Thursday, Dec. 3
MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco has been declared the winner of the 2009 Cervantes Award for being “an exceptional poet of everyday life.” The award is considered to be the Spanish equivalent of the Noble Prize in Literature. On announcing their choice, the judges praised Pacheco and made mention of his “great ability of create his own world” and that “the entire language can be defined” through his work.
With US$185,000 in prize money, this is the fourth time that the Cervantes has gone to a Mexican writer, with previous winners including Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and Sergio Pitol.
The prestigious award caught Pacheco by surprise. “You can imagine my surprise. I feel very grateful, very moved,” he said to AFP. After saying that he was “flabbergasted” and “stunned,” the author dedicated the prize to all Mexican writers.
From amongst Pacheco’s qualities, reported EFE, the judges stressed his “ironic distancing from reality,” his linguistic knowledge and his status as an exceptional poet, and also described him as an “incredibly important narrator.”
Born in Mexico City in 1939, the poet, narrator, essayist and translator, reported Reuters, first began to publish in Medio Siglo magazine. Pacheco’s long list of works includes El reposo del fuego (1996), No me preguntes cómo pasa el tiempo (1969) and Desde entonces (1980). He also ran the Autonomous University of Mexico magazine alongside Carlos Motiváis and has taught in numerous educational establishments in his country, the United States, Canada and England.
In his role as a translator, he has brought the works of Tennessee Williams, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot and Oscar Wilde to Spanish. Additionally, stressed AFP, he is also an expert on 19th century Mexican literature and a great proponent of the Spanish language, as well as a fierce defender of the same.
In evidence of this, the judges chose one of his poems, "En defensa de la ñ" (“In defense of the eñe”), to announce the prize. “This animal which growls with the sound of the eñe/ is completely untranslatable./ It would lose the ferocity of its voice/ and the eloquence of its talons/ in any foreign language.”
This year, stated EFE, Pacheco’s main adversaries were fellow Mexicans Fernando del Paso, Ana María Matute and Elena Poniatowska. According to poet Luis García Montero, what tipped the balance in Pacheco’s favor was the fact that he is a writer who “brings together the entire language, because his work truly represents poetry from any country which speaks our language.”