The 57th edition of the Casa de las Américas Prize, which since its very beginnings has been a celebration of literature, on January 28, revealed the winners chosen from the authors of more than 400 works submitted to the competition this year.
In the Casa’s Che Guevara Hall, essayist Jorge Fornet, director of the Literary Research Center, which organizes the event, introduced the juries which announced their decisions in six categories.
Prizes were awarded to writers from Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba, Colombia, Brazil and Martinicque, reflecting the broad representation of literature from across the region.
In the category of Story, the jury of Santiago Gamboa (Colombia); Ana Quiroga (Argentina); Eduardo Lalo (Puerto Rico); Ramiro Sanchiz (Uruguay) and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba), unanimously agreed to award the Prize to Ni una sola voz en el cielo, by Ariel Urquiza, from Argentina.
One of the paragraphs in the jury’s statement explained that the book was chosen because of “the talent demonstrated in the narrative, in stories that range from Buenos Aires to México D.F., taking into account the language and atmosphere of each place … the solid unity of the book and its narrative complexity.”
Among the essays on an artistic-literary topic, the jury composed of Sandra Lorenzano (Argentina-Mexico), Julio Ramos (Puerto Rico) and Mayerín Bello (Cuba) chose to honor De las cenizas al texto. Literaturas andinas de las disidencias sexuales en el siglo XX, by Diego Falconí Trávez, from Ecuador, “For its originality and the critical intensity of his queer look at the literary culture of the Andean region; for the relevance of his contribution to theoretical discussions on sexuality and power; and for his special attention to these discussions in a lucid reading of the literary texts.”
Awarded Special Mentions were A flote. Dos décadas de arte en Cuba, by Mailyn Machado and Corazones errantes: ¿Dónde está mi mundo? by Joaquín Borges Triana, both from Cuba.
The Theater jury, including André Carreira (Brazil); Mariana Percovich (Uruguay); Luis A. Ramos García (Peru); Alejandro Román Bahena (Mexico); and Fátima Patterson (Cuba), unanimously agreed to honor Si esto es una tragedia yo soy una bicicleta, by Cuban writer Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, Cuba, “For its literary merits, consistent construction of characters … a work about death and the power of love that invites possible stagings as diverse as those who may read it.”
They additionally awarded Special Mentions to Subasta (Boceto No. 1 de la serie DíasporA), by Laura Liz Gil Echenique and Yellow, Dream Rd., by Rogelio Orizondo, both Cuban, and to Odisea doble par (Farsa del Imperio), by Argentina’s Mariano Saba.
Books on investigations of Original Cultures of the Americas were evaluated by Natalio Hernández (Mexico), Javier Lajo Lazo (Peru), and Claudia Zapata (Chile), who unanimously agreed to present the Prize in this category to Mingas de la palabra. Textualidades oralitegráficas y visiones de cabeza en las oralituras y literaturas indígenas contemporáneas, by Miguel Rocha Vivas, from Colombia.
Their statement describes the winning work as “a profound, up-to-date, original study on the writings of contemporary indigenous in Colombian … for establishing pertinent, illustrative links between these writings and other forms of expression, languages and symbolic representations created by original peoples.”
The new jury chosen to read Brazilian literature included an intellectual from that country (Idelber Avelar), plus one from Argentina (Viviana Gelado) and Mexico (Consuelo Rodríguez Muñoz), who agreed to award the Prize to Devotos e Devassos. Representação dos padres e beatas na literatura anticlerical brasileira, by Cristian Santos.
They described the work as “an innovative study … profound and well structured, based on a broad historical and literary bibliography … which has the potential to open the way for comparative investigations…”
Works in the category of Caribbean Literature in French or Creole were considered by Aura Marina Boadas (Venezuela); Gary Víctor (Haiti); and Josefina Castro Alegret (Cuba) who unanimously voted to present the award to Le Bataillon créole (Guerre de 1914-1918), by the eminent writer from Martinique, Raphaël Confiant, “for the sociological and ethnographic value of this novel, behind which can be perceived significant research work which becomes a grand fresco of Martinique in the period 1914-1918… For depicting with strength, humor and original language … recovering Creole orality in a little-known period of Caribbean life.”
Receiving a Special Mention in this category was the book of poetry, Guadeloupe ouvre ses ailes froisseés, by another illustrious writer, Ernest Pepin, from Guadalupe.
Since 2000, the Casa de las Américas has awarded honorific prizes to important books by authors from Our America, or those addressing Latin American issues, in the genres of poetry, narrative and essay. This year, books published in 2013 and 2014 were considered.
The José Lezama Lima Poetry Prize went to Verdad posible, by Eduardo Langagne, from Mexico. The Ezequiel Martínez Estrada Prize for an essay was awarded to Cuando lo nuevo conquistó América. Prensa, moda y literatura en el siglo XIX, by Argentine Víctor Goldgel; while for narrative, the José María Arguedas Prize was granted to Las cenizas del cóndor, by Fernando Butazzoni, Uruguay.
A compatriot in the Casa
A very special moment was the master lecture, presented on January 26 in Che Guevara Hall, by former Uruguayan President José Mujica, who began his comments saying, “I am a compatriot who once fell in love and dreamed of changing the world, as many of you here did.”
Mujica immediately established rapport with the audience, saying, “For me it is a great honor to be in this temple of culture, of the sculpture that is writing, of painting, of feeling, of transforming it into nostalgia and sentiment; in poetry, in a sensation conveyed over time, which allows human beings to inter communicate.”
He devoted much of his speech to Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, and emphasized, “It’s not the ceremony of recalling Martí only to make a tribute. We go to the trunk to look for intellectual tools which can serve us in today’s struggle … I don’t know, nor do I have the authority to say, if he was pre-modernist or something like that, it doesn’t matter to me. What is important to me is that he was a dreamer, a constructor, and he didn’t just stick to writing papers. He wrote papers to inspire life and action… Martí represents a very precise moment in history; he established an intellectual commitment to a living cause.”
The Casa Prize cultural activities (January 18-28) have drawn to a close, reconfirming that the competition is one of the continent’s most prestigious. New authors are now joining the world of Latin American and Caribbean literature, marked by the great names who likewise emerged from this very event, or who have honored it with their presence as protective jury members, seeking only aesthetic and literary value in the competing works.
(Mireya Castañeda, Granma)