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Manrique, Jaime (b. 1949)  
 
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Versatile Colombian-born author Jaime Manrique has written novels, short stories, poetry, and works of nonfiction with gay themes.

From his earliest days, Jaime Manrique Ardila found himself in the role of an outsider. He was the illegitimate son of Gustavo Manrique, a member of one of Colombia's most prestigious families and the owner of banana plantations, and Soledad Ardila, who came from a peasant family of European, Native American, and African ancestry. The senior Manrique was already married when he met and became enamored of Ardila.

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Jaime Manrique was born in the northern city of Barranquilla on June 16, 1949. His father at first expressed happiness at the news of the birth but later refused to recognize publicly Manrique and his younger sister as his children, although he promised that they would be acknowledged in his will--a pledge that he kept.

While the children were still small, however, Gustavo Manrique dropped Ardila for a younger mistress and thereafter rarely saw his son and daughter. It was then up to Ardila to manage to provide for herself and the children.

Manrique relates the events of his early years in Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me (1999), the title of which plays on Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians (1918), while also reclaiming a derogatory term for homosexual, roughly equivalent to "faggot." The family's story, wrote George De Stefano in The Nation, "reads like a particularly outrageous telenovela ("Latin American soap opera")." Ardila and the children bounced from one city to another, sometimes in reasonable economic comfort, other times in poverty. A dizzying array of relatives and a new lover (once again a married man) for Ardila populate the drama.

In the midst of this melodrama, Manrique was discovering his homosexuality--and also realizing that it was extremely transgressive in Colombian culture, where machismo is the norm. Visible gay couples were virtually non-existent when he was growing up.

Manrique began enjoying pleasurable gay relationships while in his teens, but because of societal pressures, he was tormented. "Guilt ran my life from my adolescence on," he stated in 1999. Coming out to his family "took forever."

Manrique transferred frequently from school to school. His academic performance was uneven, but he developed a love of reading early on. Fortunate in having teachers and friends willing to lend him books from their collections, he joyfully and voraciously read novels, mostly from the nineteenth century.

After watching Ken Hughes's film The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) as a teenager, Manrique plunged into the writer's complete works. He was particularly drawn to The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and learned parts of it by heart. A short time later a high school teacher lent him a work by André Gide in which he read of Gide's visits to male brothels in Morocco in the company of Wilde. Manrique and his teacher did not discuss the book, but Manrique felt that the teacher was trying to tell him, "Look, these great writers were like you. It is okay."

Manrique, however, was cognizant of the ostracism faced by gay men in Colombian society and was "terrified of [his] deepening homosexual feelings" as an adolescent. He would not come out publicly until he was in his twenties and living in the United States. He describes himself as "full of internalized " until he was in his thirties.

Manrique's move to the U.S. came in 1967. His mother settled the family in Lakeland, Florida and found work as a domestic servant.

Manrique, whose English was limited, worked hard and impressed his high school teachers with his intelligence. Several took an interest in the young man and encouraged him to go to college. He attended the University of South Florida, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English in 1972.

From his early years Manrique had dreamed of a career as a writer. While still in high school in Colombia he managed to get an existentialist play, ¿En las manos de quién? ("In Whose Hands?"), produced at the Teatro de Bellas Artes in Barranquilla. He was still pursuing his goal of becoming a writer when he applied to a fiction workshop with Manuel Puig at Columbia University in 1977. Puig approved his manuscript, and he was admitted.

Manrique called Puig "one of the most effeminate men that I've ever known"--anathema in the culture of machismo in which both had grown up--but nevertheless also "an author I idolized with the complete and irrational ardor of youth."

A year after the seminar Manrique published his first major work, the novella El Cadáver de Papá ("My Father's Corpse"), which became a best-seller in Colombia but also met with outrage since it dealt with a young man who murdered his wealthy, conservative father and later, dressed as a woman, attempted to seduce his father-in-law.

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