Nobel Prize in Literature: Which Latin American writers have won?
Published by The Christian Science Monitor
Mario Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American to win the honored literary prize in 12 years. Of the 102 awards presented since 1901, only seven have gone to Latin American writers.
Gabriela Mistral, Chile (1945)
The fifth of 12 female Nobel Laureates in Literature, Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American winner ever. She began writing poetry while working as a village schoolteacher, after her lover committed suicide. The tragedy, and later work in education reform, inspired Mistral to write several volumes of poetry, including “Sonetros de la muerte” (1914), “Desolación” (1922) and “Ternura” (1924). Mistral won “for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world.”
Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala (1967)
Miguel Angel Asturias’ impact on Guatemalan culture went well beyond his powerful literature. He helped found an affordable university, traveled as a correspondent for Latin American newspapers, served as a foreign diplomat, and eventually won the prominent Lenin peace prize. His novels tackle dictatorship, defend Mayan culture, and illuminate Indian legend. The Academy awarded Asturias the Nobel Prize “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America.”
Pablo Neruda, Chile (1971)
Called “the greatest poet of the 20th century – in any language” by fellow Latin American Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda’s famous love poems indeed strike a chord. Also politically involved, Nerudo served as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party, was eventually hunted for arrest, and escaped to exile in Argentina. He returned to Chile after winning the award “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.”
Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia (1982)
Considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Gabriel Garcia Marquez reaffirmed the vigor of Latin American literature. His novels, notably “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967) and “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985), received widespread critical praise and mass popular appeal. The Academy said it right when they announced that he was receiving the award “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.”
Octavio Paz, Mexico (1990)
A union of two cultures – Andulasian Spanish on his mother’s side, Indian and Spanish on his father’s – inspired many of Octavio Paz’s poems and essays. He found influence everywhere: in Marxism, surrealism, Buddhism, eroticism, modern art and Mexican politics. In “Sun Stone” (1957) the poet reinterpreted existential life questions using an Aztecian calendar stone. Paz won the Nobel Prize “for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.”
Derek Walcott, Saint Lucia (1992)
The acclaimed poet and playwright always felt a deep connection to Caribbean society and to the blend of cultures that the islands represent. Derek Walcott grew up in Saint Lucia, studied in Jamaica and founded a theater workshop in Trinidad. Of his many works, Walcott is best known for “Omeros” (1990), an ambitious 64-chapter “Odyssey”-esque epos set on the Caribbean islands. The Swedish Academy awarded Walcott the prize “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.”
V.S. Naipaul, Trinidad (2001)
Though he has spent the majority of his life in England, V.S. Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, a town on the Caribbean island Trinidad. His earliest novels pay homage to his birthplace, but later works explore moral senses and question reader perspectives through settings worldwide: Africa, the Middle East, India and beyond. The Nobel Prize went to Naipaul “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.”
Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru (2010)
The 2010 winner, Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, is one of the greats of Latin American literature, a writer fully of the stature of other regional giants such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabríel Garcia Márquez. In addition to his career as a novelist, essayist, playwright, and journalist, Vargas Llosa is also known worldwide as a politician. Vargas Llosa has written more than a dozen novels in addition to many other books and stories. Vargas Llosa’s varied work embraces a multiplicity of styles but can best be described as deeply political, with a focus on questions of power and its dangers.