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María Zambrano

Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 1981

Thinker and writer, eminent figure of Spanish thought and writing, the work of María Zambrano (Vélez, Málaga, Spain, 1904 – Madrid, Spain, 1991) is considered by scholars to be a major landmark in the Spanish philosophical thought which has arisen since the 17th century.

Belonging to what is known as the Generation of the Republic, disciple of Ortega, she has created a singular work of undeniable literary value, containing a marvellous conjunction between poetry and philosophy. Her writings are centred on the eternal problem of beauty and truth, access to this truth being an underlying constant in her intellectual process. 

The author of El hombre y lo divino has broken down the frontiers between thought and literature, attaining a style of great formal beauty in which the act of thinking becomes knowledge of the soul, in a creative dream.

Daughter of the teacher Blas José Zambrano. She was only to stay in her homeland for three years: her family moved to Jaén and then to Segovia, a magical city where María studied at high school and to which, years later, she would dedicate an important essay. After gaining her doctorate in Philosophy and Letters from the Central University, where she was a pupil of Ortega y Gasset, García Morente and Xavier Zubiri, she began to publish her first essays in the Revista del Occidente, specifically under the guidance of Ortega, and she began teaching as an assistant lecturer in Philosophy at the Central University and as a teacher at the "Instituto-Escuela".

Between 1930, the year in which she published Horizonte del Liberalismo, and 1936, in which she married the historian Alfonso Rodríguez Aldave, María Zambrano organised gatherings at her house in the Plaza del Conde de Barajas which would become one of the most intense cultural foci of national life.

The Civil War led her to Chile, as her husband was named second secretary at the Embassy. In that country she published Los intelectuales en el drama de España. She returned to Spain in 1937 to reside in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. In this last city she would join the group which published the Hora de España, making friends with personalities such as Emilio Prados, Ramón Gaya and Juan Gil Albert, publishing diverse essays and articles.

In 1939 she decided to go into exile, and until her return to Spain she lived and worked in universities in America and Europe. Her first step in exile was taken in Mexico, where she worked for an academic year as a lecturer at the University of Morelia. Later she moves to Cuba, the country where she was to live for thirteen years (1940-1953), teaching classes at the University of Havana and at the Institute for Higher Studies and Scientific Research. She also lectured at the University of San Juan de Puerto Rico. El pensamiento vivo de Séneca (1944), La agonía de Europa (1945) and Hacia un saber del alma (1950) were published during the American period of her exile, dominated by two decisive events: the death of her mother, in 1946, and her separation, a year later.

Having moved to Rome in 1953, she presented successively a series of fundamental works: El hombre y lo divino (1955) - an irreplaceable landmark in Spanish 20th century thought -, Persona y democracia (1959) and La España de Galdós (1960), likewise contributing to such important journals of the period as Botteghe Oscure, Insula or Papeles de Son Armadans. Four years later she moved to France, starting a stage in her life with a great intellectual output: España, sueño y realidad (1965), El sueño creador (1965), La tumba de Antígona (1967), Obras reunidas (1971) and Claros del bosque (1977). In 1978, she changed residence to Switzerland, where she lived until returning to Spain for good in 1984, after an absence of 45 years.

Doctor honoris causa of the University of Málaga, and holder of the "Pablo Iglesias" Special Award, Gold Medal of Madrid and 1988 "Cervantes" Award. María Zambrano, who died in Madrid, was one of those beings who live solely to decipher the sentiments. She bestowed upon poetry and philosophy the virtue of objectivizing the truth sought, of displaying this truth to those it was intended for and of encouraging people who are so inclined to live in that truth.

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