I think every good travel book should be the product of an internal need and often of an unexpected intuition. Michael Jacobs
After Michael Jacob’s passing in 2014, the FNPI (Gabriel García Márquez New Journalism Foundation) and the Cartagena Hay Festival—which have enjoyed a decade-long partnership—decided to jointly organise the Michael Jacobs Travel Writing Grant as an homage to the British writer. This year, the grant enjoys the support of the Michael Jacobs Foundation.
The Ecuadorian journalist, cronist and translator Sabrina Duque is the winner of the 2018 Michael Jacobs Grant, whose official announcement was made at the Hay Festival Cartagena.
Duque lived four years in Lisbon, Portugal, where she wrote -among other reports and articles- about grouchy waiters, the inventor of the lobotomy and the education of a future football star. She spent two years in Brazil, where se has published articles about feminist cartoons, grandmothers wearing bikinis and bankrupt millionaires. Now she lives in Nicaragua and expects to climb all its volcanoes and write about the life of those who live at the foot of them.
Her stories have been translated into Portuguese, Italian and English. In 2015 she was finalist of the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award, Text category, with the profile of Vasco Pimentel: el oidor, published by Etiqueta Negra magazine. Her essay ¿Hay vida después del Maracaná? appears in the book Eduardo Galeano, un ilegal en el paraíso (Siglo XXI, 2016). In 2017 she published Lama (Editorial Turbina), a report about the lives of the survivors of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatú de Bixo, villages in the interior of Brazil, buried by toxic mud that overflowed from a dam of mining waste. She has also published in Folha de S. Paulo (Brazil), O Estado de S. Paulo (Brazil), Internazionale (Italy), Storybench.org (USA), GK.city (Ecuador) and Brecha (Uruguay).
When Sabrina Duque moved to Nicaragua, she realised that she had never thought about a land of volcanoes. She had only thought about tragedies, poems and revolution. But now, she has the impression that all Nicaraguan stories that are not political have to do with a volcano. That if the Canal was built in Panama and not in Nicaragua was because a stamp with the image of an erupting volcano.. That if the Gritería chiquita, a Catholic festivity, began because a promise made to the Virgin, to stop an eruption. That Rubén Darío had written poems to Momotombo. That on the Atlantic side of the country there is a village of farmers that was evacuated from the Pacific Coast in the seventies, during an eruption.
When she discovered those stories, she began to think about writing a travel writing book that told the unknown Nicaragua, with the pretext of volcanoes, and also to explore the suicidal love of humankind with nature, which lead them to rebuild cities above geological faults or on the lava path of the last eruption, perhaps, forgetting that even geological deadlines may take more centuries than human ones, they always met. But Duque also wants to tell the playful relationship of a country that shares sweets to celebrate the end of an eruption or throws down the volcano, gliding with laugther on an ash slope.
This grant’s purpose is to provide an incentive for travel journalism. The fourth edition awarded 7,500 American dollars to a travel book or article project that takes Spanish Latin America or Spain for its subject, to be published in Spanish or English.
In selecting the winner, the jury considered the narrative quality and the journalistic depth of the projects. For Michael Jacobs, travel journalism went beyond the mere anecdote, and this grant therefore seeks work capable of awakening the five senses and opening the mind of the reader.
From its first edition, this scholarship has made visible new journalistic references in the field of travel writing: Álex Ayala Ugarte, from Spain, winner in 2015 with his book Rigor Mortis: La normalidad es la muerte; Federico Bianchini, from Argentina, winner in 2016 with the book Antártida: 25 días encerrado en el hielo; Diego Cobo, from Spain, winner in 2017, with the series Huellas negras: el rastro de la esclavitud. In 2018, the winner has been Sabrina Duque, from Ecuador, with the project Nicaragua: pueblos, lava y ceniza.
For more information about the scholarship details, click here.
Michael Jacobs was born in Italy in 1952, spent his youth in England, and later travelled to different parts of the world, investigating and writing about Spain and Latin America. He became a notable Hispanist and a passionate devotee of Spanish culture.
Although he studied art history at Courtauld Institute, he decided to leave behind that career to write. After writing several books on art, he published Andalucía, the first of many books dedicated to this region of Spain. He later took up residence in a small town called Frailes in the province of Jaén, the subject of The Factory of Light: Tales From My Andalucian Village, an account of his first five years in this village of two thousand people.
In 2003, he published Ghost Train Trough the Andes, a tale of his journey through Chile and Bolivia, recreating his grandparents’ love story on a train trip across the Andes, between Antofagasta and Potosí.
Michael Jacobs’ appeal in the Spanish-speaking world was so great that the small town of Frailes became his Macondo. Perhaps that explains why the day that he met Gabo at the Cartagena Hay Festival inflected his life. They spoke about Gabo’s memories of the Magdalena River, an obsession of Jacobs’. That meeting with García Márquez moved the Englishman to travel the waterway the next year, a journey recorded in his book The Robber of Memories. This, his last book, is not only a portrait of the most important fluvial artery in Colombia but also a nostalgic reminiscence of his relationship to his parents and his childhood.
Today, Jacobs is a global benchmark when it comes to travel writing and his work is a staple of travel writing canons. Michael Jacobs passed away in London on January 11, 2014, leaving behind an unmatched and evocative legacy.