Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska awarded Cervantes Prize

By Diego Cruz

On Wednesday April 23, Mexican writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska received the Cervantes Prize at the University of Alcalá in Henares, near Madrid, Spain, according to the newspaper El Universal.

The Miguel de Cervantes Prize is considered the most prestigious award in the Spanish language. Poniatowska is the fourth woman to win the prize in its 38-year history and the first Mexican woman, according to the newspaper El País.

The journalist wrote more than three dozen books throughout her career, including fiction novels, essay collections and non-fiction works, including her famous book “La Noche de Tlatelolco” (“Massacre in Mexico” is the English title) about the 1968 mass-killing of an unknown number of students who protested in Mexico City, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In her journalistic work, Poniatowska has focused on telling the stories of the poor and of activists who confronted the power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for the majority of the past century.

After receiving the prize, the journalist and writer gave a speech, published by Proceso magazine, where she said there was no accomplishment more important than this one in her professional life, adding that although she could not write about windmills – as did the writer after whom the prize is named – she wrote about the lives of “ordinary and common wanderers.”

“Children, women, old people, prisoners, those who suffer and students walk alongside this reporter who seeks […] ‘to go beyond her own life and be in other lives,’” Poniatowska said. “I belong to Mexico and to a national life that is written every day and every day is erased because the pages in a newspaper last only a day.”

Prior to receiving the prize, the journalist spoke with the press at the National Library in Madrid, where she said journalism in Mexico is “a lesson in modesty and humility” because reporters there “live hard and terrible situations,” especially close to the border with the United States due to drug violence, reported the online newspaper Animal Político.

“A journalist in Latin America is very different because reality enters your home, it strangles you, it’s difficult to write in your house about whatever you want when things are happening outside that pull at you,” Poniatowska said.

She added that Latin American journalism is one of “indignation and denunciation,” saying journalists have a commitment to “grand and noble” causes and should not sell themselves to businesses.

Poniatowska also remembered the Colombian writer and journalist, and Nobel Prize-winner, Gabriel García Márquez, who died on April 17, according to La Prensa.

“Before Gabo we were the condemned on Earth. But with his ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ he gave Latin America wings,” she said. “And it is this great flight that surrounds us today and makes flowers grow in our heads.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.