From the Art Deco style building that houses the Casa de las Américas in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, to its Literary Prize and other awards, this institution is simply extraordinary.
The Casa has been located here since its founding in July 1959, through one of the first laws passed by the revolutionary government, and hundreds of Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals have gathered in its halls on the occasion of the awarding of a Prize that today celebrates its 60th edition.
Haydee Santamaría (1923-1980), heroine of the revolutionary struggle, who led the institution until her death, supported the idea of a literary contest, whose foundations were drafted by the great Cuban intellectual Alejo Carpentier, just three months after its founding. The first panel of judges would meet in 1960.
Under several different names, the prize, originally known as the Hispanic-American Literary Competition (1960), then the Latin American Literary Competition (1964), and finally, the current Casa Prize (1965), has become, over six uninterrupted decades, one of the continent’s most prestigious.
Aspects such as the quality of the winning books in a wide range of genres (currently 15), the number of competing works (about 30,000 titles), published authors, and the participating judges (exceeding the figure of 1,300) confirm such an opinion.
In the 1999 book Premio Casa de las Américas. Memoria, compilación y valoración de la historia del concurso, Jorge Fornet and Inés Casañas highlight: “In the first competition, included were the canonical genres: poetry, novel, theater, essay, and short story, but others were added... Thus emerged as a genre or category: testimony; Caribbean literature in French, English or Creole; Brazilian fiction and nonfiction literature; literature for children and young people; and topics that addressed studies on gender, indigenous cultures, Latinos in the United States, or African-Americanism.”
Speaking at a recent press conference headed by poet and Casa President, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Fornet, director of the Casa’s Literary Research Center, announced that this year the literary contest would be held January 21-31.
The number of books submitted, almost 600, attest to the interest that the Prize still arouses among young authors, and the confidence in the strong ethics of a competition that rewards literary quality.
The categories for 2019 are: novel (167 works received); poetry (224), Historical-Social Essay (28), Brazilian Literature (45), Literature for children and young people (101), and the Prize for Studies on Latinos in the United States (19).
In addition, the Casa will once again present its three honorific awards, as it has done since 2000: the José Lezama Lima Prize for poetry, José María Arguedas for narrative, and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada for essay.
These names are not only emblematic within the literature of the American continent — as indicated by a broad dossier put together by the Casa Research Center and Communications Department — but were also linked to the institution and the Prize since its early years.
The Cuban Lezama Lima was a judge on three occasions; Peruvian Arguedas on one; and the Argentine Martínez Estrada not only served as such, but was also the first to win the Essay Prize in 1960 with Análisis funcional de la cultura.
The composition of the juries on this occasion is as follows: the novel prize will be awarded by Adrián Curiel Rivera (Mexico), Víctor Goldgel (Argentina), Lina Meruane (Chile), Anne Marie Metaillié (France), and Eduardo del Llano (Cuba); for poetry by Aurea María Sotomayor (Puerto Rico), Raúl Vallejo (Ecuador), and Soleida Ríos (Cuba); the historic-social essay prize by Néstor Francia (Venezuela), Elissa L. Lister (Dominican Republic), and Raúl Garcés (Cuba) .
The selection in Brazilian literature will be the responsibility of Isis Barra Costa, Luisa Geisler, and José Luiz Passos; the prize for studies on Latinos in the United States by Frances Aparicio (Puerto Rico), José Manuel Valenzuela (Mexico), and Rubén Rumbaut (Cuba-U.S.); while the award for literature for children and young people will be selected by Elena Dreser (Argentina), Mario Picayo (Cuba-U.S.), and Olga Marta Pérez (Cuba).
Given that this is the 60th edition of the Casa Prize, the inaugural remarks were presented by Fernández Retamar, and with them the jury was constituted.
The 2019 Casa Prize represents both continuity and transformation, as it celebrates its 60th edition.