Amado was born in a fazenda ("farm") in the inland of the city of Itabuna, in the southern part of the Brazilian state of Bahia, son of João Amado de Faria and D. Eulália Leal. In the large cacao plantation, Amado knew the misery and the struggles of the people working the earth, living in almost slave conditions, which were to be a theme always present in his later works (for example, the notable "Terras do Sem Fim" of 1944).
When he was only one year old the family moved to Ilhéus, a coastal city, where he spent his childhood. He attended high school in Salvador, the capital of the state. During that period Amado began to collaborate with several magazines and took part in literary life, as one of the founders of the Modernist "Rebels' Academy".
Amado published his first novel, "O País do Carnaval", in 1931, at age 18. Later he married Matilde Garcia Rosa and had a daughter, Lila, in 1933. The same year he published his second novel, "Cacau", which increased his popularity. Amado's leftist activities made his life difficult under the dictatorial regime of Getulio Vargas: in 1935 he was arrested for the first time, and two years later his books were publicly burned. His works were banned from Portugal, but in the rest of Europe he gained great popularity with the publication of "Jubiabá" in France. The book had enthusiastic reviews, including that of Nobel Prize Award winner Albert Camus.
Being a communist militant, from 1941 to 1942 Amado was compelled to go into exile to Argentina and Uruguay. When he returned to Brazil he separated from Matilde Garcia Rosa. In 1945 he was elected to the National Constituent Assembly, as a representative of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) (he received more votes than any other candidate in the state of São Paulo). He signed a law granting freedom of religious faith. The same year he remarried, this time to the writer Zélia Gattai.
In 1947 he had a son, João Jorge. The same year his party was declared illegal, and its members arrested and persecuted. Amado chose exile once again, this time in France, where he remained until he was expelled in 1950. His first daughter, Lila, had died in 1949. From 1950 to 1952 Amado lived in Czechoslovakia, where another daughter, Paloma, was born. He also travelled to the Soviet Union, winning the Lenin Peace Prize in 1951.
On his return to Brazil in 1955, Amado abandoned active political life, leaving the Communist Party one year later: from that period on he dedicated himself solely to literature. His second creative phase began in 1958 with "Gabriela, Cravo e Canela". Amado abandoned, in part, the realism and the social themes of his early works, producing a series of novels focusing mainly on feminine characters, devoted to a kind of smiling celebration of the traditions and the beauties of Bahia. His depiction of the sexual customs of his land was much to the scandal of the 1950s Brazilian society: for several years Amado could not even enter Ilhéus, where the novel was set, due to threats received for the alleged offense to the morality of the city's women.
On April 6, 1961 he was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Literature. He received the title of Doctor honoris causa from several Universities in Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Israel and France, as well as other honors in almost every South American country, including Obá de Xangô (santoon) of the Candomblé, the traditional Afro-Brazilian religion of Bahia.
Amado's popularity as a writer never decreased. His books were translated into 49 languages in 55 countries, were adapted into films, theatrical works, and TV programs. They even inspired some samba schools of the Brazilian Carnival. A fascinating public figure, a chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for 40 years and one of the great lovers of the XXth century, Jorge Amado is considered the greatest Brazilian novelist to date. During the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas his books were publicly burned and he quickly went into exile in Europe, where he defended Communism and human rights in general. After his return to Brazil, he devoted himself entirely to literature, decidedly exploring femininity and sexuality in the Brazilian culture. Jean Paul Sartre called his novel “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon” (1958) ‘the best example of a folk novel’. His best-known work of art “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” (1966) is a global success and the basis for an eponymous movie classic.
In 1987, the House of Jorge Amado Foundation was created, in Salvador. It promotes the protection of Amado's estate and the development of culture in Bahia. Amado died on August 6, 2001. His ashes were buried in the garden of his house four days later.