José Manuel Caballero Bonald has died at the age of 94 at his home in Madrid. The news was given at 8:08 this morning by Pepa Ramis, his wife, with an energetic and simple tone. “It’s over”. For months and some years she was the voice of the poet and Cervantes prize of the year 2012, author of works such as the novel Cat’s eye agate or extraordinary memorial volumes such as Profession of reader or Wits Exam. It is the end of a lifetime together.
The poet, novelist and essayist was born in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) on November 11, 1926. His father was Cuban Creole and his mother’s family was of French origin settled in Andalusia since the mid-nineteenth century. He studied Nautical Studies in Cádiz and did his military service in the University Naval Militia for two summers. Later, between 1949 and 1952, he studied Philosophy and Letters at the universities of Seville and Madrid. From the first hour, Caballero Bonald published poetry and established relationships with writers.
In 1952 he won second prize in the Adonáis Award for his first book, Divinations. In 1959 he established a relationship with the poets who would later join the group of the 50s. It was on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the death of Antonio Machado. In Collioure he met Blas de Otero, José Agustín Goytiosolo, Ángel González, José Ángel Valente, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Alfredo Costafreda and Carlos Barral among other authors.
He taught literature in Bogotá before returning to Spain in 1963. In 1965 he went to Cuba and in 1968 he was detained for a month in Carabanchel prison for political reasons. In 1969 he published the anthology Live to tell.
That same year another of his magnificent works arrived: the Flamenco singing archive, a six-disc album and preliminary study recorded for the Vergara company. In the manner of the American folklorists he admired, the poet, who then and during the following decade made his living as a record producer, made a journey in search of cante, with the idea of rescuing the voices of those teachers from one generation to about to disappear.
He published his first novel in 1974, Cat’s eye agate, for which he received the Barral and Critics Awards. In 1975 he published his essay Lights and shadows of flamenco. In 1981 he received the Ateneo de Sevilla Prize for his novel All night birds were heard passing. The author taught at universities in the United States at various times in his life and traveled to many countries as a lecturer and congressman.
José Manuel Caballero Bonald received the Cervantes Prize in 2012. Previously, he was awarded the National Prize for Spanish Letters in 2005 and a year later the National Poetry Prize for Manual de infringers. In 2016 he won the Francisco Umbral Prize for his book of poetry Unlearning.
In 1998 the Caballero Bonald Foundation was created, which is based in the house where he was born and whose objective is the custody and dissemination of the author’s work. Since 2010, part of his legacy remains in the Caja de las Letras of the Instituto Cervantes and will see the light in 2051, on the 125th anniversary of his birth.