Nonino International Prize 2019

Juan Octavio Prenz



A writer of absolute originality and happily set apart, Prenz unites in an unmistakable work the epic fantasy of the great Latin American literature and the mysterious shadow in which the characters of the great Middle European literature hide themselves. An Argentinean of Istrian-Croatian origin, Prenz is a soft and passionate singer of the wandering, painful, sanguine and picaresque odyssey that scatters the men in the labyrinth of human existence, makes them wander in the sea of life pulling them away from any unrelenting identity but without uprooting from their heart a common fidelity of destinies, affections, peculiarities, the card game in the tavern and the resistance to violence, to tyrannical power. In the poems of Mascaron de Proa the female images that after crossing the oceans on the prows of sailing ships fret in the water of the bay, become stories of love, loneliness, cheat and fight. The grotesque novel La fàbula de Innocenzo Onesto, el decapitado is a parable of the inhumanity hanging over everybody’s fate. A masterpiece like El Señor Kreck intertwines the Argentinean bloody military dictatorship – which forced Prenz to exile – and the destiny of a man that tries to disappear in an anonymous shadow, a narration that has many voices, many points of view. In another wonderful epos, Solo los arboles tienen raices, the flow of migrants becomes a chorality of very human events, tragic, roguish, reckless, always faithful to themselves, a fresco of migrations, affective bonds, and transgressions in the sea of what Saba used to call the warm life.

The prize is delivered by Claudio Magris



Juan Octavio Prenz was born in Ensenada (Argentina) in 1932 from Istrian parents. He graduated in Arts at the University of La Plata (Argentina). He lived in Belgrade between 1962 and 1967 and between 1975 and 1979, the year when he moved to Trieste, where he lives now, with long periods in Argentina. He taught Spanish Language and Literature at the Universities of Buenos Aires, La Plata, Belgrade, Ljubljana and Trieste. He has published on Latin American and European magazines several essays on Spanish and Spanish-American fiction, besides short stories and poems, and he has edited and translated works of the most famous authors of Slovenian and Serbian poetry. He defines himself a Yugoslavian-Italian-Argentinean writer. What’s important in Juan Octavio Prenz’s literary activity, already starting from the Seventies, is his poetic production, which includes eight books of poems translated into several languages and an intense activity of translation of the most famous authors of Slovenian and Serbian poetry.

On January 24th his collection of lyrics Figure di Prua (Mascaron de Proa) will be published by La nave di Teseo, the first Italian translation.

His novels Favola di Innocenzo Onesto, il decapitato [La fàbula de Innocenzo Onesto, el decapitado] (Marsilio), Solo gli alberi hanno radici [Solo los arboles tienen raices] (La nave di Teseo) have been translated into Italian and in these days his novel Il signor Kreck [El Señor Kreck] is going to be published always by the publishing company La nave di Teseo.

He has been awarded the prize “Promoción literaria de la Provincia de Buenos Aires”, the “Faja de honor de la Sociedad de Escritores de la Provincia de Buenos Aires”, the “Premio Casa de las Américas”, the “Premio Povelja” the greatest acknowledgement of the Union of literary translators of Serbia and the “Zlatno Pero” (Gold pen) of the Union of literary translators of Macedonia.

“Only trees have roots is a sentence I have often used to answer who exhorted me to declare myself unilaterally Argentinean, Yugoslav or Italian, as I have written in these three languages and I have lived in the countries where they were spoken. All this comes from my distrust of easy metaphors, one of which makes man a being without roots. Sometimes, I’ve found myself answering: if it is a matter of making metaphors, then, why roots and not wings? Why can’t we think that identity can be defined also in terms of a future to be shared, rather than a past to be contemplated?” (JUAN OCTAVIO PRENZ, 2018)