MADRID — The Mexican writer Jose Emilio Pacheco has won the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's highest literary honor, Spain's Culture Ministry said Monday.
The 70-year-old poet, novelist, journalist, essayist and literary critic said he was overwhelmed by the award.
"It's like being hit by a punch that doesn't hurt you immediately, it's absolutely unreal," Pacheco said from the international book fair in Guadalajara, Mexico. "There hasn't been a minute since seven this morning when I haven't answered three phones at once," said Pacheco.
Jose Antonio Pascual Rodriguez, a member of the Cervantes Prize jury and representative of the Spanish Royal Academy, said of Pacheco: "We've defined him as representing the whole of our language. He's an exceptional poet of daily life, with a depth, a freedom of thought, an ability to create his own world, an ironic distance from reality when it's necessary, and a linguistic use ... that is impeccable."
Pacheco, a Mexico City native, is widely regarded as one of his country's foremost poets and short narrative writers, and a leading representative of the generation that came of age in the late 1950s and 1960s.
He is best known for his bittersweet accounts of adolescents growing up in a less crowded – but corrupt and unjust – Mexico of the 1940s and '50s.
Pascual Rodriguez praised in particular Pacheco's 1981 novel "Las Batallas en el Desierto," or "Battles in the Desert," a story of boy's infatuation with the mother of one of his classmates.
"Blending simple and direct prose with a complex narrative structure that shifts from past to present, Pacheco evokes ... Mexico City, with its beggars, pollution, and constricted lives of its lower middle class," according to the U.S. book store chain Barnes and Noble. The book was translated and published in English in 1987.
Pascual Rodriguez called it "a magnificent story that deals with childhood, adolescence and youth."
A biography of Pacheco on the Web site of Mexico's National Institute of Fine Arts hails him as "an essential figure in the Mexican poetry, narrative and literary journalism of this century."
It adds: "While his intellectual rigor, attitude toward literature, love for the city and his characters are features that are present in each of the genres he takes on, each is admirably distinct."
Pacheco has also translated works by Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams and T.S. Eliot, and taught literature at universities in the United States, Britain and Canada, besides his work in Mexico.
The Cervantes award was created by Spain in 1975 and carries a euro125,000 ($160,000) cash stipend. It is likened to a Nobel for literature in Spanish and honors a writer's body of work.
It tends to alternate between Spanish and Latin American writers. Last year it went to Spanish novelist Juan Marse.
Previous winners include Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina, Peruvian-born Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico.
Associated Press writer Istra Pacheco in Guadalajara, Mexico, contributed to this report.