Harvard recognized Llosa—who served as a visiting professor of Latin American studies during the 1992-1993 academic year—by conferring upon him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at Commencement in 1999 (with photo). As it happens, Llosa is visiting at Princeton this year.
In introducing Llosa then, the provost said:
We now recognize a novelist of international renown, who has been called “the national conscience of his native Peru.”
Literature, he has said, is “fire”—“a form of permanent insurrection.”
And so it is that his own works, in incandescent prose, challenge established structures of authority, while exploring the chasm between archaic and modern, and the complex ambiguity of human experience.
His twelve novels, honored across more than four decades, draw on his own varied and eventful life.
He attended military academy as a young man, and later studied literature in Lima and Madrid.
His professional pursuits, besides that of novelist, have included journalist, broadcaster, essayist, critic, playwright, film director, professor, and advocate of free expression.
In 1990, as leader of the reformist Liberty Movement party, he finished second in a vigorous campaign for the presidency of Peru—what he called “the most dangerous job in the world.”
Two years later, Harvard welcomed him as the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies.
His fiction plumbs the turbulent experience of the nation he has called “the country of a thousand faces,” probing the collision of cultures in his homeland — with stories that aim, in his phrase, to “open [the] heart more forcefully than fear or love.”
The mission of literature, he tells us, is “to arouse, to disturb, to alarm, to keep [us] in a constant state of dissatisfaction with [ourselves].”
We honor a novelist who keeps us from complacency, Mario Vargas Llosa.
The honorary-degree citation read:
Stirring storyteller and impassioned defender of democratic ideals, he fuels his imagination on the perplexity of reality,
in quest of contradictory truths.