Remembering Carmen Balcells, the Woman Behind Latin America’s Literary Boom

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Carmen Balcells, the woman who discovered and repped some of the biggest names from the Latin American literary world, died of a heart attack on Sunday in Barcelona. She was 85. Balcells represented six Nobel Prize winners: Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Aleixandre, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Camilo José Cela.

In the 60s and 70s, she set up García Márquez and Vargas Llosa with apartments in Barcelona amidst the unstable political environments in their respective countries. “Without her, the Latin American boom would not have been what it was,” Xavi Ayen said, according to the New York Times. “She created the first generation of writers who could support themselves as novelists, and she had them come to live in Barcelona, in the same area, and turned them into great friends.”

Balcells started her own agency, Agencia Literaria Carmen Barcells, in 1956. El Universal reports that she changed the game by making sure the rules worked better for writers. Alongside a lawyer, she was able to add new elements into contracts that were beneficial to writers, including the option to receive royalties for every country in which their work was published. She looked out for her writers and asked for advances, as well as for royalties from translations. Basically, she was the original Rihanna, saying BBHMM, but on her writer’s behalf.

Her first big success in Latin America was getting Cien años de soledad published, a book written by then-unknown Colombian journalist García Márquez. For Vargas Llosa, she went to personally look for him in London and offered him the $500 he needed monthly to solely focus on writing. This helped him complete Conversación en la Catedral. “She was much more than an agent or representative for us writers who had the privilege to work with her,” Vargas Llosa said. “She took care of us, she spoiled us, she scolded us, she took us by the ears and filled us with an understanding of kindness in everything we did, not only in what we wrote.”