The period in which Latin-American writers became internationally celebrated is known as the ‘boom’. Writers like Neruda, Marquez, Paz and Vargas Llosa reached their commercial and international peak. After the Cuban Revolution, Latin-America’s writers and intellectuals had a new-found optimism for their region. This led to great experimentation in their literary work. In the subsequent years, the realization that Cuba was not to become a beacon of freedom but rather a bastion of political and creative repression led writers to create in a way that was not at all pessimistic; the surreal, fantastic and existential (the ability to carve out one’s own way from life’s circumstances) became the essential elements to one of the most celebrated literary movements of the past century.
Often overshadowed by the boom are the Latin-American writers who preceded them. This was partly by design: the writers of the boom considered themselves to be an ‘orphan’ movement. In reality, they owed some reference to the Nicaraguan / Central American ‘Vanguardia’ movement which itself was a reflection of surrealism. There is a great variety in Latin-American literature. In a sense, we are consistently rediscovering our Hispanic literary heritage.
In total, the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to six writers. Get to know all six of the Latin American Writers who have won the prestigious literary prize below. The second Latin American Nobel Prize Winner for Literature is Miguel Angel Asturias:
Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala (1967)
Miguel Angel Asturias was deeply concerned with the problems of the indigenous people of Guatemala, reflected in his writing Men of Maize. Depending on the political party throughout his lifetime, he would be: forced to switch from prose to poetry (elegant cynicism), exiled then welcomed, help found a University for the indigenous then forced to close it, established a political opposition then become a member of the diplomatic corps (A running theme in Latin-America, where celebrated poets are made diplomats in order to ‘be better appreciated abroad’.). All the while, establishing a literary identity for Guatemala and exporting Mayan Culture to the world.
After finishing his degree in the 1920s, he decides to moves to France and comes under the tutelage of Andre Breton. His scholarship as an ethnologist at the Sorbonne leads him to become deeply involved in the study of the Maya. His translation of the Popol Vuh into Spanish became a decades-long labor in his quest to understand the Mayan Book of the People. His creative masterpiece Men of Maize is a visionary work in a literary form known as magical realism. Written in six parts, the novel compares and contrasts the traditions of Mayan culture with the tradition of colonialism, moving towards the stages of industrialization. The first half of the novel is characterized by the indigenous leader Gaspar Ilom, a ‘Man of the Maize” who attempts to lead a rebellion against the colonists who force them into slavery. The second half of the novel is told in the eyes of Nicho, a postman who leaves his job to find his wife. A difficult work which concludes that ‘the magical legend of our indigenous culture is forever over…we are now ants who carry the corn we grow.’