A talk at the 11th Annual Medellin Book and Culture Festival held in the Explorer Park Auditorium at the Medellin Botanical Garden featured Chilean novelist and poet Alejandro Zambra Monday evening, September 11.
In a talk titled “Brevity, that special touch in writing great stories,” Zambra was anything but. He was posed questions by El Espectador columnist Fernando Araújo. Additionally, Zambra fielded questions from the audience. Entertaining and irreverent Zambra answered at length, occasionally stopping in the middle of an answer to ask to be reminded of the question.
He talked about his formative years. Zambra didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. He first wanted to be a rock musician and then a soccer player. Like a normal person, he said. But the storytelling held sway. His grandmother, who survived the Chilean earthquake of 1939, never had a book in her hands, but told him vivid bedtime stories. The stories mirrored life, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, frequently both. Zambra said the stories always had bad endings because the end of everything, from his grandmother’s perspective was the earthquake, which destroyed the city of Chillán where she lived.
Zambra described the normally boring Chilean soccer games that became entertaining because of the announcers. Their livelier than life recounting doubled down on the storytelling by Zambra’s grandmother. When asked why he writes, Zambra responded, because he writes. It’s just what he does.
In recollecting the creative force behind Bonsai, his first novel, Zambra asked the audience what we thought about Bonsai trees. When people said they were beautiful, he simultaneously answered, they’re ugly, right? Then he proceeded to describe the distortions to the tree’s natural growth patterns that are forced upon it to get, what the majority of people perceive to be a thing of beauty. He talked about incongruities and dichotomies. For example, wanting to write a book called Bonsai set in Chile.
He talked about not getting in the way of his books and especially not doing them any harm in discussing them at events like the book fair gathering, which he was happy to attend, he added.
The Book Party
There’s always something going on in Medellin. Last week it was Pope Francis’ visit. This week it’s the 11th Annual Book and Culture Festival. Popularly known at the Book Party, the festival began September 10th and runs through September 17th. There are expositions by publishers and booksellers, and talks and presentations by authors (and other related artisans) all week long. Admission to all festival events is free to the public.
Check out the details and events schedule here: The Book Party.
Alejandro Zambra Biography
Born in Chile in 1975, Alejandro Zambra started as a poet. He studied and worked answering telephones, in libraries and as a mail carrier. He was recognized by the 2007 Hay Festival as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under 39 years of age. Among his works, which clearly reflect images of his own life, are the collection of poems Bahia Inutil, Mudanza y Facsimil, the novels Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees, and Ways of Going Home, and the stories My Documents and Fantasy. His books have been translated into more than 10 languages (including English) and have received awards such as the best novel of the year in the Critics’ Award of Chile in 2007 and the National Board of Books in 2007 and 2012, and the Altazor Award for best narrative work in 2011.