Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1927 in a small village in Colombia near the Caribbean coast. His parents were poor, so his maternal grandparents raised him, and he would later claim that he drew much of his literary inspiration from his grandmother’s storytelling. After attending college and law school, he began a successful career as a journalist but continued to pursue his interest in writing fiction.

García Márquez published his first collection of short stories, Leaf Storm, which included “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” in 1955. The book was an immediate success, and he consequently left journalism to devote himself to becoming “the best writer in the world,” as he later told an interviewer from the Paris Review. García Márquez later won international acclaim for his first novel, the modern classic One Hundred Years of Solitude, in 1967. Subsequent novels such as Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) and The General in His Labyrinth (1989) established García Márquez as one of the most notable writers of the twentieth century. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

García Márquez’s literary style draws heavily from European gothic writers such as Franz Kafka, who famously turned his one of his characters, Gregor Samsa, into a giant insect in The Metamorphosis (1915). American novelist William Faulkner has been cited as a forerunner to García Márquez as well, especially in the way Faulkner grounds his highly experimental novels in the grotesque details of a particular local culture. García Márquez’s own development of the magical-realist genre has had enormous influence on writers throughout the world, especially in Central and South America. In fact, magical realism has since become one of the signature fictional genres of Latin American writers, including Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, Chile’s Isabel Allende, and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa.

In addition to writing, García Márquez also served as one of Latin America’s most distinguished diplomats and mediators. Although he never held any public office, he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to mediate disputes between the government, leftist guerillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and the drug cartels during Colombia’s decades-long civil war. Friends with both Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, García Márquez also sought to bridge the gap between the two countries in the 1990s, which strengthened his reputation as a peacemaker. Many hailed him as Colombia’s only voice of reason and the country’s best hope for peace.

The almost cultish reverence for “Gabo,” as Colombians affectionately called him, transformed García Márquez into both a national and Latin American icon. Also known in Colombia as El Maestro and Nuestro Nobel (our Nobel winner), Márquez died of pneumonia in Mexico City at the age of 87 in 2014.