ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of Mexico's greatest writers has died: Carlos Fuentes. He was 83. Fuentes was a central figure in the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and '70s. And he was publishing fiction and essays until the end, including an essay published today in the Mexican newspaper Reforma. Our own book critic Alan Cheuse knew Fuentes and reviewed many of his novels. Hi, Alan.
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And first, give us a sense of the broad sweep of Carlos Fuentes' career, and what made his work so important?
CHEUSE: He was a master of intertwining local themes - local as in Aztec myth and history, the tumultuous history of the formation of the Mexican nation - and international themes - international politics and the kind of international humane efforts that people work with in politics today.
SIEGEL: You worked with him in the late 1980s at George Mason University...
SIEGEL: ...a period of great upheaval and conflict in Latin America, and that figured in his writing. He mixed politics with his work.
CHEUSE: Yes. He arrived - I arrived the same month he did, and he gave a 10-week lecture series on the smoke and mirrors of Mexican history and culture. And I introduced him at his first reading there. Let's say we had a few cups of a certain liquid long before the reading was supposed to begin. And we got to the top of the steps at this amphitheater, and he tripped and tumbled head over heels all the way down this long flight of stairs, picked himself up like an acrobat and turned to the audience and said: Behold, I am here.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIEGEL: Carlos Fuentes was a very international character. He was the child of a diplomat. I believe he was born in Panama, spent much of his childhood...
SIEGEL: ...in Washington, where his father was at the embassy. English, I gather, was pristine.
CHEUSE: He spoke in not just in sentences but in paragraphs.
SIEGEL: He was, obviously, very much a man of the world.
CHEUSE: He was a man of the world, but he was a writer of the world too: big, bold, intelligent themes, inventive. He had a mind that worked twice as fast as most other people's minds. And the work showed all of that. And the man was very, very similar to the work.
SIEGEL: Of course, he was one of those writers like Graham Greene and I suppose Philip Roth who's always being mentioned as a possible Nobel laureate for literature but never won it.
CHEUSE: I don't know about the politics of why he never got the Nobel, but he's now on that long list of great writers who didn't get it.
SIEGEL: He kept writing, never stopped. And in fact, I gather, he has a novella coming out later this year.
CHEUSE: Yes, in July. It's called "Vlad," and it's about a vampire loose in Mexico City. And then he has a novel coming out in the fall called "Adam in Eden." So he was working, I guess, right up to the very end.
SIEGEL: Whom did he influence? When you think of people who owe some aspect of their writing to Carlos Fuentes, where would you go look?
CHEUSE: Well, the American writers I know weren't influenced by him line by line or even paragraph by paragraph because of the language difference, but I think he showed us just how big and inventive and bold and daring a writer could be, taking imaginative themes and tying them to everyday life of ordinary people.
SIEGEL: And when we speak of a boom, talk about being international and...
SIEGEL: ...mixing Spanish and English, that's what it was called. The movement was...
CHEUSE: El Boom.
SIEGEL: El Boom.
CHEUSE: Yeah. And he was one of the big sounds in El Boom.
SIEGEL: When Latin American literature really came center stage.
CHEUSE: It came center stage. It replaced the world of Camus and Sartre and Thomas Mann. It became international. At the same time, it was also American because it was close to our shores.
SIEGEL: Alan, thanks for talking with us.
SIEGEL: Carlos Fuentes - that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED's book critic Alan Cheuse. We were talking about the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, who died today in Mexico City. He was 83. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.