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75th anniversary of the Adonais Prize

The Adonáis is the only one of Spain’s major literary prizes that has no financial prize. The winner is only awarded one hundred copies of his or her published collection of poems and, since 1976, a sculpture by Venancio Blanco. The runners-up receive one hundred copies of their published collection of poems. Despite this, it is the competition that any poet under 35 years of age dreams of winning because it is one of the most prestigious poetry prizes in the world.

Nuria Ortega, with her collection of poems Las infancias sonoras, is the latest to join the long list of POETS, with capital letters, to have won this award. The jury’s report emphasised that the 25-year-old poet from Almería and her work deserved this recognition thanks to “the naturalness with which she updates tradition, the expressive twist she applies to colloquial language and her astonished view of the world and memory”. The award ceremony took place at the National Library on 17 December, the same day that the exhibition dedicated to the historic prize closed.

This year, the jury’s guest of honour was the poet Luis García Montero, director of the Cervantes Institute, who recalled the emotion it meant for him to receive the Adonáis Prize on its 35th anniversary and valued the vocation that defines the dedication of poets. “When in life, when you commit yourself to a vocation, everything ends up making sense”, he said.

Adonáis is the longest-running poetry collection and one of the most prized in the history of Spanish literature. With more than 680 titles published, it was born in 1943 with the aim of giving a voice to emerging poets writing in Spanish. Since then, with only three consecutive directors at the helm (José Luis Cano, Luis Jiménez Martos and Carmelo Guillén Acosta), the collection has consolidated its prestige. Vicente Aleixandre, Dámaso Alonso, José Antonio Muñoz Rojas, Bernabé Fernández Canivell… have formed part of its editorial board.

The collection was created by Juan Guerrero Ruiz as part of his publishing house Biblioteca Hispánica and, when in 1946 it seemed that it was going to disappear due to a lack of financial resources, Florentino Pérez-Embid bought it for the publishing house he had just founded: Ediciones Rialp. The year 2021 marked the 75th anniversary of this rebirth.

It was the poet Rafael Montesino who named the collection after Shelly’s Elegy on the Death of John Keats. According to his testimony, the then Director General of Information, Juan Aparicio, expressed reservations about the suspicion that the name might have a Judaising appeal (“Adonai” is one of the Hebrew names for God). Poemas del toro, by Rafael Morales, was the first book published by the collection. It was dedicated to Vicente Aleixandre and was prefaced by José María de Cossío.

The Adonáis prize, which was linked to the collection from the beginning, had three winners ex aequo in its first edition: Vicente Gaos, Alfonso Moreno and José Suárez Carreño. It seems that the jury could not agree on the choice. After three years of absence, and now under the management of Ediciones Rialp, the prize was awarded again in 1947. The jury was made up of Dámaso Alonso, Vicente Alexandre, Enrique Azcoaga and José Luis Cano. A total of 132 books were submitted and the winner was José Hierro with his book Alegría. A total of 425 copies were printed on edition paper and 100 on special paper, 70 of which were numbered for Adonáis deluxe subscribers, and 30 (numbered from i to xxx) for honorary subscribers. A separate print run of 125 copies was made, in larger format and on special paper, numbered and signed by the author. Years later, the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature (1981), the Reina Sofía Prize for Ibero-American Poetry (1995) and the Cervantes Prize (1998) were awarded.

This was the beginning of a trajectory that, according to its current director, Carmelo Guillén Acosta, in Historia de Adonáis (Rialp, 2016), is astonishing for the number of young prize-winners who later became essential names. “The most paradigmatic case is the 1953 prize for a miraculous book: El don de la ebriedad, by a seventeen-year-old Claudio Rodríguez”. But there were more discoveries among its prize-winners Francisco Brines, Ana Merino, José Manuel Caballero Bonald, Julia Castillo and José Ángel Valente; among its runners-up, Antonio Gala, Ángel González, Julia Uceda, José Agustín Goytisolo, Aurora Luque, Antonio Colinas, Beatriz Hernanz, Antonio Lucas; and even among its finalists, Antonio Gamoneda.

The legendary poetry collection is currently, according to its director, “at a splendid moment of maximum brilliance. With the stability of a luxury Jury for the proclamation and decision of the Prize, it maintains the power to continue to be the first literary aspiration among young people, as it was for its masters in another time”.

Shortly before his death, the poet Francisco Brines, winner of the 1959 Adonáis Prize for his book Las brasas and winner of the Cervantes Prize in 2020, dictated a text to Víctor, his carer, as a tribute on this 75th anniversary: “The only difference between the first and the last award is time. I have to say that I have been enjoying the Adonáis for sixty-two years and it has made of me what I always intended, giving me the possibility of existing as a poet (…) I hope that the Adonáis Collection, which is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary, will continue to celebrate many more consecutive years, so that it can continue to reward the poetic act, because it is enough for Poetry to seduce. Memorable seventy-fifth anniversary for Adonáis”.