Honorable storytellers, poets, essayists… respected cultivators of the word who are gathered today in this prestigious chamber, no matter your mother tongue.
Plastic artists, musicians, and representatives of other cultural expressions.
Medics, paramedics, nurses and other healthcare professionals, that more and more essential ally of contemporary culture, who also accompany us today.
All readers and the general public of the Antillean islands constituting our confederation:
For many years, it was a courteous but, to tell the truth, not very sincere custom in our still young nation that in acts such as this, the individual honored with the highest award of our pan-Caribbean writing would start his speech expressing his infinite surprise at having been distinguished with such an honor. As if, for months beforehand, the identity of the awardee was not public, and at the same time as if, showing off in an exaggerated manner the grand modesty that should characterize a true intellectual loyal to the luminous ideals of Pan-Caribbeanism, he did not consider himself worthy of such an esteemed status.
But it is my desire here today to break with this custom, once and for all, before we run the risk of it becoming established as a venerable tradition, indissolubly linked to this high literary award of our young and thriving republic.
I will confess then, in case someone still does not know, that for fourteen years (almost three lustra!) I waited patiently to be worthy of this honor. And given that it’s a secret to no one that for nearly a quarter century my name and my works have featured on an ongoing basis in the shortlist submitted for consideration to the supreme jury of various languages and backgrounds that annually meets in order to assess the merits of our increasingly growing population of writers, I believe that I had full rights to this hopeful expectation (Applause)
It is true that in previous years other varied criteria, perhaps some malicious person would call them extra-literary, were imposed as deciding factors when presenting the National Prize for Literature to my other colleagues, as worthy of it as I, and whose names I am not going to mention here and now because everyone knows them well enough.
The terminal illness of one who has had a large and constant trajectory in our poetry in créole…the grave economic situation owing to the stormy divorce and a separation of assets of one of the most renowned essayists in the English language… The attempt at manipulation by our traditional African ideological enemies of the dramatic work of whom is undoubtedly already in his own right one of the greatest voices in Francophone theatre of the twenty-first century… these were all junctures before which the national letters reacted in the way our people and our political leadership anticipated, showing that the immense vote of confidence given to the creators of the country due to our state-of-the-art medicine in the form of the Methuselah Treatment was never the risky wager that many considered it then (Applause)
I want, in any case, in view of this occasion to take the opportunity to pay sincere homage to these previous winners of the distinction with which I am honored today, making clear that their worthiness of the prize only bestows greater prestige to my own status as an awardee (Applause)
Through the years my eyes have seen a lot of water come and go in the Gulf Stream, yes. And gone forever are those eventful days in which the diverse, divided republics of the old Caribbean, all of them cultivator of the arts, independent of the merits of their work, feared with reason that the implacable Parcae would take it away before they were recognized for their efforts.
Because, thanks to the unsurpassed advances of our medicine, for decades the indisputable world leader in geriatric treatment, today every writer, musician, or painter of our grand multicultural and multiethnic archipelago has great opportunities to see a life full of sacrifices at the altar of culture topped off with the full recognition of his determination by the same thankful island people to whom he dedicated all his creative endeavors (Applause)
It’s a secret to no one that, while less radical versions have lead our multi-insular population to have one of the largest life expectancies on the planet, the soaring, truly prohibitive economic cost of the elaborate medications, transplants, and therapies of life extension, called the Methuselah Treatment, prevents all people from having full access to its fantastic benefits.
Perhaps in another country, under an oligarchy interested only in self-perpetuating its own power, this circumstance would have generated an egoistic and long-lived ruling class, entirely reluctant to share the privilege of a long and full life with the rest of the population.
It is for this reason that I consider it opportune and necessary, even more so, essential, to once again praise our leaders of the High Council of Pan-Caribbean Integration. They, in an altruistic act, decided to extend this privilege, not to the armed forces or the scientists with whom they could have allied themselves in order to solidify their eternal dominion, rather, in the eyes of many perhaps paradoxically, to the most notable among the practically useless but always prestigious representatives of all spheres of artistic and cultural activity (Ovation)
A laudable present, by the way. One has to wonder: What glorious symphonies would a Mozart that lived to 112 have bequeathed us, as did our current famous master, in 2061 creating the danceable folk hybrid rhythm sonipso, and rightfully winning the National Prize for Music last year? What immortal paintings a Picasso of 119 creative springs would have made, like those that encourage our globally known ceramicist of Montego Bay, winner of the National Prize for Visual Arts five years since, whose gorgeous vases adorn our most luxurious hotels? What flawless sonnets can we yet expect of our great poet, winner of the National Prize for Literature of 2086, who this year triumphantly and enthusiastically gives us his much anticipated Nineteenth Book of the Neighborhood? (Applause)
Consider my own case: born in 2008 on the island of Cuba, the son of a humble family, at the height of the twenty-first century’s upheaval, up to now the most glorious and saddest century, and without doubt also the most troubled in the history of the world. It pained me seeing in my country, like in so many others, everything falling apart when I was young, devastated by the terrible riots of 2026. Fortunately, this has all been left in the past, but there will always be terrible memories of the Year of Total and Definitive Oil Depletion.
I will never forget the ferocious war that followed the chaos, bringing even more chaos… the off-white contrails of the missiles tearing apart the timeless sky in order drop their fatal loads in the great cities of Europe and North America… the melting of the polar ice caps and the rise of the sea level that inundated many of our major Caribbean cities… the lack of communications and the subsequent famines… the arrival of the first survivors of the worldwide catastrophe seeking asylum, more desperate predators than pleading shipwreck victims… and how we had to come together so that they could not take from us what little we had left after the cataclysm.
Yes, they were hard times, and surviving them was a collective feat of our people.
But I was also a gleeful witness to the foundation of our beloved IPR, and like many young people with confidence in our new pan-Caribbean ideal of reconstruction, I was a voluntary activist in the Campaign to Recuperate the Habit of Reading in 2035. And it was perhaps that enthusiasm that pushed me to publish in a matter of three years a novel and two children’s books, truthfully barely half-heartedly received by the readers then, and whose titles I will not mention here for the sake of modesty… and because there has already been talk of a republication… I fervently hope that nobody rushes to title it Complete Works (Laughter)
But then, the vicissitudes of my life kept me away from the narrative task during more than four decades, embroiled in the primary work of constructing our new and fairer Pan-Caribbean society on top of the ruins of the ancient and irrational order.
Decades as harsh as the war years, but much more fecund, because during them, the continued efforts of our people, under the wise direction of our High Council of Pan-Caribbean Integration, achieved the miracle that many believed impossible. Taking advantage of our natural ethnic tendency towards hospitality, together with the fortunate circumstance that our coasts and forests, with neither large cities nor military objectives, were one of the few territories left alone during the last and terrible Petroleum War, the nuclear fallout of which still affects nearly three quarters of the planet, we proposed and succeeded at transforming ourselves from a poor and dependent nation into what we can boast of being today: one of the top service economies worldwide. With health, education, and general social welfare quotas that many countries, not only of the once leaders in Western Europe, North America, and coastal East Asia, but also the emerging powers of today, Africa, Thawed Antarctica, and Oceania envy (Applause)
During this time of giving and sacrificing, it does not pain me to confess, I barely wrote, nor published, more than a handful of short stories in provincial and municipal journals with little circulation, or in even less visited blogs in the times of the then rather timidly restored internet.
Because those times… those times were an era of muscles, work, and sweat: not of mind, sensitivity, and ink! (Applause)
In earlier times, this distance or second-tier presence in the narrative landscape for so many years would have perhaps sufficed to erase my name in a definitive manner from the annals of national literature. Consider then how immense my gratitude will be now that, after nearly twenty years of returning to the narrative labor, with eight storybooks and fourteen published novels, and on the eve of my 90th birthday, I finally see my entire artistic career recognized with this honorable and coveted award (Applause)
That’s why I also want to put on record, on this happy day, that I do not plan on giving up my writing. I will not betray the recognition of confidence that for me this honorable award represents. I will not rest on my laurels, because I do not believe that my most productive years are behind me, rather I will continue exerting myself in order to deliver to our people the best fruit of my neurons and my pen, until that long postponed but inexorable death stops me from continuing to perform the great collective effort of constructing this new society.
Eternal glory to the Pan-Caribbean ideal! (Applause)
Glory to our High Council of Pan-Caribbean Integration, our selfless, eternal guardian! (Ovation, the public rise to their feet enthusiastically)
And so, on the occasion of this date which is of great importance for me, in which at long last I feel wholly worthy of the sacrifice which our people have always expected of me, I have been authorized by our leaders to make public a new advance in our health… so transcendental that, we can say without exaggeration, it will change the world.
It is not new to those present here that, for many years, the young and thriving economic powers and militaries of today, both the Thawed Antarctica and the different African and Oceanian nations, have accused us insistently of blasphemously twisting the limits of nature in order to create a society of old people who maintain their health for so long as to become quasi-immortal, at the expense of the blood of their young people. Of being no more than a fervent, geriatric tyranny in which these same young people, harvested without pity by the Law of Obligatory Transplantation, had neither place nor hope.
Did they think that with such a pile of slander they could make us renounce our own path?
As if our country, harassed during the better part of the twentieth century by the then North American, European, and Asian superpowers, whose hour of hegemony and glory was left by fate forever in the past with the now extinct oil, was not more than accustomed to facing the most unjust and onerous international pressures, that always sprinkle the glorious march of those who separate themselves from the flock!
Being as it is, that which they cannot deny is that our life expectancy today is an average of 120 years! And with more than a few cases of extreme longevity in excess of 150. All of which has been possible only through the long decades of sacrifices by our people, in order to fund the costly investments in life extension research, whose fruits our incomparable medicine has united under the trade name of the Methuselah Treatment.
And now, in order to deny once and for all these malicious defamations, I want to present to you all the future of the arts in the Integrated Pan-Caribbean Republic.
Do you see this young man? Come onstage, Joáo… (The aforesaid, just an adolescent, leaves the audience and goes to the podium to join Romauldo, who puts his arm around the boy with evident familiarity)
Perhaps some of you already know his face, and if I tell you all that his name is Joáo Francois Smith Sánchez, I believe that others, too, will find it familiar… it’s not for nothing that he has recently won various awards in fantasy and children’s fiction, in the categories of Young Hope, for those younger than 20, and Future Promise, for those who still haven’t reached 40.
The quality of his prose and the original style are the reason that, at only 18, many predict for him a bright legacy in our literature, and even expect that, extraordinarily, they will see him publish his first book before 50… if, of course, impatience and resentment don’t make him betray our grand Pan-Caribbean ideal and abandon the country cowardly, drawn by the siren songs of African, Oceanian, or Antarctic publishers, that dazzle our youngest generation of authors with their vane promises of equal opportunities, regardless of the age of the writers, envious of our system. Slow, perhaps, conservative, I don’t deny it, but rigorous just as well, and proven efficient over many decades…
Well then: I can, here today, assure you all that this young man will NEVER abandon the IPR, no matter how attractive the lures and temptations dangled in front of him by our tireless enemies.
We have created, finally, the perfect citizen, the model creative, the ideal Pan-Caribbean human. And I can assure this without fear of being wrong precisely because Joáo here is closer and better known by me than if he were my grandson, my son… as familiar and close as only a twin brother could be.
Because, and enough with the circumlocutions, Joáo Francois Smith Sánchez is a part of me. Because, somehow, I can say that he is the very same. Since he is a clone, my own flesh and blood.
Be he isn’t just any clone, rather an improved clone, behaviorally conditioned and neurologically modified so that even the idea of betraying the ideals of our Pan-Caribbean nation, whether in word or in deed, would be unbearably repugnant.
I greet you then, Joáo, my genetic son, writer of the future steadfastly loyal to our ideology… and I am able to glimpse henceforth—why not?—that wondrous, previously unthinkable, moment in which thanks to the advances of our incomparable medical science already given to us by the Methuselah Treatment, the award granted to me today will adorn your forehead as well. It will simultaneously be and not be mine, a dignified relief that, God willing, shall continue for centuries, centuries in which I hope our country shall live on… (Resounding cough, gasping… he is interrupted)
Please… my personal doctor and nurse… they aren’t here?… this… if you find them in the hall… other healthcare employees… the emotion… it must be… check my bio-monitors… I believe… I’m short of breath… my chest… I can’t brea… (Deep cough, he nearly falls, but various paramedics rush to him and hold him up in time beginning to administering first aid with oxygen masks and other urgent, life-saving tools)
(Joáo Francois Smith Sánchez takes his place on the podium in front of the shocked audience and the holo cameras)
Please, honorable attendees of this function, stay calm… they have told me that our awardee’s small cardiac problem will be solved as quickly as possible, and that most likely there won’t be consequences… be calm, there is nothing to fear; in the worst case we can always provide sufficient organs for any transplant, and more so for citizens prioritized based off of their exceptional service record… of course, we hopefully won’t have to go to that extreme… after all Romualdo, whom you all know and admire, nearly 90 years old, is still a young man, it’d only be his third heart, right? (Relieved laughing)
Being as it is, I want to put on record my complete willingness, without it being necessary to invoke the still debated Law of Obligatory Transplantation, to make any of my organs available to our venerable winner of the National Prize for literature of 2098, as they are his. (Applause)
And so, without further delay, as I am sure he would want it done, I request a loud, final applause for the architects of the Methuselah Treatment, for our leaders on the High Council of Pan-Caribbean Integration, and for the immortal Pan-Caribbean ideal, without which this glorious day would have been impossible! (Grand ovation, the audience rises to their feet)
And also for all of you, undefeated Antillean people, because through your work and through you is born our inspiration.
Thank you (Final ovation)
March 13, 2009
Translated by Matthew Carman