Chile’s Nicanor Parra wins prestigious Cervantes Prize for literature

The famous Chilean “anti-poet” and brother of Violeta Parra has “a life dedicated to poetry,” said the award jury.


Nicanor Parra is one of the greats of South American literature, with a career spanning over 70 years and many national and international prizes to his name. Now, he can add to that list one of the most prestigious of them all: the Cervantes Prize, considered to be the world’s leading award for Spanish language literature.

At a press conference on Thursday, December 1, Spanish Culture Minister Ángeles González-Sinde named Parra as the winner of the 2011 prize. He is the third Chilean to win the award, following Jorge Edwards, who won in 1999, and the recently passed Gonzalo Rojas, who received the prize in 2003.

The jury praised Parra’s long career – spanning more than 70 years – and his passion for his craft. He has “a great trajectory, a whole life dedicated to poetry,” said Margarita Salas, President of the Cervantes Jury.

The 97-year-old poet, who will receive a 125,000 Euro prize, was born in 1914 in San Fabián de Alico, southern Chile, and published his first book, “Cancionero sin nombre” (Songbook With No Name) in 1937.

But it was in 1954, with the publication of “Poemas y antipoemas” (Poems and Anti-poems), that the creator of “anti-poetry” came to be widely known. Anti-poetry, said Parra, is the poetry of everyday life, using the “language of the people” and a simpler, more direct form.

The anti-poet is known well beyond literary circles: he was admired by Bob Dylan and U.S. poet Alan Ginsberg, among other famous names, and holds a PhD in Cosmology from Oxford University, as well as an Honorary Fellowship.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera called the award “a just recognition,” and congratulated Parra via his Twitter feed: “Congratulations to Don Nicanor Parra for his very well-deserved 2011 Cervantes Prize. A just recognition of his huge genius and poetic talent.”

Parra was selected from a shortlist of well-known Latin American and Spanish authors, which included the Colombian Fernando Vallejo, Uruguay’s Eduardo Galeano, Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Cuba’s Fina García Marruz and the Argentine Ricado Piglia, alongside Spaniards Juan Goytisolo, Luis Goytisolo, Javier Marías, Francisco Nieva and José Manuel Caballero Bonald.