Kirmen Uribe

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Kirmen Uribe
Kirmen Uribe at Ledig House (New York, 2015)
Kirmen Uribe at Ledig House (New York, 2015)
Born (1970-10-05) October 5, 1970 (age 48)
Ondarroa, Basque Country, Spain

Kirmen Uribe (pronounced [ˈkiɾmen uˈɾibe]; born October 5, 1970) is a Basque language writer, and one of the most relevant writers of his generation in Spain. He won the National Prize for Literature in Spain in 2009 for his first novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao, a work that was acclaimed as a literary event. The languages into which the novel has been translated already exceed fifteen, including French (Gallimard) and Japanese (Hakusui Sha). His poetry collection Meanwhile Take My Hand (Graywolf, 2007), translated into English by Elizabeth Macklin, was a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. His works have been published on several American publications such as The New Yorker, Open City or Little Star.

Early life[edit]

Kirmen Uribe was born in Ondarroa (Basque Country), a small fishing town about one hour from Bilbao. Uribe's father (who died in 1999) was a trawlerman and his mother was a homemaker. He studied Basque Philology at the University of the Basque Country–Gasteiz, and did his graduate studies in Comparative Literature in Trento, Italy. He won his first literary prize in 1995 while he was in jail for being conscientious objector and refusing to go to compulsory military service.


Poetry and multimedia[edit]

The critic Jon Kortazar has said that the appearance of Kirmen Uribe's poetry collection Bitartean heldu eskutik (Meanwhile Take My Hand), published by Susa in 2001, was a "peaceful revolution" in the world of Basque literature. It received the Critics Prize for poetry written in Basque, and its first edition sold out within a month. The book has since been translated into Spanish (Visor, 2003), French (Castor Astral, 2006), English (Graywolf, 2007), Catalan (Proa, 2010) and Russian (Издательство Герника, 2010). The U.S.-born writer Elizabeth Macklin translated it into English directly from Basque, and this would be the first time a book translated directly from Basque was published by a commercial press in the United States of America. Meanwhile Take My Hand was a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, which recognizes the best book of poetry in translation published in the United States in the previous year.[citation needed]

Uribe has taken part in a number of onstage performances combining literature with other arts. In 2000, with musician Mikel Urdangarin and filmmaker Josu Eizagirre, he began work on Bar Puerto, which united poetry, music, video and oral history onstage, to recount the life experiences of the residents of an old neighborhood that was torn down to build a highway in Uribe's home town. In the fall of 2003, in collaboration with musicians Urdangarin, Bingen Mendizabal and Rafa Rueda and artist Mikel Valverde, Uribe published the CD-book Zaharregia, txikiegia agian ("too old, too small, maybe"; published by Gaztelupeko Hotsak), which was the outcome of a half dozen readings-with-music the group had done in New York earlier that year; the question in its title refers to the Basque language, whether our language might not be too old and too small for our globalized times.[citation needed]

Bilbao-New York-Bilbao[edit]

In 2008 Uribe published his first novel, Bilbao–New York–Bilbao (Elkar). The book sparked great curiosity. It received the Critics' Prize and the Spanish Literature Prize for Narrative. In early 2010 it was brought out simultaneously in Spanish (Seix-Barral), Galician (Xerais) and Catalan (Edicions 62). The novel Bilbao–New York–Bilbao is set on a hypothetical flight that its narrator, one Kirmen Uribe, takes from Bilbao's Loiu Airport to New York's J.F.K. On the flight the writer contemplates his supposed novel-in-progress, which is about three generations of a family, his own, whose life is bound up with the sea. Bilbao–New York–Bilbao is a novel with no conventional plot to speak of. Its structure is that of a net, and the knots of the net are the stories of the three generations as they intersect with crosswise stories and reflections on the twentieth century as it was experienced in the Basque Country. Ollie Brock wrote about the novel in The Times Literary Supplement in August 2011: "Uribe has succeeded in realizing what is surely an ambition for many writers: a book that combines family, romances and literature, anchored deeply in a spoken culture but also in bookishness —and all without a single note of self-congratulation".


His second novel, Mussche (Susa, 2013), translated into Spanish as Lo que mueve el mundo (Seix Barral) is a docu-fictional novel that tells the story of one the thousands of Basque children who left the port of Bilbao way to exile in May 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, after the bombing of Guernica. Carmen, a girl of eight years, was hosted in the home of a poet and translator (Robert Mussche) in Ghent, Belgium. The writer’s life changes with the arrival of the child and, gradually, the events lead to an unexpected ending. “A thrilling novel from the first line to the last. The vicissitudes of the young Belgian writer related to Basque war children, is a narrative tense, exemplary in its structure and that oozes authenticity” reviewed César Coca (El Correo). The novel shows the cruelty and absurdity of war to some extent, and it is recognized as a great work on the subject of anti-war. The Japanese translation, by Kaneko Nami, was awarded as the best translation of 2015 in Japan.

The Hour of Waking Together[edit]

His last novel, Elkarrekin esnatzeko ordua (Susa, 2016), continues in the recovery of forgotten lives to make fiction. Tells the life of Karmele Urresti, a Basque nurse who exiles to Paris in 1937, where she becomes involved with the Basque Cultural Embassy. It is there she meets her future husband, the musician Txomin Letamendi. Together they travel Europe, but when they know that Paris has fallen to the Germans, they flee to Venezuela. In Venezuela History gets again in their lives. Txomin decides to join the Basque secret services (under the command of the American intelligence, the OSS and FBI) and so the family goes back to Europe, just in the middle of World War II. He spies the Nazis until he gets arrested in Barcelona, under a dictatorship he won’t survive. Karmele will have to risk everything and part, again and alone, to Venezuela. JA Masoliver Ródenas wrote in La Vanguardia about the novel: «The direct and precise prose of Kirmen Uribe doesn’t have to fool us: it’s fruit of accuracy, not simplicity. His background is that of a cosmopolitan and sophisticated writer. (…) A writer of great and real talent.» The novel was simultaneously published in Basque (Susa), Spanish (Seix Barral) and Catalan (Edicions 62) and won 2016 Spanish Critic’s Award (Narrative in Basque) and 2016 Basque Readers Academy Award (Best Book of 2016).

On the international scene[edit]

He has participated in a number of international literary festivals including: New York’s PEN World Voices Festival, the Berlin International Poetry Festival, Tai Pei International Poetry Festival and Medellin International Poetry Festival. He has given lectures and led seminars at Stanford, Brown, New York University, University of Chicago, Ohio State, California Institute of the Arts, University of California-San Diego and the University of Foreign Studies of Tokyo, among others.

His poems have appeared in renowned periodicals and international anthologies. In May 2003 The New Yorker magazine published his poem "May." Since then his work has appeared in other U.S. journals as well. In 2006, the Berlin online magazine Lyrikline published a selection of ten of his poems in German translation; it was the first time that journal of international poetry had ever published work by a Basque writer. In 2008, the American literary critics Kevin Prufer and Wayne Millar included three of Uribe's poems in their New European Poets anthology. The Harvard Book Review has said of him, "Uribe's voice speaks across cultures…. His poems may be rooted [in the Basque Country], but they bloom outwards."[citation needed]

In 2017 he was selected for the International Writers Program (IWP) in Iowa City.



  • Bitartean heldu eskutik (2001), Meanwhile Take My Hand (English edition, 2007).
  • Zaharregia, txikiegia agian (Too old, Too Small Maybe, collaboration; 2003)
  • Bar Puerto (multimedia project; 2010)


  • Bilbao-New York-Bilbao (2008)
  • Mussche (2012)
  • Elkarrekin esnatzeko ordua (2016)

Children's books[edit]

  • Garmendia eta zaldun beltza. 2003, Elkar.
  • Ekidazu, lehoiek ez dakite biolina jotzen. 2003, Elkar.
  • Ez naiz ilehoria, eta zer?. Elkar.
  • Garmendia errege. Elkar.
  • Garmendia eta Fannyren sekretua. Elkar.


  • Lizardi eta erotismoa. 1996, Alberdania.


  • Portukoplak (2006, Elkar)
  • Contributor to Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (2018, University of Georgia Press)


  • Spanish Critics Award (Poetry in Basque) 2002 for Meanwhile take my hand.
  • Spanish National Book Award (Narrative) 2009 for his novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao.
  • Spanish Critics Award (Narrative in Basque) 2009 for his novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao.
  • "El Correo-Vocento" 2010 Journalism Award for the best article in the Spanish Press.
  • Spanish Critics Award (Narrative in Basque) 2017 for his novel Elkarrekin esnatzeko ordua (La hora de despertarnos juntos).


External links[edit]