Antonio Skármeta was born in the North-Chilean town of Antofagasta in 1940. He studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad de Chile and Columbia University in New York City, where he received his doctor title in 1964 with a dissertation about Julio Cortázar.
Back in Santiago, he was a lecturer for Latin American literature, among other things, and began publishing his first literary texts. Following the military putsch in 1973, Skármeta first of all emigrated to Argentina with the help of a DAAD scholarship and then finally to West Berlin. In addition to working as an author and scriptwriter, he also taught dramaturgy at the Film and Television Academy there.
Skármeta often developed his literary materials parallel for the screen. He achieved his international breakthrough with his novel »Ardiente paciencia« (1985; En. »Burning Patience«, 1989), which was an adaptation of his 1983 feature film of the same name, which became a highly popular remake by Michael Radford in 1994. The film deals with Chilean Nobel Laureate for literature Pablo Neruda, who forms a friendship with a fictitious postman, and Skármeta also dedicated to him his work »Neruda por Skármeta« (2004; tr. »My Friend Neruda«), an autobiographical homage which traces the influence of the latter on the life and work of Skármeta in a series of episodes and using his own interpretations of poems by Neruda. In 1989, with a desire to help build up democracy in his home country, Skármeta returned to Chile where he presented a literary programme on television, based on a concept developed by him, »El Show de los Libros«.
From 2000 to 2003 he held the position of Chilean ambassador to Germany. Chile’s history, in particular the years of Pinochet’s military dictatorship and his experience of living in exile have greatly influenced both Skármeta’s literary and cinema work. In his most recent novel, »Los días del arcoíris« (2011; tr. »Days of the Rainbow«) he sheds light – through the prism of a love and family story – upon the campaign that took place in the run-up to the decisive referendum of 1988. This was filmed in 2012 by director Pablo Larraín using idiosyncratic visual aesthetics and titled »¡No!« and was nominated for an Oscar one year later.
Skármeta teaches in Santiago and at Colorado College, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2013. He has also been awarded numerous prestigious accolades, among these the Prix Médicis étranger (2001) as well as two of the most renowned and most highly endowed prizes in Spanish-language literature, the Premio Planeta (2003) and the Primio Iberoamericano Planeta-Casa de América de Narrativa (2011). He also received the Goethe Medal from the Goethe Institute (2002) and the German Federal Cross of Merit (2003) for his cultural and political work. Skármeta lives in Santiago.