Antonio Gamoneda Wins Cervantes Prize

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 11:45 AM

ALCALA DE HENARES, Spain -- Spanish poet Antonio Gamoneda has received the Cervantes Prize, drawing parallels between his childhood in poverty and the hardship endured by the writer whose name adorns Spain's top literature award.

Gamoneda, 76, bowed his head as King Juan Carlos placed a medallion around his neck in a glittering ceremony in this town that is believed to be the birthplace of 16th-century writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of "Don Quixote."

The prize, which includes a $120,000 cash award, was announced last November.

In his acceptance speech, Gamoneda noted how he grew up an orphaned child in a poor neighborhood of the northern coal-mining city of Leon. He learned to read using the only book in his house, which had been written by his father.

"Perhaps that book was not a sign of complete misfortune," Gamoneda said. "At the same time that it recalled my being an orphan, it had the intensity and attraction of being a book written by my father."

He drew parallels between himself and Cervantes, whose nomadic life was also one of hardship.

Cervantes' left arm was crippled in battle. He spent five years as a prisoner in Algeria. He later roamed Spain as a tax collector and civil servant for the Spanish Armada, all the time trying to write plays, poems and novels. He was said to have done several stints in prison. By the time he started "Don Quixote," he was a middle-age failure.

"Through poverty and prose, Cervantes is one of the creators, the most important in the Spanish language, of modern thought," Gamoneda said.

Culture Minister Carmen Calvo praised Gamoneda as producing work that is now part of Spain's literary heritage and has enriched the language. "Gamoneda shares with Cervantes a biography full of difficulties, marked by suffering but also by hope and the ability to overcome adverse circumstances and sublimate them through literature," she said.

Gamoneda's works were first published in Spain in 1960, with the collection of poems "Sublevacion Inmovil." Other poetry volumes touch on his favorite themes, such as pain and darkness. His biggest success came in the late 1980s, when his book "Edad" was awarded the Spanish national Poetry Prize.

Gamoneda has also translated into Spanish works by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and France's Mallarme, among others.

© 2007 The Associated Press