|Me and Dayana among the stacks of Venezuelan books|
As 2013 draws to a close, I'm trying to see how much of the year that I missed blogging I can catch up on. Here's one I made much much earlier...
While in the States for the LASA conference back in June, I decided to make the most of the super-cheap Megabus and catch up with some of the Venezuelan ex-pat writer community currently residing in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the Megabus is cheap for a reason, and an unexpected change of schedule left me with only 24 hours in the Steel City, but I made the most of every minute!
I was extremely excited to finally meet Dayana Fraile and Guillermo Parra, tireless promoters of Venezuelan literature abroad. As well as a fellow student of Venezuelan literature, Dayana is the author of a wonderful collection of short stories called Granizo. Guillermo frequently translates Venezuelan poems, short stories and essays, and posts them on his blog, Venepoetics. His Selected Works of José Antonio Ramos Sucre is also one of only two translations of Venezuelan work published in the USA since 2008.
They kindly took me to the University of Pittsburgh, which I'd wanted to visit for years, since I'd discovered it was home to a building called the Cathedral of Learning. Anywhere where education is the religion is my kind of place! The 'Cathedral' is built in the late Gothic style, and home to a collection of 'national' classrooms, each decorated in the style of that country (the English one was built with timbre left over from rebuilding London churches after the Blitz). I was pleased to learn that the University library is home to an enormous collection of Venezuelan literature, and desperately wanted to stay there and read - although even with a whole of nothing but reading there, I still wouldn't scratch the surface.
In the afternoon, Guillermo took me to meet Israel Centeno, one of the most successful and prolific Venezuelan authors of his generation. We first came into contact after I translated an interview with him for my Venezuelan Literature site, as he was keen to discuss the London that had once been home to him in the 80s. As a writer in residence, for City of Asylum, Centeno lives on the spectacularly colourful Sampsonia Way. Part of City of Asylum's project is to reinvigorate this part of North Pittsburgh, turning the houses into works of art, narratives and historical documents, which makes it a fascinating place to visit (read more about these 'House Publications' here).
As well as admiring Israel's house, it was an incredible opportunity to talk to him about his work and opinions about contemporary Venezuela. It was also fascinating to hear about the London he knew - Brixton at the time of the riots, filled with squatters and sexual liberation - so different from the city I grew up in. That London is the setting for his novel Bajo las hojas, a complex and challenging story about writing as the ultimate form of power and control.
"Do they still have orgies in the graveyards?"
Thinking I'd have some time to kill between meeting Israel and my midnight bus, before leaving for the States I'd searched for live music in Pittsburgh that evening, stumbled upon Motive and very quickly become addicted to their It's Illicit LP. They have been called The Strokes 2.0, and the influence is obvious, but they do it very well. Dayana kindly volunteered to come with me, and although we sadly among a very limited number of music fans in the Smiling Moose that evening (most people were downstairs watching the Penguins lose), Motive rocked hard and made us dance like crazy people.
You can buy new singles Mammals and Burn Down Brooklyn for $1 each, or name your price for the It's Illict EP at motivemusic.bandcamp.com.