Marcela Valdes is the books editor of The Washington Examiner and a specialist in Latin American literature and culture.
For more than 40 years, the most important book prize in South America has been bankrolled by the region’s most famous petro-nation: Venezuela. Yet Venezuelan novelists themselves rank among the least read and translated writers in the entire continent. Over and over again as I worked on this article, I stumped editors and translators with a simple question: Who are Venezuela’s best novelists?
“If you were to ask me about Mexico or Nicaragua …” one translator hedged. A second tried guessing that “there can’t be a lot happening in a country that basically represses.” A third editor was more frank. “I know zip about the country’s literature,” she confessed. “How embarrassing.”
Yet since 1967, a Venezuelan award, the International Novel Prize Rómulo Gallegos, has been the kingmaker of Spanish-language book prizes. Among the crowned: Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska, Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas and Ricardo Piglia. Gerald Martin, whose biography of García Márquez covers more than 70 years of literary history, judges it “the only Latin American prize which does the same for Latin America as the Nobel does for the world.”
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