Three of Colombia’s greatest literary talents sat in the front row of the packed wood-panelled theatre in Medellín, waiting to find out who had won.
Piedad Bonnett, William Ospina and Juan Gabriel Vásquez were this year’s nominees for ‘Colombia’s Booker Award’ - the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana.
Another of Colombia’s greatest living writers, Héctor Abad, sat onstage with Spanish writer Javier Cercas. The two discussed the nature of the award, and how it was judged: 108 works across many genres, were whittled down to these three.
The nominated works are extremely different, but all tackle Colombia’s inheritance, and the violence of the last century.
“If you know your inheritance in its complexity - the very worst of it - you can control it. If you don’t understand it, that inheritance still has control, and it will repeat itself,” said Cercas.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez was finally awarded the prize for his book of short stories, Canciones para el incendio (Songs for the Fire) - “a revindication of the genre itself.”
“Here’s a secret: this is the first prize I have received in my own country. Our literature, the literature of Colombia, is one of the richest in the Spanish language,” said Vásquez.
Vásquez gave a rousing speech which moved through the nature of the short story to the nature of storytelling itself, expressing admiration for Bonnett and Ospina, whose books are “living bodies in Colombia’s literature, lighting dark corners.”
“We all carry an invisible world. They are lost if nobody tells them,” he said. A rapturous audience gave a standing ovation as cameras flashed.
The theatre filed out into the foyer for wine and canapes, many clutching copies of all three nominated books.