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Homero Aridjis

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  • Homero Aridjis, twice a Guggenheim Fellow, was born in Michoacán, of Mexican-Greek antecedents, in 1940. Poet, novelist, columnist and activist, he is president of International P.E.N. He was Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands and to Switzerland. Among other marks of recognition, in 1997 he received the Prix Roger Callois in France for his poetry and prose.

    One of Latin America’s greatest living writers, he is also extraordinary for his pioneering work as an environmental activist and his two-term stint as president of PEN International. Many of his forty-eight books of poetry and prose have been translated into fifteen languages.  He is the recipient of important literary and environmental prizes including the Xavier Villaurrutia (Mexico), the Roger Caillois (France), the Grinzane-Cavour (Italy), the Orion Society’s John Hay Award, The Smederevo Golden Key, the Premio Letterario Camaiore Internazionale 2013, the Violani Landi University of Bologna poetry prize, and two Guggenheim Fellowships. He has been Mexico’s Ambassador to Switzerland, The Netherlands and UNESCO.

    In 1940, in the Mexican village of Contepec in the central-highlands area of Michoacán, Homero Aridjis was born the youngest of five brothers to a Mexican mother and a Greek father. No library or bookstore existed in his village, and, he has said, "culture came for me as a personal conquest." Aridjis's conquest has resulted in the publication of thirty books of poetry and prose, including Antes del reino, El poeta niño, Espectáculo del año dos mil, El último Adán, Gran teatro del fin del mundo and La leyenda de los soles. His Obra poética, spanning forty-two years of poetry, will appear in 2003. Translations of his work into English include the novels Persephone, 1492 The Life and Times of Juan Cabezón of Castile and Lord of the Last Days: Visions of the Year 1000 and the poetry collections Blue Spaces and Exaltation of Light. His most recent book of essays, Apocalipsis con figures, is an examination of messianism, apocalyptic prophecies, religious movements and the state of the planet during the past 1,000 years. La Montaña de las mariposas, an autobiographical novel, was published in March 2000.

    He was awarded the Xavier Villarrutia Prize for best book of the year for Mirándola dormir, in 1964; the Dian-Novedades Literary Prize for the outstanding novel in Spanish, for Memorias del nuevo mundo, in 1988; and the Premio Grinzane Cavour, for best foreign fiction, in 1992, for the Italian translation of 1492, Vida y tiempos de Juan Cabezón de Castilla. 1492 The Life and Times of Juan Cabezon of Castile was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1991. In 1997 Aridjis received the Prix Roger Caillois in France for his work as a poet and novelist. In 2000 The Orion Society presented him with its John Hay Award for significant achievement in writing that addresses the relationship between people and nature. In 2001 he received the Smederevo Golden Key Prize for his poetry.

    As a child, Aridjis would walk every afternoon to a hillside near his home, where, during the mild winters, 'the sky would be aflame with red, orange, yellow, and black.' Thousands of monarch butterflies lighted on the fir trees around him. Later in his life as a diplomat and teacher, Aridjis would make a yearly pilgrimage to the hillside that meant so much to him as a child, where he would witness the disappearance of the trees, cut for firewood, that the butterflies required for sanctuary. 'I felt that my own childhood was being killed, my memory of a natural beauty that had once overwhelmed me. The possibility of my village becoming a wasteland, a silent country without wind in the trees or animal sounds or birdsong, made me feel desperate. Butterflies became for me a symbol of life's fragility.' Such sentiments led Aridjis to establish the Grupo de los Cien, or the Group of 100, a group of Mexican cultural elite bound together by the championing of environmental causes. In 1987 Aridjis received the Global 500 award from the United Nations Environmental Program on behalf of Grupo de los Cien.

    Twice the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Aridjis has taught at Columbia University, NYU, and the University of Indiana. He has served as Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands and Switzerland. During the 64th International PEN Congress held in Edinburgh in August 1997, Homero Aridjis was elected President of International PEN. He was re-elected President for a second term during the 67th International PEN Congress in Moscow in May 2000. Aridjis is married and has two daughters. 
    'In his early books, it was immediately clear that Homero Aridjis was a poet of great vitality and originality [his] range grew with astonishing vigour in one book after another... Poems of his have been published in English translation for decades but it is more than time to have a large, widely representative selection of his poems available in English.'
    W.S. Merwin

    'When I first met Homero Aridjis he was a youthful poet. He has carried that sense of youth with him throughout life and it has left its mark on all his work. Born in a Mexican village, near which the monarch butterflies swarm yearly after their flight from Canada, he experienced early in life a profound relationship with the cycles of nature. This lies at the root of his two principal concerns, poetry and ecology. He not only writes of the whale, but has long fought for the protection of its breeding places in Baja California.'
    Charles Tomlinson

    'a visionary poet of lyrical bliss, crystalline concentrations and infinite spaces. These are words for a new Magic Flute.'
    Kenneth Rexroth

    'Homero Aridjis's poems open a door into the light.'
    Seamus Heaney

    Awards won by Homero Aridjis Winner, 1997 Prix Roger Callois
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