José Luís Mendonça was born in 1955 as Golungo Alto in northern Angola. He studied law at the Catholic university in Luanda and began writing poems and articles early on for student publications. Then, like all young men at the time, he was drafted into the army and fought in the civil war that broke out in the wake of Angola’s independence. He was later the cultural attaché to the Angolan embassy in Paris.
Mendonça made his writing debut with a volume of poetry called »Chuva novembrina« (1981, tr: November Rain), which won the Sagrada Esperança prize, named for the title of the first volume of poetry by Agostinho Neto. Mendonça says that he regards writing poetry as a way of relaxing and killing time, and to date he has had more than 15 volumes published in Luanda, Portugal, and Brazil. With »Um Voo de Borboleta no mecanismo inerte do tempo« (2005, tr: The Flight of the Butterfly in the Inert Mechanism of Time) he won the prize offered by Angola’s Culture Ministry in honor of the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence. In his poems, Mendonça deals indirectly with historical and contemporary events in Angola. He has also had several short stories published about his experiences in the war. Those experiences are also at the heart of his first novel, »El reino das Casuarinas« (tr: The Kingdom of the Cassowaries), published in 2014 simultaneously in Luanda and Lisbon. Recently Mendonça has been exploring the decade between 1977 and 1987, juxtaposing lunacy and utopia. With his questions, he is breaking a taboo, as 1977 was the year of the failed coup against Agostinho Neto’s government, in the wake of which thousands of people were killed and the dream of a peaceful republic was over for the time being. In that sense, Mendonça’s book ties in with Alejo Carpentier’s novel »El reino de este mundo« (Eng: »The Kingdom of This World«), which dealt with the disappointments and frustration that followed Haiti’s independence. Some of Mendonça’s poems were published in German in the anthology »Mögen Pitangas wachsen. Ein zweisprachiges Lesebuch« (2014, tr: Let Pitangas Grow. A dual language reader), and a fragment of his novel appeared in »Welwitschia« (2015), the magazine of the Angolan embassy in Berlin.
Since 2012, Mendonça has been the chief editor of the bi-monthly magazine »Cultura. Jornal Angolano de Arte y Literatura,« which appears as a supplement to the daily »Jornal de Angola.« The magazine profiles writers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and visual artists, with interpretations and critiques of their work. Mendonça often writes a column providing commentary on current events. As such, he is today one of the leading critical voices in Angola.