Literary awards Casa de las Américas: impulse for neglected genres

February 2008 -

"Most of the literary prizes in Latin America are awarded by the large publishers. As a result, the contests are explicitly commercial by nature. Our top awards are intended to express literary-artistic appreciation for specific books written by Latin American authors. Since we celebrated our fortieth anniversary in 1999, we have been awarding three oeuvre prizes", says Jorge Fornet, director of the Casa de las Américas Research Centre for Literature. Casa de Las Américas presented its 49th annual awards for Latin American literature on 31 January 2008 in Havana, Cuba.


Samanta Schweblin

"In the 1960s and 1970s, writers including Garcia Márques, Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz put Latin American literature on the world map. No true literary trends have been seen since. What characterises contemporary Latin American literature is an enormous variety of literary styles and genres. Some authors are linked together by extra-literary mechanisms, e.g. the publishers' marketing techniques. But there are no directing manifests or groups of writers working in consultation with one another."

"In awarding our literary prizes, we strive to emphasise that diversity by highlighting various genres each year: this year those are poetry, short story collections and social-historical essays. Last year we had novels, art-historical literary essays, theatre and literary testimony. As a result, Casa de las Américas has done much for less well-known and sometimes less-appreciated genres, like literary testimony."

"Casa de las Américas created a prize for this in 1970, and the genre has since gained significant international importance and respect. Moreover, many of the prize winners are young authors who have not yet reached the general public. They have not yet been able to get a foot into the doors of the large publishing houses. A prize like those presented by Casa de las Américas can be of considerable assistance at the beginning of their literary careers."

The winners of the three most important Casa de las Américas awards for 2008 are:
Poetry: Laura Yasan (Argentina, 1960): La llave Marilyn
Short story collections: Samanta Schweblin (Argentina, 1978): La furia de las pestes
Social-historical essay: Hugo Niño (Colombia, 1947): El etnotexto: las voces del asombro