Spanish novelist Ana Maria Matute was Wednesday awarded the Cervantes Prize, only the third woman to win the leading literary award for works in Spanish since it was first granted in 1976.
"I am happy, enormously happy," the 85-year-old told a news conference in Barcelona after the culture ministry announced she had won the award, which carries a €125,000- ($169,000) prize.
"I take it as a recognition, if not of the quality of my work, then at least of the effort and dedication that I have devoted to writing throughout my life."
Matute’s works, including "The Lost Children" and "Soldiers Cry by Night," have been translated into 23 languages. Many are aimed at children and young adults.
They deal with themes such as childhood and the loss of innocence, social injustice and the hardships in the aftermath of Spain’s 1936-39 Civil War.
"She deserved winning this award a long time ago, but it is better late than never," Peruvian-born Mario Vargas Llosa, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, told Spanish public radio from New York.
"I am certain that many readers around the world are going to be pleased with this news, as I am," added Llosa, who won the Cervantes Prize in 1994.
Spain’s King Juan Carlos presents the award each year on April 23 in Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of "Don Quixote" and Spain’s greatest literary figure.
It is traditionally granted to Spanish and Latin American authors in alternating years. Last year’s winner was Mexican poet Jose Emilio Pacheco.
Other past winners include Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico and Spain’s Juan Marse.
The only two other women to have won the award were Spain’s Maria Zambrano in 1988 and Cuba’s Dulce Maria Loynaz in 1992.