality, and Valentin, a jailed Marxist revolutionary who has been badly beaten by government forces.

The novel (published in Spanish in 1976 and English in 1979) is told mostly in dialogue and became the basis of an award-winning movie starring William Hurt and Raúl Juliá in 1985.

It later became a hit musical in London’s West End and on Broadway where it won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1993.

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Puig himself died in Mexico in 1990 after going into cardiac arrest during a gall bladder operation.

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