Spain's 85-year-old Ana Maria Matute accepted the Spanish-speaking world's top literary honor on Wednesday, saying writing has kept her going though many difficult moments in life.
The author, acclaimed for her lyrical novels dealing with the lives of children and adolescents, received the 2010 Cervantes prize from King Juan Carlos at a nationally televised ceremony. She is only the third woman to win the award in its 35-year history.
Writing, she said, had been "the saving lighthouse during many of my storms."
Matute's novels focus with sadness on feelings as betrayal and isolation, frquently portraying the era of the bloody Spanish civil war from 1936-39. Among her most popular novels are "Los Abel" (The Abels), "Los Soldados Lloran de Noche" (Soldiers Cry By Night), and "La Trampa" (The Trap).
The ceremony took place in the central university town of Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of the early 17th-century novel "Don Quixote."
Matute began her acceptance speech with a special mention for Chilean poet and 2003 Cervantes winner Gonzalo Rojas, who died Monday.
Ranked as one of Spain's best post-Civil War writers, she is the third woman behind Spain's Maria Zambrano in 1988 and Cuba's Dulce Maria Loynaz in 1992 to win the award.
Matute said she has been writing since she first heard the phrase, 'Once upon a time' when she was five.
"Saint John said 'He who does not love is dead' and I dare to say, 'He who does not create is not alive,'" said the Barcelona-born writer, who read her speech from a wheelchair because of her frail health.
"Never during the long journey of my life, dashed it must be said by an abundance of tempests, did I imagine I would experience a day like this," said Matute, as she fought back tears. "And together with the immense joy that invades me, I have to confess that I would prefer to write three novels in a row and 25 short stories without stopping than to have to make this speech."
Matute has also been lauded for her children's books and young adult novels, including "Los Ninos Tontos" (The Stupid Children), and "El Verdadero Final de La Bella Durmiente" (The True Story of Sleeping Beauty).
A member of the Royal Spanish Language Academy, Matutes won Spain's National Literature Award for Children's and Young People's Literature in 1984 and Spain's National Literature Award in 2007.
The Cervantes is comparable to a Nobel Prize for Spanish literature. A euro125,000 ($183,000) cash stipend accompanies the award.
Mexican writer Jose Emilio Pacheco won the ward for 2009.