By Jessica Rodriguez
Whether it’s crafting a literary opus, founding a political party, teaching literature or embodying one of his characters onstage, Mario Vargas Llosa has done more in his 81 years than most people do in several lifetimes. At the forefront of Latin America’s literary boom of the 1960s, Vargas Llosa’s prolific body of work has shaped literature, culture and the world at large. This life lived through a pen is why Vargas Llosa was honored by the National Library of Congress with a Living Legend Award in 2016.
The only child of Ernesto Vargas Maldonado and Dora Llosa Ureta was born in Arequipa, Peru in 1936. Vargas Llosa spent his first 10 years in Bolivia with his mother and grandfather believing his father had died when in fact his parents separated before his birth. At age 10, the couple reconciled and the family moved to Lima.
His teen years were spent at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy which did not suit the aspiring writer who rejected the military structure and fed on books by writers like William Faulkner. At 16, Vargas Llosa dropped out and finished his studies back in Piura where his mother’s family lived while working as a reporter for its newspaper. The experience became fodder for his first novel, La ciudad y los perros (1963).
While an oppressive dictatorship flourished around him, Vargas Llosa pursued his studies at the National University of San Marcos in Lima where he studied literature and law in 1953. Expanding his intellect while other peruanos lost personal freedom sparked his political consciousness and created distaste for authoritarian government. Pursuing artistic freedom, Vargas accepted a scholarship to University of Madrid after graduating from San Marcos. He spent several years in Madrid and Paris writing for the Agence France Presse and working on his own literary projects.
The 1960s catapulted Vargas Llosa onto the literary stage for publishing novels that chronicled life in Latin America as well as exploring the themes of freedom, power and individuality. His seminal works from this time included La casa verde (1965), and Conversaciones en la catedral (1969).
He stepped in to the political sphere in the late 1980s to protest the Peruvian governments attempt to nationalize its financial sector. His protest movement joined with two major parties to form Frente Democratico. In 1990 as head of this new party he ran for President of Peru but was beat by Alberto Fujimori who later ruled as a dictator.
Vargas Llosa’s power is best described by The Swedish Academy which stated they awarded him the Nobel Prize for, “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat.”
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