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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 17th was the birthday of Luis López Nieves,

It’s the birthday of Luis López Nieves, (books by this author) born in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1950). He’s been called “the great novelist of Puerto Rico” by a Colombian newspaper and “the first novelist of Puerto Rico” by one of Spain’s papers. A Chilean said that “he has created urban legends that Puerto Ricans assume as historical truths.” His books The True Death of Juan Ponce de León (2000) and Voltaire’s Heart (2005) each won the National Literature Prize, Puerto Rico’s highest literary award.

As a child, he would wait for his mom to tuck him in at night, turn off his bedroom light, and go to bed — and then when he was sure that she was asleep, he would sneak out of bed, turn on the light, and furtively read until 4 or 5 each morning. He wrote his first poem when he was 13, and for the next six months he carried it with him everywhere he went, folded up in the pocket of his pants, aspiring to be a poet but afraid to show his one poem to anyone. Then he read Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and he decided that he’d rather be an existentialist prose writer than a profound lyrical poet. He threw the poem in the trash can and never wrote another.

Instead, he wrote short stories, and he starting living a bohemian teenage life. He dropped out of college when he was 16 and convinced his girlfriend to run off to New York City with him. It was the mid-1960s. Her parents disapproved, trekked up to New York City, found the couple in Greenwich Village, hauled their daughter back to Puerto Rico, and forbade her to speak with him again.

So he left the Village and started backpacking around the world. A few years later, he felt obliged to go back to college. He hated studying, though, and spent most of his time working on campus literary magazines, even founding a couple of new ones. Then he went back to New York, did a Ph.D. in comparative literature, and turned in a novel for his dissertation rather than a scholarly thesis.

In 1984, he published the short-story collection Seva, which became one of the best-selling story collections in Puerto Rican history and made him famous. His most recent novel is Galileo’s Silence (2009).

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