The novelist Isabel Allende does not like to discuss her legacy.
“I don’t think women think in terms of legacy very much…People and things are forgotten. I am just very happy to have so many readers right now,” the writer told the Associated Press by telephone.
Known for writing “The House of the Spirits,” Allende was born in Peru. She is the first Spanish language writer to receive the honorary National Book Award from the National Book Foundation based in New York City.
The foundation announced Thursday that Allende will be given the medal for her “contribution to American letters.”
In past years, the prize has gone to American writers such as Toni Morrison, who also received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller. Allende has lived in the United States since the 1980s.
In a statement, Lisa Lucas, the book foundation’s director, said Allende’s work never makes “the experiences of her characters” unimportant. She added that Allende’s work proves that artistic excellence can also be very popular.
Writer Luis Alberto Urrea, who is best known for the novel “The Devil’s Highway,” will present Allende with her medal. The ceremony will take place at the National Book Award dinner in Manhattan.
At the age of 76, Allende is among the world’s most popular Spanish-language writers. More than 60 million of her books have been sold. She is famous for her stories about many generations of people that often include “magical realism.” That is a kind of storytelling that presents magical things as facts. Her stories of love and politics have been set everywhere from Chile to the San Francisco area.
Allende has been translated into more than 30 languages. Many of her books have been made into operas, plays and films. They include the movie “The House of the Spirits” starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.
She has received other American honors. They include a Presidential Medal of Freedom, given in 2014, and, two years later, a lifetime achievement award from the literary group PEN Center USA.
She has written more than 20 books although her first did not appear until the year she turned 40.
Her life, she said, was full of “love and violence.”
Born in Peru, she lived in Bolivia and Beirut, Lebanon, as a child before moving to Chile, where her stepfather was a diplomat.
Allende was also a cousin of Salvador Allende, Chile’s president in the early 1970s. She fled to Venezuela when he was overthrown by the military in 1973. She worked for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional for several years.
Then her life changed. As her grandfather was dying, she began writing a letter to him that became “The House of the Spirits.” It was published in 1982 after many publishers rejected it.
Her other books include “Eva Luna,” ″The Stories of Eva Luna,” ″Of Love and Shadows” and “Island Beneath the Sea.”
Allende has long seen her novels as a way of saving history. She is now working on a novel based on the actions of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Neruda organized a boat to take Spanish refugees to South America. One of those refugees is now a friend of Allende’s.
“To me this (novel) is recent history, because I know someone who is still alive. I can get a sense of it, touch it, in ways I cannot with the remote past,” she said.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
novel – n. a long written story usually about imaginary characters and events
legacy – n. something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past
character – n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie
medal – n. a piece of metal often in the form of a coin with designs and words in honor of a special event, a person, or an achievement
contribution –n. a piece of writing that is published as part of a larger work, or to a whole group of works
magical – adj. a power that allows people (such as witches and wizards) to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions
translate – v. to change words from one language into another language
opera – n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra
remote – adj. far away in time, happening a long time ago or far into the future