Posted: April 1, 2009
February saw Roberto Márquez, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, in Havana to serve as one of the judges for the 2009 Casa de Las Americas Literature Prize. Comprised of a highly distinguished group of writers, artists, critics, and scholars from all across the Americas, the jury for the annual prize deliberated more than 624 unpublished works submitted from 19 countries. Granting awards in various genres--novel, poetry, short story, drama, testimony, works for children and young adults--the fiftieth anniversary edition of one of Latin America’s oldest, most coveted, and prestigious literary prizes this year also included an Extraordinary Prize for Studies on Latinos in the United States, in either Spanish or English.
Translator, editor, and literary critic, Márquez indicated what he regards as the import of this new prize. “The establishment of this Extraordinary Prize, and the launching as well of a continuing research program devoted to the study of Latinos in the U.S. at Casa de Las Americas,” he notes, “represents a major, doubly signal acknowledgment: of the growing hemispheric significance of the Latino community in the United States, its on-going historic impact and increasingly unignorable importance; and of the striking richness, originality, and daily expanding influence of the artistic, intellectual, and cultural production this community has given rise to and continues to inspire. Beyond the broad international recognition it almost immediately bestows--the satisfaction and acclaim its award brings to its winner--establishment of this Extraordinary Prize will also stimulate and further encourage more and new contributions to this remarkable creative ferment, as it brings the work which emerges from it to the attention of the widest possible public on both sides of the Río Bravo.”
The first winner of the award was the Puerto Rican scholar Juan Flores, professor of Africana, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies at Hunter College, for his Bugalu y otros guisos: ensayos sobre culturas Latinas en Estados Unidos (Bugalu and Other Fusions: Essays on Latino Cultures in the United States). Winners in the remaining genres included authors from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, and Peru. Márquez, who last served on the Casa de Las Americas Jury in 1977, describes his experience as a member of its fiftieth anniversary selection committee as “exceptional, uncommonly stimulating, unforgettable.”
While in Havana, Márquez was also honored with recognition as an Honorary Member of the Fundación Nicolás Guillén for his work on Cuba’s National Poet. Within the internationally “extensive and varied ‘Guillén community,’ ” Denia García Ronda declared in her remarks at the public ceremony of induction, some names “are more dear and familiar to us, form part of what we might call ‘the nuclear family.’ One among that select group, by proper right, is Roberto Márquez.” Summarizing his contributions as a translator, scholar, and critic of Guillén’s work, “Roberto Márquez,” she concludes, “is, without any doubt, the person who has done the most to make Guillén’s poetry available in English--and not just in the United States.”