The Portuguese writer Alice Sampaio was born on 18 March 1927 in Mido, a small village near the city of Guarda in the north of Portugal, in a family of small farmers and merchants. She spent part of her childhood and teenage years in this village of Beira Alta, which suffered the deprivation and isolation that affected a large part of the country during the dictatorship (1926-74) and preceded mass emigration in the 1960s.
This is indeed a remote land, but it is also a place of wild, beautiful nature with an ancient popular culture that to the fertile and eager eyes of the young Alice became almost magical. Alice Sampaio grows up and weaves her complex world while she immerses herself in the vast and rare library of her father, rides, hikes and plays in the magnificent granitic landscape, and listens to the stories told by her parents and the villagers. After completing primary school in the village and going to Guarda to finish high school, she strives, with the support of her mother, to continue her studies, something quite rare at the time for a woman with her background. She will go study pharmacy in the University of Coimbra, completing her graduation later in Porto.
Shortly after her marriage in 1951, she moves to Angola where her four children are born. Her life in Africa, a primeval land undergoing a contradictory colonial situation, is also a decisive experience. Meanwhile involved in the resistance against the dictatorship and the feminist movement, she is “invited” to leave Angola by the regime’s authorities, returning to Lisbon in 1959. She then begins publishing her work, first with the novel “A Cidade sem Espaço” (The City without Space) in 1961, followed in 1963 by an experiment in science fiction, “O Aquário” (The Aquarium). In 1967, she publishes the novel in two volumes “O Dom de Estar Vivo” (The Gift of Being Alive) and in 1968 the play “D. Leonor, Rainha Maravilhosamente” (Leonor, Wonderfully Queen), which was staged by Norberto Barroca at the National Theatre of St. Louis, in Lisbon, in 1979, starring the actress Lia Gama. In 1969, she publishes the play “A Rua da Ronda” (The Round Street), and in 1977 the first volume of the novel “Penelope.”
The singular work of Alice Sampaio is deeply influenced by her early years in her native village and by her militant commitment to the struggle for the emancipation of women in the extremely sexist environment of Portugal under the dictatorship. Her peculiar outlook on life is reflected on the novels “A Cidade sem Espaço” and “O Dom de Estar Vivo”, and the play “A Rua da Ronda”, which was supposed to be “the first of a trilogy for a Theatre of the Poor.” Her concerns about the struggle of women are most clearly conveyed in “D. Leonor, Rainha Maravilhosamente”, which gives a different perspective of the then often overlooked role of women in history, and also in the unfinished novel “Penelope” intended to be a sort of counterpoint to “Ulysses”, by James Joyce.
Alice Sampaio died in May 1982, in Lisbon.