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Literature laurels

April 27, 2011

Spanish writer Ana Maria Matute has been awarded this year's Cervantes Prize. She has forged a career writing influential books, often for or about children and she is only the third woman to win the prestigious award.

Ana Maria Matute
Matute created a "world and a language of her own"Image: Archivo de Espasa Calpe, M. Durán

Ana Maria Matute on Wednesday was awarded the Cervantes Prize, regarded as the literature Nobel Prize of the Spanish-speaking world. The jury described Matute as a realist writer with "a world and a language of her own."

"I am happy, enormously happy," the 85-year-old told a news conference in Barcelona after receiving this year's award from King Juan Carlos. The award carries a 125,000 euro ($169,000) prize.

"I take it as a recognition, if not of the quality of my work, then at least of the effort and dedication that I have devoted to writing throughout my life," she said.

A passionate Cervantes fan

Statue of Don Quijote
Matute says Cervante's Don Quijote is her favorite bookImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The award ceremony took place in the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the town of Alcala de Henares near Madrid. That was particularly appropriate this year as Matute is a passionate fan of Cervantes' classic novel Don Quijote.

"When I was forced to read Don Quijote at the age of 14, it bored me rigid. But when I was 20 and thought of myself as a writer, I fell in love with it. It was the first book that made me cry. The death of Don Quijote made me so sad," Matute said.

The prize was set up in 1976 and previous winners include Latin American giants such as Jorge Luis Borges and Mario Vargas Llosa, and Spanish writers such as Camilo Jose Cela. Several of its winners have also won the Nobel Prize, and the Cervantes Prize is often compared to that award because it is given to honor a lifetime's work, not just one particular book.

Beyond literary movements

Matute's career has been long and distinguished. The Spanish Civil War broke out when she was a little girl. The conflict and its aftermath heavily influenced her work, which has often centered on loss of innocence and social hardship.

Ana Maria Matute at the award ceremony
Matute received the award from Spanish king Juan CarlosImage: dapd

While she has written many children's books, in her adult novels the Catalan writer has refused to flinch from tough issues.

"She is completely beyond generations or literary movements, she's in a genre of her own," said Gloria Gutierrez of Carmen Balcells, the agency that represents the writer, adding that the prize was long overdue. "She's created her own, very, very individual kind of literature."

Matute is only the third woman to win the Cervantes Prize, an imbalance that many say reflects discrimination on the part of the jury that chooses the winner. In 2000, the gender issue overshadowed the prize. The winner that year was Francisco Umbral, a novelist who was accused of misogyny in his work and public declarations. Dozens of women angrily protested outside the building as he received the award.

Matute, however, says that all good writers should be given a chance, regardless of whether they are male or female. "He or she who invents, lives," she said, on receiving her award on Wednesday. And if that is true, then Matute is very much alive.

Author: Guy Hedgecoe, Madrid /ai
Editor: Susan Houlton

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