Who is Alvaro Cepeda Samudio?

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Alvaro Cepeda Samudio

Alvaro Cepeda Samudio
Who is Alvaro Cepeda Samudio? 3

Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, a storyteller and journalist, was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, on March 30, 1926, and passed away in New York on October 12, 1972. His parents were Luciano Cepeda (whose paternal grandfather, Abel Cepeda Vidal, served as mayor of Barranquilla twice and held positions as Secretary of Education and senator) and Sara Samudio, who came from a cultured family.

Álvaro was born with asthma. When he was six years old, his parents separated, and he went to live with his mother in La Ciénaga. His father passed away four years later, in 1936, and Sara and Álvaro returned to Barranquilla, where Álvaro enrolled in the American School. In 1944, he began contributing to the local newspaper El Heraldo by writing a column called “Cosas,” focusing on political matters.

In 1945, while in the third year of high school, he was expelled from school after publishing a piece titled “Brief notes on teachers” in his column, which criticized various teachers at the institution. Subsequently, he started studying at the Colegio de Barranquilla, a public school.

A year later, he returned to the American College, where he established a literary group. Shortly after, he started collaborating with El Nacional. In 1948, he completed his high school education. That same year, in September 1948, he encountered Gabriel García Márquez, a journalist from the Cartagena newspaper El Universal, who was visiting Barranquilla.

He obtained a scholarship from the Governorate of the Atlantic to study English in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On May 27, 1949, Cepeda Samudio traveled to the United States accompanied by his friend Enrique Scopell. While in Miami, they met two Venezuelan women and the four of them flew to Havana, where they stayed for a week. Cepeda Samudio then journeyed to Ann Arbor, enrolling at the University of Michigan. In August 1949, he traveled to New York and entered Columbia University to pursue studies in journalism and literature. During his time there, he also took additional courses in printing, magazine production and design, modern fiction, and drama. After a brief return to Michigan, he went back to Barranquilla on June 20, 1950.

Upon his return to Colombia, Cepeda Samudio resumed writing a column for El Heraldo titled “Compass of culture.” Together with Gabriel García Márquez, Germán Vargas, and Alfonso Fuenmayor, he launched Crónica, a literary and sports magazine. The magazine was published from 1950 to 1952.

In 1953, Cepeda Samudio assumed the role of director at the newspaper El Nacional. He initiated a transformation in the editorial and news content, introducing a new column called “Seventh Circle,” featuring contributions from renowned journalists, and implementing morning and evening editions. However, the experiment did not succeed, and he was dismissed in December.

In the 1950s, Cepeda Samudio engaged in various artistic and commercial pursuits. Alongside his writing, he worked as a salesman for Ford cars (1950-1955) and Westinghouse appliances (1955-1958). In 1958, he joined the Santo Domingo family emporium, initially in an administrative role and later in the publicity and public relations department of the Águila Brewery. He spent a decade as an employee before becoming a consultant for the brand through his agency, Martens Publicidad.

Together with García Márquez, Vargas, Fuenmayor, Alejandro Obregón, Meira Delmar, Orlando Rivera, Julio Mario Santo Domingo, Miguel Camacho Carbonell, and others, Cepeda Samudio formed the Barranquilla Group. They started gathering at La Cueva, a bar that was occasionally visited by Marta Traba, Fernando Botero, Nereo López, Rafael Escalona, ​​Héctor Rojas Herazo, Consuelo Araújo, Enrique Grau, and others. La Cueva closed in 1969, and afterward, some members would meet at La Tiendecita bar and restaurant, a few blocks away.

In 1954, he published a groundbreaking collection of short stories titled “We Were All Waiting,” which had a profound impact on Latin American narrative.

In 1955, Cepeda Samudio married Teresa Manotas, and they had two children named Zoila Patricia (1955-2013) and Álvaro Pablo (1958-1985). He had two more children with Alba Torres: Darío (1955-1979) and Margarita (1962).

In November 1958, he published the first chapter of his novel “The Big House,” titled “The Soldiers,” in Mito magazine. On April 16, 1961, he published the chapter “The Father” in the “Magazine Dominical” of the newspaper El Espectador.

In 1962, he published his only novel, “The Big House.” It is a richly crafted work that blends different narrative voices to recount the banana massacre, a tragic event that took place on December 6, 1928, in Ciénaga, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people.

On October 12, 1961, Cepeda Samudio began working as the director of Diario del Caribe, which was owned by Mario Santo Domingo. The newspaper underwent significant changes, featuring a new layout with abundant photographs and red headlines to emphasize the news. It focused more on cultural notes and chronicles to differentiate itself from El Heraldo. He retired from Diario del Caribe on February 10, 1972.

Cepeda Samudio suffered from severe headaches, prompting his doctor to advise him to immediately travel to New York. He was admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. While he was in the hospital, he received the first edition of his second collection of short stories, “Juana’s Stories.” Although the doctors had planned to discharge him in three days, he passed away in his sleep on October 12, 1972, at the age of only 46.

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Novel: “The Big House” (1962)
Short Stories: “We Were All Waiting” (1954), “Juana’s Stories” (1972)

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