Arts & Entertainment

Chile’s Jorge Edwards, 1999 Cervantes Prize winner, dead at 91

Santiago/Madrid, Mar 17 (EFE).- Chilean author Jorge Edwards, an acclaimed novelist who was awarded the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 1994 and Spain’s prestigious Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 1999, passed away on Friday in Madrid. He was 91.

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Edwards also was an academic who taught courses at universities in the United States, a long-time diplomat who served in Cuba and was his country’s ambassador to France and a columnist who contributed articles to Chilean and international newspapers.

His growing fame as an author also earned him entry in 1979 to the Chilean Language Academy, an association of academics and experts on the use of the Spanish language in Chile.

Born in Santiago in 1931, Edwards studied during his childhood at the San Ignacio school in the Chilean capital, where many decades later (in 2012) he said that he had been sexually abused by a Spanish priest.

He went on to study law at the University of Chile, although he later came to realize he did not have the vocation to be an attorney.

Edwards first made his mark in the world of literature in 1952 with “El patio” (The Backyard) a short-story collection that was well-received by the reading public and critics alike and served as a stepping stone to his career as a novelist.

His first published novel was “El peso de la noche,” (Night’s Burden) (1965), which uses the story of a middle-class family as a vehicle for offering a stinging critique of the hidebound mentality of Chilean high society.

He followed up that novel with a series of acclaimed works that included the memoir “Persona non grata” (1973), which recounted his experience reopening the Chilean Embassy in Havana at the onset of socialist President Salvador Allende’s presidency in Cuba and his disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution.

Among other things, that book is known for having been banned by both the Castro regime in Cuba and by the right-wing dictatorship that overthrew Allende in 1973.

That memoir also earned him the scorn of left-wing Latin American writers and intellectuals who were sympathetic to the Communist-ruled island.

Other major works of Edwards’ included the novels “Los convidados de piedra” (The Stone Guests) (1978), “El museo de cera” (Wax Museum) (1981) and “La casa de Dostoievsky” (Dostoievesky’s House) (2008), which brought him international recognition and made him one of the leading voices of Chile’s so-called Generation of 1950 along with Jose Donoso, Enrique Lafourcade and Claudio Giaconi.

The focus of Edwards’ writing was on the urban middle class, a sharp departure from the criollismo that had dominated Chilean literature in the first half of the 20th century and placed emphasis on the customs and manners of rural life and the peasant classes.

A friend of Pablo Neruda’s, Edwards paid homage to the renowned Chilean poet in an essay titled “Adios poeta”” (1990) and the novel “Oh, maligna” (2019).

Edwards went into exile in Madrid after Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup and lived there for five years.

Upon his return to his homeland, he joined the Chilean Language Academy and helped found the Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Expression.

After democracy was restored in Chile in 1990, Edwards served as his country’s ambassador to UNESCO in the middle of that decade.

In 2010, he was named the Chilean ambassador to France.

Besides the Cervantes Prize (the Hispanic world’s most prestigious literary award) and the Chilean National Prize for Literature, Edwards also was conferred the lucrative Premio Planeta-Casa de America honor in 2008 for “La Casa de Dostoievsky.” EFE


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