The following is a guest post by Catalina Gómez, program coordinator in the Library of Congress Hispanic Division.
The Poetry and Literature Center and the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress join today in commemorating of the centennial of one of Latin America’s most beloved literary figures: the poet, essayist, journalist, and towering figure Octavio Paz. “Octavio Paz occupies a special position in Mexico that I don’t think anybody else has before or since had,” says Barbara Tenenbaum, the Library’s specialist in Mexican culture. “There will never be anyone like him, I think, in Mexican letters.”
Paz was born in the village of Mixcoac, now part of Mexico City, on March 31, 1914. He published his first book of poems Luna silvestre (Savage Moon) at the age of nineteen. At twenty-three, during a trip to Spain, he came in contact with anti-fascist intellectual and literary movements, and upon his return to Mexico he founded the group Taller, an important gathering of poets of his generation. In 1943, as a Guggenheim fellow, Paz studied American poetry; he later joined the Mexican diplomatic service. He served in posts in Paris, Switzerland, Japan, and India, all which had a tremendous influence on his poetry.
Paz’s books of poems translated into English include Sun Stone (1963); Configurations (1971); Early Poems 1935-1955 (1973); Eagle or Sun? (1976); A Draft of Shadows and Other Poems (1979); Selected Poems (1984); The Collected Poems 1957-1987 (1987); A Tree Within (1988); Sunstone (1991); A Tale of Two Gardens: Poems from India 1952-1995 (1997); and Figures & Figurations (2002), a collaboration with his wife, the artist Marie-José Paz. He also published several books of essays, including The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). Paz was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1981, the American Neustadt Prize in 1982, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.
Paz visited the Library of Congress in 1962 when he came to record for the Hispanic Division’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT). Georgette Dorn, chief of the Hispanic Division and the curator of the AHLOT, considers Paz’s recording one of the most valuable in the collection—which has close to 700 recordings of poets, novelists and essayists from the Luso-Hispanic world. “His was a two-hour recording, and it is absolutely amazing because he reads very well,” says Dorn. Paz returned as part of a citywide celebration of Mexico that the Hispanic Division co-sponsored with the Organization of American States in 1979.
Today in his own Mexico, the government presented on a series of programs, exhibits, poetry readings, and lectures in honor of the poet’s contribution to his country’s literature. Closer to home, Georgette Dorn found another way to celebrate: a champagne toast at the Hispanic Division’s monthly staff meeting. “It was great fun—we all clapped,” said Dorn. We hope this will become a tradition, to honor the centennials of great poets and writers who are part of our archives.