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Ariel Dorfman

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Ariel Dorfman

Years active

Ariel Dorfman BOMB Magazine Ariel Dorfman by Jenifer Berman

Full Name
Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman

May 6, 1942 (age 82) (

novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist

Angelica Malinarich (m. 1966)

Death and the Maiden, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman

Rodrigo Dorfman, Joaquin Dorfman

How to Read Donald D, Heading south - looking n, Widows, Feeding on Dreams: Confessi, Konfidenz

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Ariel dorfman in conversation with gabriel sanders

Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman (born May 6, 1942) is an Argentine-Chilean-American novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist. A citizen of the United States since 2004, he has been a professor of literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, since 1985.


Ariel Dorfman PEN American Center

Feeding on dreams by ariel dorfman

Background and education


Dorfman was born in Buenos Aires on May 6, 1942, the son of Adolf Dorfman, who was born in Odessa (then Russian Empire) to a well-to-do Jewish family, and became a prominent Argentine professor of economics and the author of Historia de la Industria Argentina, and Fanny Zelicovich Dorfman, who was born in Kishinev of Bessarabian Jewish descent. Shortly after his birth, they moved to the United States and then, in 1954, moved to Chile. He attended and later worked as a professor at the University of Chile, marrying Angélica Malinarich in 1966 and becoming a Chilean citizen in 1967. From 1968 to 1969, he attended graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley and then returned to Chile.

Ariel Dorfman Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman Genealogy

Since the restoration of democracy in Chile, in 1990, he and his wife Angélica have divided their time between Santiago and the United States.


From 1970 to 1973, Dorfman served as a cultural adviser to President Salvador Allende. During this time he wrote, with Armand Mattelart, a critique of North American cultural imperialism, How to Read Donald Duck. Dorfman was supposed to work on the night shift at the La Moneda presidential palace the night before the Pinochet coup, but he had swapped his shift with his friend Claudio Jimeno, not knowing what was to come. Forced to leave Chile in 1973, after the coup by General Augusto Pinochet leading to President Allende's suicide, Dorfman went on to live in Paris, Amsterdam, and Washington, D.C. Since 1985 he has taught at Duke University, where he is currently Walter Hines Page Research Professor of Literature and Professor of Latin American Studies.

Dorfman details his life of exile and bi-cultural living in his memoir, Heading South, Looking North, which has been acclaimed by Elie Wiesel, Nadine Gordimer, Thomas Keneally and others.

Literary work

Dorfman's work often deals with the horrors of tyranny and, in later works, the trials of exile. In an interview in BOMB Magazine, Dorfman said, "I'm constantly trying to figure out how you can be true to an experience which in fact very few people in the world would understand, such as having most of your friends disappear or be tortured, and at the same time finding a way of telling that story so other people in other places can read their own lives into that." His most famous play, Death and the Maiden, describes the encounter of a former torture victim with the man she believed tortured her; it was made into a film in 1994 by Roman Polanski starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. Dorfman identified "the stark, painful Chilean transition to democracy" as Death and the Maiden's central theme. The play received a 20th anniversary revival in the 2011–2012 season at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London's West End, directed by Jeremy Herrin and starring Thandie Newton, Tom Goodman-Hill, and Anthony Calf.

His thesis on the absurd in plays of Harold Pinter was published in Spanish as El absurdo entre cuatro paredes: el teatro de Harold Pinter (The absurd within four walls: the theater of Harold Pinter) by Editorial Universitaria, in Santiago, Chile, in 1968 (124 pages). Pinter later became a personal friend as well as an influence on Dorfman's work and political thinking.

A critic of Pinochet, he has written extensively about the General's extradition case for the Spanish newspaper El País and other publications, and in the book Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Rather than distinguishing between politics and art, Dorfman believes "that one’s writing is deeply political," and, at its best, "engages the major dilemmas...of the community."

Dorfman's works have been translated into more than 40 languages and performed in over 100 countries. Besides poetry, essays and novels— Hard Rain, winner of the Sudamericana Award; Widows; The Last Song of Manuel Sendero; Mascara; Konfidenz; The Nanny and the Iceberg, and Blake’s Therapy—he has written short stories, including My House Is on Fire, and general nonfiction including The Empire’s Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds. He has won various international awards, including two Kennedy Center Theater Awards. In 1996, with his son, Rodrigo, he received an award for best television drama in Britain for Prisoners in Time. His poems, collected in Last Waltz in Santiago and In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land, have been turned into a half-hour fictional film, Deadline, featuring the voices of Emma Thompson, Bono, Harold Pinter, and others.

Dorfman’s human rights play, Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark (based on interviews with human rights defenders conducted by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo), premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2000, and subsequently aired on PBS as part of its Great Performances series. The play starred Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin, and John Malkovich, among others, and was directed by Greg Mosher. It has gone on to numerous performances around the world, including a run in New York City. On May 3, 2010, a "Speak Truth to Power" benefit for survivors of the 2010 Chilean earthquake was put on by New York's Public Theater, directed by David Esbjornson, and featuring an all-star cast of Elias Koteas, Marcia Gay Harden, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Gloria Reuben, Paul Sorvino, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Debra Winger.

Dorfman's play The Other Side had its world premiere at the New National Theatre in Tokyo in 2004 and opened off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club in 2005. Other recent plays include Purgatorio at the Seattle Rep in 2005 and at the Arcola Theatre in London in 2008; Picasso’s Closet, a counterfactual history in which the Nazis murder Picasso, had its premiere at Theater J in Washington, D.C. in 2006.

He is also the subject of a feature-length documentary, A Promise to the Dead, based on his memoir Heading South, Looking North and directed by Peter Raymont. The film had its world premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2007. In November 2007, the film was named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of 15 films on its documentary feature Oscar shortlist. The list was narrowed to five films on January 22, 2008, and A Promise to the Dead was not among the five Oscar-nominated documentaries.

His latest works include the Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel book, Desert Memories; a collection of essays, Other Septembers, Many Americas; a novel he wrote with his youngest son, Joaquín, Burning City; Americanos: Los Pasos de Murieta; and a new volume of memoirs, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile. In 2007, his musical, Dancing Shadows, opened in Seoul, Korea. This collaboration with Eric Woolfson, the principal composer for the Alan Parsons Project, won five Korean “Tony” awards. In 2011, his play "Purgatorio" has its Spanish language premiere at the Teatro Español in Madrid, starring Viggo Mortensen and Carme Elias.

Dorfman currently has several film projects in development with his sons, Rodrigo and Joaquin Dorfman, including a screen adaptation of his novel, Blake’s Therapy.

Dorfman also writes regularly for such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian (where he has a featured blog), Le Monde and L'Unità.

He is a member of L'Académie Universelle des Cultures, in Paris, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Selected books

  • El absurdo entre cuatro paredes: el teatro de Harold Pinter. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1968.
  • How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (Para leer al Pato Donald, 1971), with Armand Mattelart; tr. David Kunzle. London: International General, 1975 ISBN 0-88477-023-0
  • The Rabbits’ Rebellion (La rebelión de los conejos mágicos, 1986), 2001
  • Hard Rain (Moros en la costa, 1973), tr. George Shivers & Dorfman. Columbia (LA): Readers International, 1990
  • Widows (Viudas, 1981), tr. Stephen Kessler. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983 ISBN 1-58322-483-1
  • The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, (La última canción de Manuel Sendero, 1982), tr. George R. Shivers & Dorfamn. New York: Viking, 1987 0140088962
  • The Empire's Old Clothes. What the Lone Ranger, Babar, the Reader's Digest, and other false friends do to our minds, Pantheon Books, New York, 1983 (2nd edition 2010) (Patos, elefantes y héroes: La infancia como subdesarrollo, 1985)
  • Last Waltz in Santiago and other poems of exile and disappearance (Pastel de choclo, 1986), tr. Edith Grossman & Dorfamn, New York: Viking, 1988
  • Mascara (Máscaras, 1988), New York: Viking, 1988
  • My House Is On Fire, short stories, tr. George Shivers & Dorfman; New York: Viking, 1990
  • Some Write to the Future: Essays on Contemporary Latin American Fiction (1991)
  • Death and the maiden (La muerte y la doncella, 1991), a play in three acts; London: Nick Hern Books (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
  • Konfidenz (Konfidenz, 1994), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994
  • Reader, drama, Nick Hern Books, London, 1995
  • Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey (Rumbo al Sur, deseando el Norte, 1998), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999 ISBN 0-14-028253-X
  • The Nanny and the Iceberg (La Nana y el Iceberg, 1999), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999
  • The Resistance Trilogy (Death and the Maiden, Widows, Reader), Nick Hern Books Limited, 1998
  • Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet (Más allá del miedo: El largo adiós a Pinochet, 2002), Seven Stories Press, 2002 ISBN 1-58322-542-0
  • Blake’s Therapy, Seven Stories Press, in New York, 2001 (Terapia)
  • In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages (2002)
  • Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, 1980–2004 (2004) (Otros septiembres)
  • Manifesto for Another World: Voices from Beyond the Dark. Seven Stories Press, 2004
  • Desert Memories: Journeys through the Chilean North. National Geographic Books, 2004.
  • Burning City (with Joaquin Dorfman) (2006) ISBN 0-375-83204-1
  • Americanos: Los pasos de Murieta (2009)
  • Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (2011)
  • Documentaries

  • Montes-Bradley, Eduardo (Director) (1999). Harto The Borges (Feature Documentary). USA: Heritage Film Project, US. 
  • Santiago Files, 2011 (Interviewee) [Feature Documentary]
  • References

    Ariel Dorfman Wikipedia

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