Born in Buenos Aires in 1948, Manguel grew up in Tel-Aviv, where his father served as the first Argentinian ambassador to Israel. At the age of seven, when his family returned to Argentina, he became fluent in Spanish, his first languages being English and German (which he spoke with his governess). At sixteen years of age, while working at the Pigmalion bookshop in Buenos Aires, he was asked by the blind Jorge Luis Borges to read aloud to him at his home. For Manguel, the relationship was pivotal: he read to Borges from 1964 to 1968. In Buenos Aires, he attended the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires where, thanks to the fact that the school was under the administration of the University, he was taught by a number of remarkable university professors. Manguel left Argentina for Europe before the horrors of the ‘disappeared’ began, in early 1969. Severo Sarduy, Hector Bianciotti, Julio Cortázar and Geneviève Serreau among others generously eased his transition into living abroad and living by words.
In the 1970s, Manguel lived a peripatetic life in France, England, Italy, and Tahiti, reviewing, translating, editing. In 1980, Manguel, together with Gianni Guadalupi, compiled The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a comprehensive and celebratory catalogue of fantasy settings from world literature. The publication of the book marked the beginning of Manguel’s long association with the publisher Louise Dennys. In 1982, Manguel moved to Toronto, Canada where he lived and raised his three children for almost twenty years. During his first year in his new country, Manguel edited the ground-breaking anthology Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature.
He became a Canadian citizen and continues to identify his nationality as first and foremost Canadian. Manguel contributed regularly to Canadian newspapers and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as to the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times and the Village Voice, El Pais, La Repubblica and the Svenska Dagbladet. In 1992, Manguel’s novel, News from a Foreign Country Came, won the McKitterick Prize. He directed the Maclean Hunter Arts Journalism Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada for five years and was appointed Distinguished Visiting Writer in the Markin-Flanagan Program at the University of Calgary. In 2000, Manguel purchased with his partner and renovated a medieval presbytery in the Poitou-Charentes region of France to house their many books. They left France for New York in 2015. He has received many prizes, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and honorary doctorates from the universities of Liège, in Belgium, Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, UK, and York and Ottawa in Canada. He is a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) and Officer of the Order of Canada. From 2016 to 2018, he was the director of the National Library of Argentina. Since 2020, he is the director of Espaço Atlântida, the Centre for Research into the History of Reading, in Lisbon, Portugal.
»You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.«
© Alberto Manguel 2023