(Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner in literature Mario Vargas Llosa speaks during a meeting in Spain, Thursday, July 3, 2013. AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Connecting the work of Mario Vargas Llosa to the next generation of writers

Fifty years ago, an obscure Peruvian writer published a novel in Barcelona, Spain. It was his first novel, a shocking account of the life of young cadets in a South American military school. The book broke away from the straightforwardly realistic style that had dominated Spanish-language novels until then and incorporated modernistic techniques and narrative tools from authors such as the acclaimed American writer William Faulkner.

The manuscript had been awarded the prestigious Biblioteca Breve Prize, and along with a couple of other novels published around those same years, it marked the beginning of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s. Its title was La ciudad y los perros, (in English, The Time of the Hero). Its author, Mario Vargas LLosa.

Half a century later, Vargas Llosa—who in 2010 received the Nobel Prize in Literature—has largely fulfilled the promise of that dazzling start. The author of 17 novels, 15 books of non-fiction and literary criticism and nine plays, at 77 he remains as youthfully active as ever, constantly working on a new novel and churning out weekly op-eds and essays that are syndicated in newspapers and magazines across the Spanish-speaking world.

Along with Gabriel García Márquez—with whom he had a very public falling out more than 30 years ago—he is undoubtedly the most important Spanish-language writer alive. He is also the most controversial: in the literary world usually identified with the left, in the early 1970s he renounced his early support of the Cuban Revolution to become a fervent supporter of liberalism and free-market economic policies. In the 1990 he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of Peru on a right right-wing ticket.

Recently, two fully packed events had him as the guest of honor in New York City: On November 4, the inauguration of the Cátedra Vargas Llosa at City College and three days later, a conversation on his books with scholar John King at the Americas Society.

The Cátedra (Spanish for Chair) is an international project launched two years ago in Spain by the Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library Foundation. Its mission is to promote the study of contemporary literature and culture and to encourage new writers. Several Cátedras have been already created in 20 universities of Spain, Peru, Mexico and France; this is the first one to open in the United States.

“This initiative will further enrich the educational experience in campus and foster communication within the academic community in our nation and across the world,” said Dr. Raquel Chang-Rodríguez, head of the Cátedra at City College.

“There will be an emphasis on younger writers and on the connections of literature to other arts, particularly film,” added Dr. Carlos Riobó, chair of foreign languages and literatures at City College. Professors Riobó and Chang-Rodríguez will represent City College at the Vargas Llosa Cátedras consortium.

The inaugural lecture was given by Dr. Efraín Kristal, chair of comparative literature at UCLA and co-author—with Professor King—of The Cambridge Companion to Vargas Llosa. The event took place at the magnificent Shepard Hall, where Vargas Llosa received his City College Honoris Causa doctorate in 2010. Prof. Kristall extensively discussed Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, El héroe discreto.  Noted translator Edith Grossman, who was also present at the event, is working on the novel’s English version, to be released next year.

On November 15, the Americas Society will also host a special event for the launch of the latest issue of its magazine Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas. This issue is dedicated to the analysis of Vargas Llosa’s work and its influence on the newest generation of writers from Peru and other Andean region countries, among them Liliana Colanzi, Rodrigo Hasbún, Esteban Mayorga, Giovanna Rivero, Carlos Yushimito and Edmundo Paz Soldán.

These events, as well as the creation of the Cátedra, will be a vehicle to ensure further study and discussion of the world-renowned literary giant, and his influence on a new generation of American and international writers.


Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and critic. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).

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