ALCALA DE HENARES, Spain – Mexican poet Jose Emilio Pacheco, who on Friday received the Cervantes Prize from Spain’s King Juan Carlos, said that writers – including the namesake of his award – are “members of a mendicant order” who are not given the recognition they deserve.
“In all of Spanish literature, no life has been filled with more humiliations and failures” than that of the author of “Don Quixote,” Pacheco said in his speech.
“I wish there had been a Cervantes prize for (Miguel de) Cervantes,” he said, referring to the lucrative honor that is the Spanish-speaking world’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“How that would have comforted him in his later years. We know that the tremendous success of his book did little or nothing to alleviate his poverty,” Pacheco said at the ceremony at the University of Alcala outside Madrid.
The Cervantes Prize, which carries a cash award of 125,000 euros ($167,000) is presented annually at that institution to honor the lifetime achievement of a Spanish-language writer.
“It’s painful to think of him or his rival Lope de Vega humbling themselves before dukes, counts and marquises. Only the names have changed. Almost all writers, whether they want to be or not, are members of a mendicant order,” Pacheco said.
“It’s not because of our basic abject essence, but the result of circumstances that date back 2,000 years now and are being exacerbated in the electronic era.”
The author says poverty among writers comes from Rome, when in the time of Augustus “the market for books was established.” Everyone involved in the publishing process, from copyists to suppliers of papyrus, editors and booksellers, was assigned “a payment or a means of earning income.”
“The only one who was excluded was the author, without whom none of the rest would have existed,” Pacheco said, adding that Cervantes “was a prime example of this unjust system.”
That life of humiliations and failures – “one could say that thanks to that he produced his masterpiece” – is reflected in “Don Quixote,” but “it’s not a laughing matter. I think it’s very sad when it happens. Nothing can shake that sorrowful vision out of my head.”
In his speech, Pacheco recalled his introduction to Cervantes’s masterwork as a an eight-year-old in 1947, when he and his classmates saw a performance of “Don Quixote” at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts.
That play awakened in him “a reality called fiction” and put him on a path that would eventually take him to the pinnacle of literature more than 60 years later.
Pacheco suffered an embarrassing moment prior to receiving the prize when his pants fell down to his knees, but he handled the episode with a good sense of humor, saying that it was a good “cure for vanity.” EFE