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Colombia: Home to Some of the World's Most Influential Writers

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur) Last August marked a 2 week-long holiday for book lovers in Colombia: August 11th, 2010 kicked off the Bogotá International Book Fair, described as one of the largest and most relevant cultural events in all of Latin America. The first Bogotá Book Fair was held in April 1988, and since then, Read more

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By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

Last August marked a 2 week-long holiday for book lovers in Colombia: August 11th, 2010 kicked off the Bogotá International Book Fair, described as one of the largest and most relevant cultural events in all of Latin America. The first Bogotá Book Fair was held in April 1988, and since then, authors, publishers, industry professionals, and literature enthusiasts from all over the world gather together at this massive yearly event to celebrate the joy of reading.

This year’s Bogotá International Book Fair is scheduled to take place from May 4th until May 16th. As with previous events, there will be live entertainment, thoughtful panel discussions, and an enormous catalogue of books representing the best in Colombian and Latin American literature. Check out the event’s official website for more information.

Anyone who knows me knows that I live and breathe books; I’m a self-declared “word nerd” with a degree in English Literature, and I’ve been a published author and competitive poet since high school. Of the many, many books that fill my 4 bookcases (plus countless boxes in my parents’ garage), my focus on Global Issues has led me to build a well-stocked library of International texts, from Russia, India, Latin America, and beyond.

Since I started working for Zemoga over a year ago, my curiosity about Colombian literature has grown tremendously. To understand Colombian literature is to acknowledge its diverse influences, due to a heritage that is part Spanish, part Native American, and part African.

Early Colombian texts were predominantly religious in tone, as the Catholic Church presided over the publishing industry while Colombia was under Spanish rule. During Colombia’s struggle for independence, there was a surge in patriotic poetry, and Colombia started to carve out its own cultural identity. Custumbrismo style emerged in the late 19th century, defined as a synecdochial representation of Colombian society, using real people and figures to represent larger social themes.

The next literary movement was called Los Nuevos, or “The New Ones,” popularized in the 1920s. These writings are often described as dark and mysterious, inspired by romanticism and a rejection of the past. This was followed by a period of dramatic industrialization, which was captured by the authors of the time under a movement called Piedra y Cielo, or “Stone and Sky.” The Nadaismo movement of the 1950s was more philosophical in tone, characterized by existentialist and nihilist principles. The “Boom” of the 60s and 70s signified a period of prolific writing from all over Latin America, especially Colombia. It was an exciting time to be a writer, for two reasons: 1. It was an opportunity to challenge traditional conventions and pave the way for Colombia’s cultural future, and 2. The Western world was starting to notice and admire the intellectual talent coming from Latin America. Since then, in the spirit of modernism, Colombian literary movements have fragmented into a number of different styles, reflecting the colorful history and multiple facets of modern Colombia.

Here are a two need-to-know literary figures from Bogota:

Laura Restrepo is a celebrated author from the Boom generation whose unique reporter-style tone effectively captures the political passion of her works of fiction. Originally a news columnist, Restrepo’s first novel was called Isle of Passion, set in the early 1900’s during the Mexican Revolution and WWI. The works that followed have earned Restrepo numerous awards, including The Angel of Galilea (Premio Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize, 1997), Leopard in the Sun (Premio Arzobispo San Clemente Award, 2002), Delirium (Premio Alfaguara de Novella Prize, 2004), and Dulce Compañía (Prix France Culture). Restrepo won the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy for best foreign fiction in 2006, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2007.

Alvaro Mutis Jaramillo is not only a world-renowned poet, novelist, and essayist, but also a close friend to famous novelist and Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. La nieve del Almirante is Mutis’ most famous work, a novel featuring Maqroll el Gaviero (Maqroll the Lookout), a wandering sailor whose adventures were eventually gathered into a compendium, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll. Mutis was awarded the National Literature Prize in Colombia in 1974. Mutis’ 1984 title, Los Emisarios, won him the Critics Award Los Aprils in Mexico in 1985. Further recognition includes the Premio Nonino in Italy and Lila Literary Award (1990), the Prix Médicis in France (1989), the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras (1997) and the Premio Miguel de Cervantes in Spain (2001), and the Neustadt Prize for Literature in the U.S. (2002). Mutis received honorary degrees  from the Universidad del Valle and the University of Antioquia, and the Colombian Government has awarded him the Cross of Boyaca.

It’s also worth noting that while Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of Love in the Time of Cholera) was not born in Bogota, he spent time in the city writing for Bogota’s El Espectador.

So for a taste of Latin literature from Bogota with Love, I encourage all of you to add these exceptional titles to your reading lists – happy reading!

And for further reading, check out an earlier post I wrote about José Asunción Silva, one of Colombia’s most important poets.

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