Today, Tuesday, May 15, Carlos Fuentes, the greatest Mexican writer of the past century, died. We had spoken just over a year ago in a double interview on Bookworm. Carlos had flown to Los Angeles to participate in KCRW’s fund drive. He was not only a magnificent writer, but also a great supporter of the importance of public radio, and he made KCRW and Bookworm a sort of personal crusade. He visited every time he traveled to Los Angeles. He spoke with us about literacy, politics, literature, drug culture, sexuality. He was passionate, a public intellectual, a tireless crusader for the ability of literature to speak to our times, the ability of literature to speak for all time, to describe and alter the world through acts of impassioned imagination.
We frequently spoke together in public: in libraries, in bookstores and at town meetings. We convened in Santa Fe the day after 9/11. He had the ability to requisition a plane and cross the border on that infamous day. I traveled by night train from Los Angeles to New Mexico. With the help of Lannan Foundation, we created a public event, an act of mourning, the day after the terrible attack. The next night Carlos read in the Lensic Theater in downtown Santa Fe. His commitment to acts of public healing was generous and life-long. He was like his great hero, the hero of Spanish literature, Don Quixote. Although Fuentes was wise in and critical of the ways of politics, diplomacy and the manipulations of global economies, he never forsook his first literary mentor: the great, sometimes foolish Quixote. Quixote, who knew that the illusion of beauty and nobility will always defeat the deluded crassness of a degraded culture. Fuentes, who knew that the imagination and its cousin literature will always triumph over the loss of ideals.