Carmen Balcells

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Carmen Balcells

Carmen Balcells Segala (9 August 1930 – 20 September 2015) was a literary agent of Spanish-language authors from Spain and Latin America, including six Nobel Prize–winning authors. She led her agency from 1956 to 2000, during which time she was one of the driving forces behind the 1960s boom of Latin American literature. After her retirement she was awarded with an honorary doctorate, besides other awards, but returned to the agency in 2008. Authors who have published with Balcells have dedicated novels to her and included her as characters in her work; she is praised as "one of the most powerful and influential women in Spanish letters."[1] She died at the age of 85 in Barcelona on 20 September 2015.[2] At her death Mario Vargas Llosa said: "Carmen queridísima, hasta pronto" ("Carmen dearest, see you soon").[3]


In 1955 the Spanish poet Jaume Ferran put her in contact with leading writers of the 1950s, such as the Ferrater brothers, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Carlos Barral, Juan Goytisolo, and Josep Maria Castellet. She then began working as a correspondent in Barcelona and doing part-time work at the ACER literary agency, owned by the Romanian writer Vintilă Horia. Later Horia moved to Paris, which led her to found the Carmen Balcells Literary Agency in 1956.[4] The agency started with the management of translation rights to foreign authors.[5] Later, the first local author she represented was Luis Goytisolo. This was followed by a long list of prominent authors such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar, Clarice Lispector, Nélida Piñon, Miguel Delibes, Alvaro Mutis,[6] Camilo José Cela, Vicente Aleixandre, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Jose Luis Sampedro, Terenci Moix, Juan Carlos Onetti, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Carlos Barral, Josep Maria Castellet, Juan Goytisolo, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Juan Marsé, Eduardo Mendoza, Isabel Allende, Rosa Montero, Gustavo Martin Garzo, Nélida Pinõn.

Some authors, such as García Márquez, Marsé, Onetti, Tosar and Dourado, have dedicated novels to her; others, such as Max Aub, Vázquez Montalbán, Donoso and Barral have included her as a character in their work.[7]

Balcells considered her great accomplishment to be revising the contracts between authors and publishers to be more fair to authors. She established time limits on contracts and reserved the rights of translations for the authors.[8][9]

One day, by phone, García Márquez asked, "Do you love me, Carmen?" She replied, "I can not answer, you are one third of my revenue."[10]

With almost forty years of work under her belt, Balcells announced in May 2000 that she was retiring as a literary agent. She had received the Gold Medal of Fine Arts and was invested with an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB).[11] Her literary agency became headed by Gloria Gutierrez. However, in 2008 she returned again to take charge of the agency since it lost important writers such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Roberto Bolaño, who left to be with the agency of Andrew Wylie, known in the publishing industry as "el Chacal"; also the loss of authors such as Luisge Martin and Daniel Vázquez Salles.[12]

In 2010 the Spanish Ministry of Culture bought approximately fifty years of her personal archives for three million euros.[13]

In May 2014 Balcells announced she will join with Andrew Wylie to become the Balcells-Wylie agency.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Eldest of four children, she was born on 9 August 1930 into a family of small landowners in Santa Fe de Segarra, Les Oluges, Lleida, Catalonia, Spain, a small town of only fifty people. She attended primary school in her hometown. In 1946 she moved with her family to Barcelona, where she did various jobs not related to literature.

In 1961 she married Luis Palomares, with whom three years later she had her only son, Luis Miguel Palomares Balcells, who is, since 2016, the owner and director of the agency.[15]

Awards and recognition[edit]

As the most famous literary agent in the world of Spanish letters[16] she has received numerous awards, among them the following:

  • 1997 – Medal of Honor in Barcelona.
  • 2000 – Medal for Artistic Merit, awarded by the City Council of Barcelona.[17]
  • 2005 – Doctor Honoris Causa from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.[18]
  • 2006 – the Cross of Saint George.[19]
  • 2006 – Montblanc Award for Women.[20]

She was on the Advisory Council of the Prince of Girona Foundation.[21]


  1. ^ Ayén 2006
  2. ^ Associated Press 2015
  3. ^ El Pais 2015
  4. ^ Ayén 2006
  5. ^ Vargas Llosa 2000
  6. ^ Goldman 2001
  7. ^ UAB 2005
  8. ^ Vargas Llosa 2000
  9. ^ Lucas 2008
  10. ^ Ayén 2006
  11. ^ Prince of Girona Foundation
  12. ^ Constenla 2011
  13. ^ Hax 2010
  14. ^ Donadio
  15. ^ Ayén 2006
  16. ^ Ayén 2006
  17. ^ El Pais 2000
  18. ^ UAB 2005
  19. ^ Prince of Girona Foundation
  20. ^ Prince of Girona Foundation
  21. ^ Prince of Girona Foundation


  • "Famed Spanish Literary Agent Carmen Balcells Dead at 85". Associated Press / ABC News. 21 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  • Ayén, Xavi (29 July 2006). "Balcells, la dueña del boom". Archived from the original on 10 November 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2012. In Spanish.
  • Constenla, Tereixa (17 November 2011). "Los secretos de la Mamá Grande". El Pais. Retrieved 27 February 2012. In Spanish.
  • "Carmen Balcells recibirá la medalla al mérito artístico". El Pais. 12 October 2000. Retrieved 3 March 2012. In Spanish.
  • "Muere Carmen Balcells, la gran agente literaria en español". El Pais. 21 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015. In Spanish.
  • Goldman, Francisco (2001). "Alvaro Mutis". Bomb Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  • Hax, Andres (23 November 2011). "Inside the Archive of Literary Agent Carmen 'Mama Grande' Balcells". Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  • Lucas, Antonio (10 June 2008). "Carmen Balcells: 'He pensado vender la agencia, ¿pero a quién?'". Retrieved 27 February 2012. In Spanish.
  • "Mrs. Carmen Balcells Segala". Prince of Girona Foundation. Retrieved 1 March 2012.[permanent dead link]
  • "UAB Doctorate". UAB. 20 December 2005. Archived from the original on 15 February 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  • Vargas Llosa, Mario (20 August 2000). "El jubileo de Carmen Balcells". El Pais. Retrieved 3 March 2012. In Spanish.
  • Donadio, Rachel (19 June 2014). "After Years of Solitude, Spanish Literary Champion Takes Partner". NY Times. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  • Donadio, Rachel (5 October 2015). "A Literary Agency's Future Is Uncertain After Its Founder's Death". NY Times. Retrieved 5 October 2015.

Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells