Ana María Matute: “He Who Doesn’t Invent Doesn’t Live”

Ana María Matute receives Cervantes Prize from the King of Spain
The King bestows the Cervantes Prize on Ana María Matute. Photo by Ángel Díaz (AP).

Ana María Matute: “He Who Doesn’t Invent Doesn’t Live”
El País: Ana María Matute: “El que no inventa no vive”
Borja Hermoso reporting from Alcalá de Henares, April 27, 2011

Shorter and less erudite, closer and more sincere was the speech Ana María Matute gave this afternoon in Alcalá de Henares upon receiving the Cervantes Prize, and it made an impression on the attendees. In the presence of the King and Queen, the President, and other authorities, this fragile dame of 84 years unfurled a steely and beautiful defense of inventiveness as life’s supreme value. “He who doesn’t invent doesn’t live,” Matute asserted with conviction. She is the third woman to receive the most prestigious award in Spanish letters. The only other two women honored in the three-decade history of the prize were the Spanish philosopher María Zambrano and the Cuban poet Dulce María Loynaz.

The nearness of Matute’s words was perhaps reinforced by the location from which she gave them: instead of rising to the solemn plateresque headmaster’s chair in the auditorium of the University of Alcalá de Henares, she sat in a rolling chair next to a short table. A halo of intimacy and tenderness enveloped her words. She sketched a lively tale of her relationship with literature: “mine is a life of paper.”

Writing fiction has been her shelter from the storm: “Literature has been my lighthouse of salvation during many a tempest.” The Civil War occurred when she was eleven years old; she learned then of “terror and hatred” and of a world that would suddenly turn for the worse over and over again. Matute was part of “the generation of shadow children” and came to understand the importance of texts that whisked one away from it all with a “once upon a time…” Matute, in her tender discourse, also came to the defense of the story as the greatest genre of writing.

The Catalan writer considers fiction a sanctuary where one can hide away and where the characters in a sense protect the reader. “If some day you encounter my stories and my creatures, believe in them, because I have invented them,” Matute concluded.

“An Employment Generator”
Matute’s words were echoed by the Minister of Culture, Ángeles González-Sinde, who praised (among the writer’s other virtues) that she was an “employment generator”: “I ask you to remember that this storyteller, this seeker of the inexplicable is also an enormous employment generator. Sometimes I ask myself, “How many booksellers have paid their rent thanks to Matute? How many distributors? How many editors, paper generators, transporters, receptionists, telephone operators, accountants, administrators, secretaries, and translators in how many publishing companies? I see the new arrival tables in our bookstores, the hundreds of thousands of registries generated on the web in fractions of a second with little more than the typing of a name, and I think: this country has a future, and it will come about through its culture. Culture is where we find the strength to change reality. Culture is where we can save what’s most fragile and create a lesser world that is a mirror and a map of the greater one.”

The Ministry of Culture gives the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, which includes 125,000 euros, to “the writers who contribute works of notable quality that enrich the legacy of Hispanic literature.” It was given for the first time to Jorge Guillén in 1976, and including this year, 34 authors have been honored. In 1979, the price was given ex aequo to (shared by) Jorge Luis Borges and Gerardo Diego.

Ana María Matute at Cervantes Ceremony
The writer looks at the King and Queen and folds her hands in thanks. Photo by Ángel Díaz (AP).

Explore posts in the same categories: Literature, Spain, Translations

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