Elena Poniatowska. Photo Courtesy ecosolidario.com.co

The Mexican writer, journalist and chronicler Elena Poniatowska won the Cervantes Prize for Literature on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

The news was made public in Madrid, Spain, by José Ignacio Wert, the Spanish Minister of Education, Culture and Sports.

After successive votes, the jury awarded Poniatowska by a majority vote.

The jury of the Cervantes Prize this year was composed of the winners of the past two years — José Manuel Caballero Bonald and Nicanor Parra — as well as the director of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE), José Manuel Blecua, and the director of the Academy of Paraguay, Renée Ferrer.

Maria Pilar Celma Valero, of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE), the Mexican Diego Valadés Rivers from the Union of Universities of Latin America and María Dolores López Enamorado, appointed by the Cervantes Institute, were the remaining jury members.

The award was granted, as recorded in the minutes, for Poniatowska’s “contribution in various literary genres, particularly so in the narrative, as well as her presence in the media and her commitment to the time in history she has lived.”

Poniatowska is the fourth woman to win in the prize’s 37-year history, after the Spanish writers María Zambrano (1988) and Ana María Matute (2010), and Cuba’s Dulce Maria Loynaz (1992).

She is the fifth Mexican after Octavio Paz (1981), Carlos Fuentes (1987), Sergio Pitol (2005) and José Emilio Pacheco (2009).

Born to a French father and a Mexican mother, Poniatowska is the author of more than 40 essays, novels, short stories and testimonies which have been translated into more than 20 languages​​.

Her most famous work, “The Night of Tlatelolco” (1971), is a raw testimony of the repression of Mexican students that occurred on Oct. 2, 1968.

Poniatowska’s other notable works include “Here’s to You, Jesusa” (1969), a novel based on an interview with a laundress that is noted for a fascinating display of the character’s colloquial speech; “The Skin of the Sky” (2001), which tells the story of a scientist whose fate is to unravel the mysteries of astronomy, but whose biggest challenge will be to discover and understand the mysteries behind passion and feelings; “Tinísima” (1992), a biography of the photographer Tina Modoti; “Leonora” (2011), an excellent story about the life of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington; and the testimonial biography “Octavio Paz, las palabras del árbol” (1998).

Characterized by a literature committed to contemporary Mexican history with an international projection, Poniatowska is recognized as one of the most powerful pens in contemporary Spanish literature.

The author will receive the Cervantes Prize — founded in 1975 and considered the Nobel Prize of literature in Spanish — on April 23 in Madrid by King Juan Carlos of Spain. It will be awarded to her in the Aula of the University of Alcalá de Henares, the town where Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was born.

The award consists of an allocation of 125,000 euros (nearly $170,000), issued by the Ministry of Culture of Spain in recognition of a writer who has contributed work to enrich the Hispanic legacy.

Candidates for the award are nominated annually by the Real Academia Española (RAE), the Language Academies of the Spanish-speaking countries, authors awarded in the past and institutions related to literature in Spanish.
Poniatowska’s large body of writing is available at the San Francisco Public Library.

—Translation Alfonso Agirre