Named after one of Venezuela’s most important authors and earliest democratic presidents, the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize was long one of the most important awards of the Spanish-speaking literary world. It was not unlike the Man Booker International Prize is in English – one of the top prizes a living novelist could aspire to, short of the big one the Swedes give out.
Last week El Nacional reported that, for the first time its inception in 1964, the award has been suspended due to budget cuts from the Ministry of Culture. The story was confirmed by Roberto Hernández Moya, chairman of the Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos Rómulo Gallegos (CELARG), the cultural center that granted the award every two years.
In its early years, three forerunners of the Latin American boom – Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes – where among the Romulo Gallegos’s earliest recipients. As time went on, the award remained fresh and relevant, rewarding a new generation of soon-to-be-major writers such as Roberto Bolaño and Fernando Vallejo.
For the first time its inception in 1964, the award has been suspended due to budget cuts from the Ministry of Culture.
As the Chávez era wore on, the inevitable accusations of political bias mounted on the government-run institution that hands out the prize. Its reputation suffered, as the novels it focused on all seemed to turn on themes close to the government’s agenda. Curiously enough, despite claims of bias, Arturo Uslar Pietri is the only Venezuelan to win the award, in 1991.
The Rómulo Gallegos Prize was one of the best paid literary prizes in the world, netting the winner a cool €100,000. That’s one reason they’re pulling the plug now. In 2015 the crisis hit the award when the committee took at least five months to pay the prize money to the winner, Colombia’s Pablo Montoya.
The Ministry of Culture, headed by former Barinas governor Adán Chávez – a man one could charitably describe as less-than-a-literary-giant – has said the prize will be awarded again in August 2018. As promises go, that one is less than promising.