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Juan Mayorga

Princess of Asturias Award for Literature 2022

One rainy afternoon, my daughter Raquel, who was then very young, approached her brother and sister, Miguel and Beatriz, who were drawing on a blank sheet of paper.

- What are you doing?
- Letters.
- All of them?
- All of them.

That was a huge discovery for Raquel, who didn’t know how to read, although she did know that letters were used for writing and she couldn’t imagine that there wasn’t an infinite number of them and even less that there were so few of them. She had already heard many words, and it turned out that all of them could be made with that handful of tracings. That is why she looked at the blank sheet of paper in fascination, as if it were a magical place.

And the truth is that, if we really think about it, it will never cease seeming magical to us that letters, those few scratchings, those few sounds, are capable of doing so much. That they can give us so much happiness and do us so much harm. That they can threaten a person or make them fall in love, unite a people or divide them, declare a war or stop it. And that they even come together to form those sentences that only children are capable of, such as “I lived in a castle in my mother’s tummy.” or “Why do the clouds collide with the mountains every day?

Children still know that there is a link between letters, play and miracles. Which takes me back to an earlier afternoon when Beatriz, who then had not yet learned to write, was, however, doing so for a long time and with a profound sense of seriousness on another blank sheet of paper that she later showed Miguel, asking him:

- What have I written?

If my wish here today is to explain my intimate, passionate relationship to letters, I have to evoke a house, that of my own childhood, in which we read aloud. And then, without further ado, I must talk about my discovery of the stage, which appeared to me a no less magical place than that marked-up sheet of paper to little Raquel. No matter its size, the stage was also an infinite space. The world could fit on a stage. We all could fit on a stage.

That’s what I immediately understood when I went to the theatre for the first time, thanks to my secondary school’s Language and Literature teacher making us go. A poem about the mystery of time, which is life’s great mystery, Doña Rosita the Spinster, by Federico García Lorca, was the first play that this astonished boy attended. Then he went to others, without anyone making him do so. Among these, the one whose leading character maintains that all life is a dream, which the boy harkened to and the adult still heeds as if the actor who played the part were personally expressing it in his ear.

I remember with gratitude each one of the plays that I saw and heard in my adolescence and the emotion I felt when heading off to the theatres. I had found in them a place where I was respected – and there is nothing more attractive to a teenager than to feel respected. The greatest form of respect is to expect something good from the other, and I was heading to where they expected me to dare to listen, to think, to remember, to imagine.

Shortly after, I started writing for those places, theatres, and I think I’ve always done so bearing in mind that teenager who found in them a place of respect. I have always written, however, for people from whom I expect a lot: audiences who accompany me with their thoughts, their memories, their imagination.

You audiences are always beside me, from the first word I put down on the blank sheet of paper… even before the first word. What makes an author write for the theatre, what distinguishes such a singular form of writing, is the will to gather together. We authors gather together letters in the hope that one day some actors will gather around them and then open up their gathering to the town.

Of all the expressions in the beautiful jargon of the theatre, my favourite is “company”. A friend whose passion is the history of words told me that “company” originally denoted “those who share bread”. Those of us who write plays do so, of course, to share with others. To share a time, a space, a desire to examine life and, when there is one around, a loaf of bread.

For this reason, because theatre is company, there are so many others who today receive this award together with me and offer their thanks to those who have granted it to us. I collect this Award for Literature –for Letters– not only together with my wife, the mother of my children and owner of my names, but also with the actresses, directors, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, musicians, stagehands, make-up artists, producers, translators and so many other colleagues who, in complicity with you, have breathed life into my letters, my words, on a stage.

Right now, we find ourselves on a beautiful, venerable stage. How many characters must have trodden these boards before us?

Among them, Doña Rosita, who lived her whole life waiting. And that creature that would wake up sometimes in a palace treated like a prince and other times in a cave chained like a beast and eventually did not know how to separate wakefulness and sleep.

Neither does the character that I present to you today –for whom on this occasion I could not find another player willing to play him–, neither does he feel sure he is not dreaming. After being welcomed by such friendly people as one usually only finds in fairy tales, he now shares the stage with people admired and respected for their weighty endeavours. Joining in their company would already constitute –dreaming or not– a major award.

Perhaps I will remember all this as a dream when, tomorrow, I seek out letters on a blank sheet of paper; letters which, if I make an effort and am lucky, one night some actors will maybe want to pronounce before an audience on a stage on which the entire world might fit. And perhaps they, actors and audience, know better than me what I will have put down on the page.

Tomorrow I will seek out those letters. Today, in this beautiful theatre in beautiful Asturias, I will only say a few more. Just four words:

A heartfelt thank you.

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