Mythical Novels Eighteenth-century Puerto Rican
In several articles about your work you emphasize that the changes in your country, your political and social reality, permeate your work. What event or moment of your life marked that route in writing.
He had been writing historical-mythical novels about the eighteenth-century Puerto Rican, a bit in the totalizing way of Boom novels. I realized that this writing had reached a dead end. It was in this way that I went to the chronicle as a kind of novel way to witness the changing times. It was a border genre between essay, reportage and narrative genres. It was then that I wrote The Tribulations of Jonah, a profile of Luis Muñoz Marín and a chronicle of his burial.
Given that his great-uncle was Ramón Juliá Marín and that his father was a history reader, what aspects of his childhood fueled his taste for writing and reading?
It was undoubtedly fed by my father’s Encyclopedia Britannica and family stories about that great-grandfather, a bohemian novelist who died prematurely at thirty-something. Recently I have given myself the task of rewriting some stories that Ramón left behind, just a few sketches, possibly for elaboration as novels. Anyway, he was a remarkable novelist who left us with two important chronicles of the so-called “change of sovereignty” in the early twentieth century. Those two novels are Inland and La gleba. My father was a great reader and helped me in the grades with the translation of Araby by James Joyce.
In the end they are narrative genres that require similar skills of description, narration, characterization. A good chronicle accurately characterizes the same characters as crowds, tells us what happened, describes the eloquent details. Like the storyteller and the novelist, we capture dramatic situations; in the case of the chronicler perhaps with less use of the suggestion. Perhaps because of the latter, the art of the chronicle is minor, and that of the story and the novel is greater.
I thought for years that I had moved from novelistic imagination to chronic observation. Today I think that my imagination has been transformed with the experience and testimony. The observation of the social is increasingly nuanced by a reluctance to explain or comment on everything, as happened in my first chronicles. That is, my chronicles are increasingly marked by that obliquity necessary in the story and the novel.
I started with a very baroque, dense writing. My career has been to achieve greater lightness in writing, without losing that aftertaste by the sensory phrase, the long and elegant clauses, the expressive surprises that I often accentuate with italics. In journalistic work I learned to be more economical with writing. In novels and stories I am even self-indulgent with expressiveness, both of the narrative voice and of the voices of what we call orality.
After so many years of experience in chronicle, what would be the basic toolbox for those who dedicate themselves to this journalistic genre?
I would say that narrative capacity, reflection to comment accurately on the meaning of the narrative, discipline for writing, that is, try not to overdo words, ability for description, knowing how to look for street events that are full of social and human meaning , knowing how to describe people through the art of semblance, the more cropped and to the point, the better, always avoiding the cartoon.
He once said that Puerto Rican literature was pessimistic, but that in the 70’s generation a group of authors, among which you were, were given the task of telling another face of their country from popular culture.
The seventies generation premiered a new way of approaching the problem of Puerto Rican identity. We inaugurated a certain way that included humor, irony, subtracting so much seriousness from the approach of our oscillating identity between the North and Latin America. We wrote about the suburban world, we were more attentive to our Caribbean, we wanted to witness the times of transformation. In this group, excellent writers stand out, such as Rosario Ferré, Magali García Ramis and Ana Lydia Vega.
The immigration issue has been present in his work and is one of the aspects that strongly hit Latin American reality. What advice do you give to address these realities?
I have written about the migratory experience. In the mid-eighties I tried to write a chronicle about the Puerto Rican community of New York through its Puerto Rican Parade. I realized that I couldn’t write it, that I was a tourist in a huge, heartbreaking experience. He had barely been to New York, busy with visits and interviews. I wrote a chronicle for The Village Voice that ended up being a kind of metaphor. I could not write what I wanted. My advice is maximum rapport and empathy with some migratory community. I still have the notes of this failed chronicle. To write well you have to know the subject, and thoroughly. The other is the claim of Catholic priests to want to pontificate about marriage.
Sometimes I think I’m in the last cartridges. But no, I don’t believe. Right now I am dedicated to turning my chronicle-memorial-essay, which I titled Puerto Ricans, into a hotbed of stories. I work the perfect anecdotes of that book, I turn them into stories. There are the voices and poses of the characters; The dramatic situations are missing, to clarify the dialogues, the descriptions. I will be busy for as long as I stay on the planet, do not hesitate.