9 Best Chilean Authors: Discover Chile’s Greatest Works

Discover our guide with the most influential and the best Chilean authors that Chile has produced throughout its history.

Chile has a colorful past and present that has produced many talented writers. Chilean authors are famous for their romantic poetry, exploration of dark themes, expositions on political states, and fiction stories that take readers into worlds unknown.

The nine Chilean authors below have published works available in English or Spanish, and other languages. Through translations, you can enjoy these writers’ works in your native tongue or experience them in their original language.

1. Roberto Bolano, 1953 – 2003

Roberto Bolano
Roberto Bolano via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Roberto Bolaño, the author of 2666, was born in Santiago, Chile. Bolano lived in Mexico and Spain and traveled around Europe and North Africa during his lifetime. He was diagnosed with an incurable liver condition when he was 38 years old and died at 50 after writing nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry.

His best-known novel, 2666, was published posthumously in 2004. The novel is a work of fiction set in the fictional city of Santa Teresa. It follows a group of young women who undergo murderous rituals based on actual crimes in Ciudad Juarez. He was called his generation’s best Latin American writer.

2. Diamela Eltit, 1949 –

Diamela Eltit
Diamela Eltit via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Diamela Eltit is a Chilean writer and educator. She is known for her highly experimental fiction, and her work frequently deals with gender and national identity. She has also contributed to feminist theory, and during her career, she has taught abroad and lectured at numerous institutions in the United States.

She has received several awards and honors, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the Chilean National Prize for Literature. She was also the Chilean cultural attaché to Mexico from 1991 to 1994.

Eltit has published novels, essays, and short stories. One of her most widely acclaimed novels is Lumperica (1983). She has also published several collections, including El Padre Mio and El Cuarto Mundo. Eltit is a member of the Colectivo de Acciones de Arte (CADA), a group of artists and writers formed in the 1980s. CADA performed multiple art scenes in the working-class neighborhoods of Santiago, including a video performance series called Zonas de dolor, which Eltit created herself.

3. Ariel Dorfman, 1942 –

Ariel Dorfman
Ariel Dorfman via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean-American novelist, has written novels that have been translated into over fifty languages and plays that have been published in over 100 countries. His books include Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, a memoir of his life.

He has been called one of the greatest living Latin American novelists, and his work has been compared to that of Pablo Neruda. He has written for The New York Times, the New York Review of Books Daily, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. His play, Death and the Maiden, was adapted for the screen by Roman Polanski.

4. Isabel Allende, 1942 –

Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author of novels, short stories, plays, and children’s books. Her parents separated when she was young, and she spent her childhood with her grandparents. Her maternal uncle was a diplomat who was assassinated in 1973, which led to Isabel Allende and her family fleeing the country. Her first book, The House of the Spirits, was received with critical acclaim, became a worldwide bestseller, and even turned into a Hollywood movie.

In 1988, Isabel Allende was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Educational and Cultural Merit by President Patricio Aylwin. She also received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University. She is now a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters with a backlist of over 20 bestselling fiction books and five non-fiction books.

5. Marcela Serrano, 1951 –

Marcela Serrano is a novelist born in Santiago, Chile, and is most known for her works set in the 20th century and deal with the worries, struggles, and ambitions of Latin-American women. Despite her reputation as a feminist, her work is not so much about feminist philosophy as it is about being a woman attempting to thrive in a male-dominated society. One example is Ten Women, which has been translated into English.

Serrano’s writings have been translated into French, English, German, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish, among other languages. She frequently writes stories based on actual life in which the main characters are forced to confront the misery of being alone after obtaining freedom. If you enjoyed our round-up of the best Chilean authors, we have many more articles on the best authors from around the globe. Why not check out our list of the best Argentine authors? Or use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for authors in a country or region you are interested in such as the best Peruvian authors.

6. Alejandro Zambra, 1975 –

Alejandro Zambra
Alejandro Zambra via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Amongst his many works of poetry, Zambra has published four novels. His most recent novel, Ways of Going Home, was published in English in 2013. His first novel was based on a novel by Chilean poet Macedonio Fernandez and was translated into English by Carolina De Robertis. This book was nominated for the Chilean Literary Critics’ Award for best novel and was selected as one of the year’s best books by the New York Times.

His first novel was awarded best novel of the year, and his second, The Private Lives of Trees, was nominated for the Santiago Prize for Literature. He is the author of Bonsai and has been cited as a major Latin American literary figure.

He has been named one of the Bogota 39, a prestigious list of young writers. He was named one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists of the Year. Zambra also receives the most prestigious prize of all, the Man Prize, and currently teaches at the National Institute of the Humanities in Santiago.

7. Luis Sepulveda, 1949 – 2020

Luis Sepulveda
Luis Sepulveda via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Throughout his life, Luis Sepulveda has faced many hardships but has survived each one to become one of the best-known writers in Latin America. As a political activist, Sepulveda became an enemy of the state after the Chilean coup of 1973.

Sepulveda was imprisoned for two and a half years before Amnesty International could arrange a conditional release with house arrest. After a daring and successful escape, Sepulveda hid for almost a year, after which he was caught and jailed again for treason. Amnesty International again stepped in, and Sepulveda’s sentence was changed to eight years of exile.

Sepulveda has written several books and been featured in a number of films, and his work has been translated into more than 40 languages. The book that took the world by storm was The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, about a man seeking refuge from life in love stories. 

8. Pablo Neruda, 1904 – 1973

Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda via Wikipedia, Public Domain

During his lifetime, Pablo Neruda was recognized as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. This Chilean writer left behind an immense literary legacy that was highly influential in the English-speaking world.

His books include Anillos and Tentativa y su esperanza, as well as the translated Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. This book of poems was published in 1924 when Neruda was an unknown writer. It became an instant hit, launching the author’s career, and is still considered one of the best books of erotic poems in existence.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Pablo Neruda was a poet and a diplomat. In 1921, he settled in Santiago and began his writing career, publishing poems in local magazines and newspapers. He was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1964 and won it in 1971. In his last days, Pablo Neruda was hospitalized at the Santa Maria Clinic in Santiago after a months-long illness. In 1973, the year of his death, his works were republished in a series of Nobel Lectures.

9. Jose Donoso, 1924 – 1996

Jose Donoso
Jose Donoso via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Jose Donoso was a famous Chilean author and renowned short story writer. He is known for his dark humor, black comedy, and masterful handling of existential themes. His first book was a collection of short stories, which he published at his own expense. His novel, The Obscene Bird of Night, was one of the most famous and influential novels of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s. Donoso’s other best-known works include Coronacion.

Donoso lived in several countries during his life, including the United States and Mexico. For several years, he lived outside of Chile in what he called self-imposed exile. He won the Premio Municipal de Santiago and the William Faulkner Foundation Prize for Chile in 1962, among many other awards. Looking for more authors from around the globe? Check out our round-up of the best Bolivian authors.

  • Kate has been writing since she was 10 years old, tapping away on an old typewriter in her childhood bedroom. Today, Kate is a seasoned freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing for print and online media. She’s an avid reader and believes in the power of words to transport readers to new worlds, and inspire and nurture creativity. Kate is also a published author and is currently working on her next project.

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