• Birth—August 24, 1947
• Where—Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
• Education—Left law school in second year
• Awards—Crystal Award (Switzerland), 1999; Rio Branco
Order (Brazil), 2000; Legion d’Honneur (France), 2001;
Brazilian Academy of Letters (Brazil), 2002
• Currently—lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Paulo Coelho's books have been translated into 56 languages, topped bestseller lists throughout the world, and scored him such celebrity fans as Julia Roberts, Bill Clinton, and Madonna; yet for Brazilian publishing phenom Paulo Colho, the road to success has been strewn with a number of obstacles, many of them rooted in his troubled past.
As a youth, Coelho was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, a professional engineer. When he rebelled, expressing his intentions to become a writer, his parents had him committed to a psychiatric hospital where he was subjected to electro-shock therapy. He left home to join the 1970s countercultural revolution, experimenting with drugs, dabbling in black magic, and getting involved in Brazil's bohemian art and music scene. He teamed with rock musician Raul Seixas for an extremely successful songwriting partnership that changed the face of Brazilian pop—and put a lot of money in Coelho's pockets. He also joined an anti-capitalist organization called the Alternative Society which attracted the attention of Brazil's military dictatorship. Marked down as a subversive, he was imprisoned and tortured.
Amazingly, Coelho survived these horrific experiences. He left the hippie lifestyle behind, went to work in the record industry, and began to write, but without much success. Then, in the mid-1980s, during a trip to Europe, he met a man, an unnamed mentor he refers to only as "J," who inducted him into Regnum Agnus Mundi, a secret society that blends Catholicism with a sort of New Age mysticism. At J's urging, Coelho journeyed across el Camino de Santiago, the legendary Spanish road traversed by pilgrims since the Middle Ages. He chronicled this life-changing, 500-mile journey—the culmination of decades of soul-searching—in The Pilgrimage, published in 1987.
The following year, Coelho wrote The Alchemist, the inspirational fable for which he is best known. The first edition sold so poorly the publisher decided not to reprint it. Undaunted, Coelho moved to a larger publishing house that seemed more interested in his work. When his third novel, 1990's Brida, proved successful, the resulting media buzz carried The Alchemist all the way to the top of the charts. Released in the U.S. by HarperCollins in 1993, The Alchemist became a word-of-mouth sensation, turning Coelho into a cult hero.
Since then, he has gone on to create his own distinct literary brand—an amalgam of allegory and self-help filled with spiritual themes and symbols. In his novels, memoirs, and aphoristic nonfiction, he returns time and again to the concepts of quest and transformation and has often said that writing has helped connect him to his soul.
While his books have not always been reviewed favorably and have often become the subject of strong cultural and philosophical debate, there is no doubt that this self-described "pilgrim writer" has struck a chord in readers everywhere. In the 2009 edition of the Guiness Book of World Records, Coelho was named the most translated living author—with William Shakespeare the most translated of all time!
From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:
• Few writers are able to accomplish what Coelho can in just two to four weeks—which is how long it takes for him to write an entire novel.
• Before become a bestselling novelist, Coelho was a writer of a different sort. He co-wrote more than 60 songs with Brazilian musician Raul Seixas.
• Coelho is the founder of the Paulo Coelho Institute, a non-profit organization funded by his royalties that raises money for underprivileged children and the elderly in his homeland of Brazil.
• Coelho has practiced archery for a long time; a bow and arrow helps him to unwind.
• In writing, Coelho says "I apply my feminine side and respect the mystery involved in creation."
• Coelho loves almost everything about his work, except conferences. "I am too shy in front of an audience. But I love signings and having eye contact with a reader who already knows my soul."
• When asked what book most influenced his life, he answered:
The Bible, which contains all the stories and all the guidance humankind needs. (Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)
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