You could say that the Magón National Prize for Culture is kind of like the Pulitzer of Costa Rica. It’s a national honor given to an exceptional artist or intellectual, and it celebrates an entire lifetime of cultural contributions. Described by the Culture Ministry as “the highest recognition awarded by the nation of Costa Rica,” this year’s Magón Prize went to 70-year-old poet Julieta Dobles Yzaguirre.
Dobles Yzaguirre has lived a varied life. A native of San José, she studied philology and linguistics at the University of Costa Rica, where she also taught biology for four years. She earned a master’s degree in American literature from State University of New York and has taught at the high school and university levels. Dobles Yzaguirre has somehow found time to raise five children and tend to five grandchildren.
Her greatest passion, though, is poetry. Dobles Yzaguirre is the author of several books, including “Costa Rica Day by Day,” her erotic cycle “Furtive Leaves,” and the road poem, “A Journey Too Blue.” She is currently working on a new manuscript, “Traps of Time,” which will collect verse from the past five years.
“My main source of inspiration is life,” Dobles Yzaguirre said Monday morning at the award ceremony, which was held at the Culture Ministry headquarters in San José. “My poetry is the poetry of experience. I do not write anything that has not been lived.”
So it seems that Dobles Yzaguirre has lived well: The Magón Prize jury stated that “none of the best poets of her generation have shown so much love for our nature, our reality, our landscape or the psychological truth of our country.”
The Magón Prize is named for Manuel González Zeledón, a renowned turn-of-the-century writer, ambassador to the United States, and founder of the newspaper El País. Known by his pen name “Magón,” Zeledón was famous for promoting letters and culture in Costa Rica. Zeledón passed away in 1936, and the prize was founded in 1962. It has been awarded annually ever since.
Dobles Yzaguirre wasn’t the only honoree last Monday. The Culture Ministry also gave the prestigious Traditional Popular Culture Prize to Evangelista Blanco Brenes, a master gardener and hedge sculptor. Blanco’s 100 elaborate living sculptures in Zarcero Park (known as “the figures”) are routinely featured in guidebooks and have become iconic Costa Rican artwork. At 75, Blanco still arrives at the gardens at 4:30 a.m. to transform shrubbery into statues.
“It is important to match the award for Popular Culture and the Magón Prize,” said Culture Minister Manuel Obregón at the joint ceremony. “Here are two people who have dedicated their lives to Costa Rica, and in both cases, there is consistency and a message.”
In related news, next Friday is National Costa Rican Poetry Day, celebrating the birthday of famed poet Jorge Debravo.