Carlos Fuentes, one of the generation of writers who brought modern Latin American fiction onto the world stage, died today in a Mexico City hospital. He was 83.
His death was related to a heart condition, the press office of the National Council for Arts and Culture said. The recipient of awards including the Miguel de Cervantes Prize and Mexico’s National Prize in Literature, Fuentes had a following among Latin American authors surpassed only by Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa though unlike his contemporaries he never won a Nobel Prize.
“He was the great promoter, innovator and ambassador of Latin American culture and the Latin American novel,” said Julio Ortega, a professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who worked with Fuentes and knew him since 1969. “From a very young age, he opened frontiers.”
The author of books such as “Where the Air is Clear” (1958), “The Death of Artemio Cruz” (1962) and “The Old Gringo,” (1985) Fuentes was the son of a diplomat and equally comfortable in Spanish and English. He was born in Panama on Nov. 11, 1928, spent much of his youth in Washington, and later in life divided his time between Mexico City and London.
In a post on the Twitter website lamenting his death, President Felipe Calderon said Fuentes was a “universal writer.”
Fuentes is survived by his wife Silvia Lemus, and his daughter Cecilia Fuentes Macedo.
He served as Mexico’s ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977 and taught at schools including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard, Cornell and Brown, according to Fuentes’ website.
“He was one of the most brilliant authors of the 20th century in Mexico,” said Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and author, in a phone interview from Mexico City. “He was a great creator and recreator of the Spanish language.”
Fuentes drew inspiration from the history of his native country, particularly the Mexican Revolution, to examine corruption and human failings in his works.
“Writing is not a normal act like eating or making love or sleeping,” he once said in an interview. “Deep down it’s a perverse and dangerous act.”
He was outspoken in his political views and expressed at times support for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Fuentes was critical of the recent war in Iraq and U.S. strategies in combating narcotics smuggling and illegal immigration.
More recently, he criticized Mexico’s leading presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, saying his “ignorance” made him unfit to run the country.
On Dec. 3, Pena Nieto struggled when asked at a literary fair to name three books that influenced him, finally identifying the Bible and attributing to historian Krauze another title written by Fuentes.