Here are the 2016 Winners of Puerto Rico’s Most Important Book Prize

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Since 1935, the Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña has done the important work of uplifting local authors with its annual literary prize, which – together with a modest check – brings a prestigious pedigree to contemporary literary works, placing them on a long list of honorees that includes seminal Boricua authors like Luis Llorens Torres and Palés Matos.

Corresponding to books published in 2015, this year’s honorees include novels, poem collections, and monographs on little-known aspects of Puerto Rican history. Interestingly, this year’s selection committee opted not to award a top prize in the category of “creation”, perhaps intended as a nudge to Boricua authors to step up their game. In addition to book prizes, the committee recognized the work of journalists Julio Rivera Saniel and Pedro Reyna with the “Bolivar Pagán” journalism awards.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s big winners:

'Los muertos se visten de blanco' by Hiram Lozada Pérez

Second Place, “Creation” category

With his fifth novel, Hiram Lozada Pérez brings a uniquely Puerto Rican flavor to the classic detective novel. Set in one of the islands notorious housing projects, or caseríos, Los muertos se visten de blanco is structured around a police investigation into the mysterious murder of five young men, and explores themes of police corruption, extrajudicial killing, and the vicious cycle of street life that plagues Puerto Rico’s caseríos along the way.

Available for purchase on Amazon.

'Errata de Fe' by Carlos Roberto Gómez Beras

Third Place, “Creation” category

One of Puerto Rico’s greatest living poets – and a sort of “cultural ambassador” between the Dominican Republic (where he was born,) and Puerto Rico (where he was “reborn” at the age of six) – Gómez Berras brings an autobiographical touch to his latest book of poems. Errata de Fe is divided into four sections that explore themes like love, solitude, and language with an masterful lyrical touch.

Available for purchase from Librería Isla.

'Voluntarios de la libertad' by José Alejandro Ortiz Carrión

First Place, “Research and Criticism” category

Adding to an ample body of literature about the international brigades who risked their lives in defense of the Spanish Republic, Ortiz Carrión’s latest monograph retraces the steps of 73 Puerto Ricans who fought against fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Ranging from medics, to soldiers, to war correspondents, the Boricuas profiled in this fascinating slice of history add an important, and previously unwritten chapter to the story of international solidarity with the Spanish Republic.

Available for purchase from Amazon.

'Los Chinos en Puerto Rico' by José Lee Borges

Second Place, “Research and Criticism” category

Much is still left to be written about the history of immigration to Puerto Rico, and Lee Borges’ extensive study of Chinese immigration to the island amounts to a fundamental work of local history. Challenging exotifying popular narratives about Chinese settlement on the island, Lee Borges digs all the way back to the construction of the San Juan-Ponce highway in the mid-19th century, which brought droves of forced migrants from the Chinese mainland and Cuba. Bringing us all the way to the present day, Los Chinos en Puerto Rico adds new shades of complexity and cultural diversity to the narrative of Puerto Rican national identity.

Available for purchase from Amazon.

'Tapia: El primer puertorriqueño' by Roberto Ramos-Perea

Third Place, “Research and Criticism” category

Ramos-Perea’s monumental monograph brings together a wealth of written and visual sources in this expansive study of Puerto Rico’s great 19th century playwright, novelist, poet, and abolitionist, Don Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. With over 100 published works, Tapia is widely considered to be the father of Puerto Rican letters, and was well ahead of his time on issues like feminism and racial justice.

Available for purchase from Librería Isla.