What is it about Spanish? To this day, 11 authors whose original works were published in Spanish have won the Nobel for Literature. Find out more about their amazing careers and books!
1904 - José Echegaray (Spain)
Before he became a renowned playwright, Echegaray had an extensive career in Mathematics. Working as an engineer and mathematician, he introduced Chasles Geometry, the Galois Theory and elliptic functions in Spain. Already a résumé worth remembering, isn’t it? But Echegaray didn’t stop there. Besides venturing into writing and Mathematics, he was also a politician and government official. These last two activities put him in the national spotlight and his Nobel win was hugely controversial. Today, Echegaray is largely forgotten.
1922 - Jacinto Benavente (Spain)
Jacinto Benavente was our second Nobel win… and the second Spanish playwright to win. His plays were highly popular in the first half of the 20th century, overshadowing his contemporary and fellow Nobel winner José Echegaray. They also seemed to oppose the latter’s work with a more realistic and plausible approach, and, at times, with an ironic touch. Besides his work in the theater, Benavente was also a cinema producer, screenwriter and director.
1945 - Gabriela Mistral (Chile)
She was the first Latin American to ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature and belongs to a restricted club of women who share the same honor. Only 13 other women have won the Literature Prize and - 72 years later - Mistral remains the only Latin American woman to do so. Born Lucia de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga, she took the pseudonym Gabriela Mistral in 1914 to participate in a literary contest. Her books and intense poetry are seminal in Latin American literature and in contemporary feminism.
1956 - Juan Ramón Jimenez (Spain)
Juan Ramón Jimenez is one of the greatest Spanish poets. However, his best known work is the lyrical prose of Platero and I (Platero is a donkey). The book was released in Latin America and translated into English, which made him reasonably popular in the United States before he won the Nobel. In exile since the Spanish Civil War, Jimenez lost his wife just 3 days after he won the Nobel and succumbed into a deep depression. He died in Puerto Rico two years later.
1967 - Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala)
Miguel Angel Asturias was one of the first figures to emerge from the Latin American literary boom from the second half of the 20th century. Together with fellow Nobel winners García Marquez and Vargas Llosa, he became one of the key figures of Magic Realism. One of his most popular novels is Mr. President (1946), undoubtedly an exercise of literary political activism, which portrayed a Latin American dictator. He later published Men of Maize (1949), which critics consider his masterpiece.
1971- Pablo Neruda (Chile)
Pablo Neruda was Chile’s second Literature Nobel win and, like Gabriela Mistral, used a pseudonym: his real name was Neftalí Reyes. He’s specially renowned for his romantic poetry, and Gabriel García Marquez went so far as declaring him “the best poet of the 20th century, in any language”. Like any other authors in this list, he lived a troubled life marked by political activism and years spent in exile.
1977 - Vicente Aleixandre (Spain)
Vicente Aleixandre was a part of an important Spanish generation of authors, which also included the likes of two other prominent gay authors, Federico García Lorca and Luis Cernuda. He would often host other writers such as Rafael Alberti, Pablo Neruda, Dámaso Alonso and Miguel Hernández. His style changed significantly throughout his life, although his best known for the surrealistic poetry displayed in Destruction or Love (1935).
1982 - Gabriel García Marquez (Colombia)
After Cervante’s Don Quixote, One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most widely translated Spanish book. Love in a Time of Cholera and The Autumn of the Patriarch are two other of his most acclaimed books, in a complex body of work that comprises novels, non-fiction pieces, screenplays and short novels. After years of critical praise, he won the Nobel in 1982 for “a world of imagination reflecting the continent’s life and conflicts”.
1989 - Camilo José Cela (Spain)
Like many other Spanish authors, Camilo José Cela drew from the Spanish Civil War to write his best-known work. His novel the Family of Pascual Duarte (1942) - published when Cela was just 26 years old! - is a magistral, yet terrifying, depiction of the post-war. Before that, he had written Pabellón de Reposo while he was in a sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis. Towards the end of his life, he was involved in a number of controversies.
1990 Octavio Paz (Mexico)
Two years in a row! After Cela in 1989, the surrealist poet and essayist Octavio Paz won in 1990. He was in Spain during the Civil War and supported the leftist side of the war, but with time he grew weary of communism and denounced Stalin’s soviet concentration camps. During the 1960s, he became the Mexican ambassador to India. He eventually resigned in 1968, after the Tlateloco massacre.
2010 - Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
After two years, Mario Vargas LLosa broke the interregnum and became the 11th author writing in Spanish to win. His novels usually focus in one individual, and from then he develops intricate plots that reveal his own personal history or his country’s. Even though he was aligned with a left and center-left ideology, his criticism of several Latin American regimes (including Cuba’s) began growing. He has now published several essays analysing nationalist movements around the world. His best known works are Conversations in the Cathedral, Captain Pantaroja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.