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The Casa de las Américas Prize: “Defending the soul of the peoples”

This, according to Dominican intellectual Silvio Torres-Saillant during the inauguration of the 58th edition of the prestigious literary competition

19 de enero de 2017 - Taken from Granma

It is a privilege to be here at the Casa de las Américas and share with Latin American, Caribbean and European intellectuals, stated Dominican essayist, professor and director of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program at Syracuse University in the United States, Silvio Torres-Saillant, during his speech inaugurating the 58th edition of the Casa Prize.

Torres-Saillant, a member of the jury panel which will review texts on the African legacy in the modern-day Americas and Caribbean, has written some of the most “lucid and controversial offerings on the topic,” according to Jorge Fornet, director of the Casa’s Literary Research Center.

During his speech “in the Che Guevara Hall, full of history,” the intellectual from the Dominican Republic recalled the longstanding ties between Cuba and his country, dating back to the 16th century with the arrival of Taíno Cacique (chief) Hatuey to Cuba and his death at the hands of the brutal Spanish colonizers.

Torres-Saillant also mentioned Dominican Máximo Gómez, a general who fought in Cuba’s independence wars and signed the “Manifesto of Montecristi,” together with José Martí, in the Dominical Republic before setting off for Cuba to begin what would come to be known as the War of 1895.

The epic of the Cuban Revolution, he noted, has always been a source of inspiration for Dominicans, which was then channeled into the struggle against the criminal dictator Trujillo, and U.S. intervention in 1965, among other historic events.

Regarding literature Torres-Saillant stated that thanks to the Casa de las Américas he defines himself as more than a just Dominican, Caribbean writer, because, as he noted, the Casa supports English and French speaking authors to unite us, citing as an example, the Anthology Poemas de una isla y dos pueblos, by Haitian, Dominican, and Haitian-Dominican writers, edited by Roberto Fernández Retamar “author of the essential essay Caliban.”

Torres-Saillant described the Casa as “the only project, with state support, which has defended the soul of the peoples, which is why I am here to celebrate it.”

Some 400 texts were submitted for this edition of the competition (January 16-26), unsurprising given the fact that the Casa Prize is considered one of the most prestigious literary awards on the continent, presented every year since 1960.

On this occasion, prizes will be awarded in the categories of novel, poetry, historic-social essays, testimonial literature, Brazilian literature (fiction), plus a research award for the African legacy in the modern-day Americas and Caribbean.

Likewise, the Casa de las Américas will once again present its three customary honorific awards: the José Lezama Lima Prize for poetry; José María Arguedas for narrative, and Ezequiel Martínez Estrad for essay.


Deciding the winners in the category of novel, are Colombian Juan Cárdenas, Otras voces, Otros Ámbitos Prize winner with Los estratos; Mexican writer Ana García Verruga; Uruguayan author and playwright Milton Fornaro; Rey Andújar from the Dominican Republic, Alba Narrativa Prize winner with the novel Los gestos inútiles; and Cuban Ahmel Echevarría, winner of the Pinos Nuevos award with Esquirlas and Kafka Prize from the Czech Republic for Días de entrenamiento.

Meanwhile, judges of the poetry category include: Leonel Alvarado from Honduras, whose anthology Retratos mal hablados received a special mention by the Casa Prize; Mexican Eduardo Langagne, Casa Prize winner in 1980 for his poetry anthology Donde habita el cangrejo and recipient of the José Lezama Lima Poetry Award for Verdad possible;Selena Millares from Spain, Antonio Machado Prize winner for El faro y la noche; Venezuela’s Freddy Ñáñez (current Minister of Culture); and Cuban Sigfredo Ariel, winner of the David Prize awarded by UNEAC in 1986 for his poetry anthology Algunos pocos conocidos.

Responsible for reviewing works in the historic-social essay category are Dominican philosopher and Jesuit clergyman, Pablo Mella, National Prize for Literature winner for the essay Los espejos de Duarte; Mexican sociologist and economist Berenice Ramírez López; and Aurelio Alonso from Cuba, 2013 National Social Sciences Prize winner.

The jury panel for testimonial literature is composed of Argentine journalist, poet and writer Stella Calloni, whose book Operation Condor, is one of the most compelling denouncements of this plan; Colombian Alberto Salcedo Ramos, winner of the Rey de España, and Ortega and Gasset International Journalism prizes; and Cuban Arístides Vega Chapú, winner of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center’s 2011 Memoria Prize, for his testimonial work No hay que llorar.

Brazilians Lúcia Bettencourt, author and essayist; Adriana Lisboa, writer, poet, and Saramago Prize winner for the novel Sinfonía em Branco; and author and playwright Guiomar de Grammont, Casa Short Story Prize winner in 1993 for O fruto do vosso ventre, will judge works of fiction from that country.

Texts regarding the African legacy in the modern-day Americas and Caribbean will be reviewed by João José Reis from Brazil, 2012 Casa Prize winner with Alufá Rufino: tráfico, escravidao e liberdade no Atlántico negro; the already mentioned Silvio Torres-Saillant; and Cuban filmmaker and researcher Gloria Rolando, whose cinematic productions include Los hijos de Baraguá and the trilogy series 1912.

Every year the Casa de las Américas Prize organizes round table discussions, panel events and debates on topics related to the genres and categories featured in the competition. In that regard, essayist and researcher Jorge Fornet   noted that panel events this year include one led by jury members of the novel category entitled: “Narrar Latinoamérica a medio siglo de Cien años de soledad, novela cumbre de Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel de Literatura.”

One of the judges in the first edition of the Casa Prize in 1960, known at that time as the Hispanic-American Literary Competition, was Cuban playwright Virgilio Piñera, who in an article published in the newspaper Revolución,stated, “…the juror of a literary competition is, in fact, another contestant. What is won or lost by their selection, is also won or lost by the juror. Herein lies the beauty of Art: a cause that defends itself, a conviction for which one fights until the last drop of blood.”

The winners of the 58th edition of the Casa Prize will be announced his coming January 26.