First English-language History of Colombian Literature Published

Book edited by UCR scholar Raymond L. Williams is also the first to acknowledge women, afro-Colombian and indigenous writers

book jacket coverRIVERSIDE, Calif. – Colombia’s literature is regarded as a national treasure by its citizens, but international audiences have been more familiar with artists such as Shakira, soccer players and drug traffickers. That began to change in the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly when Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Raymond L. Williams, distinguished professor of Spanish at UC Riverside, writes in the introduction to “A History of Colombian Literature,” published this summer by Cambridge University Press.

Williams, who is known globally as a scholar of the Colombian novel, edited the collection of essays by 20 scholars of diverse nationalities from universities in Colombia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The culmination of four decades of research, the book is the first history of Colombian literature to be published in the English language, the first book in any language to include both cultural studies and literary approaches to Colombian literature and culture, and the first history of Colombian literature to include marginalized groups such as women, afro-Colombian and indigenous writers.

“This volume brings together world-class literary and cultural studies scholars with a focus on Colombia, as well as reminds us all that Colombia is not only an exporter of coffee and other agricultural products, but also of high-quality literature,” Williams says.

Colombian literature dates back to the 16th century, when the region was still a Spanish colony, Williams explains.

Raymond L, Williams

Raymond L. Williams

“In 1982, with the Nobel Prize in Literature for Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian literature was broadly recognized in the world for the first time,” he says. “Since 1867, Colombians have published over a dozen histories in Spanish introducing their literature, and these books have been available to scholars inside and outside Colombia. The first Colombian novel to appear in English was a Romantic novel by Jorge Isaacs under the title ‘María, A South American Romance’ in 1867. Before that, the most significant news in the English-speaking world had been Sir Francis Drake’s attack on Cartagena in the 18th century.”

Colombian writers have been recognized in Latin America as refined stylists since 1896, when the Argentine writer Miguel Cané published a series of chronicles in Buenos Aires about the “elegant” style of writing to be found in Colombia, Williams adds.

“A History of Colombian Literature” includes new work on Nobel Laureate García Márquez as well as new writers recently translated into English, such as Laura Restrepo, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and Héctor Abad Facciolince.

Williams began writing about the Colombian novel in 1976, and published a history of the Colombian novel in 1991 and two books on García Márquez in 1984 and 2010. In 1995 the Colombia Ministry of Foreign Relations awarded him the Order of San Carlos, which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the nation.

Williams joined the UC Riverside faculty in 1997 and teaches Latin American literature with an emphasis on Mexico and Colombia. All of his classes are taught in Spanish, which he learned in Chile as an undergraduate exchange student. He earned a B.A. in Spanish at Washington State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees in Spanish at the University of Kansas. He taught previously at the University of Colorado, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Chicago.

Media Contact

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Raymond L. Williams
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