I am amazed at the response of the cultural class witnessing the bad situation in the country
Antonio López Ortega
Where are you, as a writer, before the current situation in Venezuela?
Just a few days ago, I talked to someone, and I wondered if young writers are being responsible with the moment they are living and their calling; I said yes, they are. Unlike other professionals falling short of the country demands.
This concerns to artists, musicians; I think the answer to your question is that cultural creators are working very well. I mean when we read about the country 40 years in the future, and people wonder what happened to Venezuela in 2017 in literature? You will find a significant number of books and writers who set the norm, as there was in the ’70s and ’80s, because we have kept pace. I would say about writers, we are living a frenzied creation period. There are gifted storytellers and excellent poets. Writers are also publishers because they find nobody who would do it. However, publishing is not easy, so they are looking for alternatives: digital or handcraft runs.
The other day, the bookstore “Lugar Común” in Caracas did an self published exhibit with those writers who are publishing their books. It looked like a museum exhibit. You can see that despite the difficult circumstances, passion is not lost.
But, what is going wrong in cultural management?
The government apparatus is not working, even worse, it is against, or does nothing, or what it does is useless because it is not trying to meet cultural goals.
Such is the case of FILVEN (International Book Fair), its contents always are influenced and politicized. Young people can’t find freedom or diversity because universal literature is not in these spaces.
I am amazed at the response of the cultural class regarding the bad situation in the country, especially about quality creations, whether plastic arts, narration, poetry, dance or music; that’s crucial.
So in light of the creator personal commitment, could we say that in the face of adversity, there is a bigger creation capacity?
Indeed! Your answer is somehow “This is not going to bend me. If I don’t have how to publish, I will find how to do it; if I don’t have promotion, I will find promotion” and results are evident. There is a significant number of alternative labels, most of them created by writers.
Although we have to come back to the bound books, we are not going to stop defending the content and the object. For some reason, we are moving to the web, thanks to the lack of publishing opportunities.
That’s right. We have blogs, cultural and literary magazines. There is richness on the web.
Then, are you more in the cultural promotion and compilation of the work of other authors? That requires experience. Do you feel more like a promoter than a writer right now?
While working as a writer, because I keep writing and have new books and projects, I have been interested in working the literary memory. There is a huge outrage when you don’t publish certain authors, the classic ones. You create loopholes that distort and build a false country memory.
“El Nuevo País de las Letras” (The New Country of Literature) is a book that presents a retrospective view of young writers. I think that it works as a reference now, but in 30 years, we will look back, and we will be able to compare the before and after of those writers.
The other work that must be done is to rebuild the literary memory of the country, and this is not an easy task.
FUNDAVAG has just compiled the complete short stories of Salvador Garmendia in three volumes. It was an extraordinary effort. However, it’s hard to find a novel of Salvador Garmendia published nowadays, or a work of Rómulo Gallegos, Adriano González León, forget about trying to read José Rafael Pocaterra or Blanco Fombona, who publishes them?
I mean, any other culture would do it, that’s memory management.
Venezuela had big libraries, publishers such as Monte Ávila that had the basic Venezuelan library with the classic works of Ramos Sucre, Pocaterra, but also the newest ones, but none is publishing them now. So, it is difficult to read them.
These new and young publishers and authors are working on rescuing poets. There are recent editions of Miyó Vestrini, Hanni Ossott, and Ida Gramcko. Pre-Texts and I in Spain have been organizing the complete work of Alejandro Oliveros, Yolanda Pantin, Igor Barreto,
and now we are finishing the work of two colleagues Gina Saraceni and Miguel Gómez, an anthology of Venezuelan Poetry in the 20th century. Three years ago, we did a compilation of Venezuelan short stories. The idea is to make a significant effort to consolidate our memory.
The official status plays at oblivion and distortion. These are efforts that go in an opposite way; they pursue to rebuild the Venezuelan cultural memory.
Could it be that Venezuelans need a Rosetta stone?
I do what I can according to my possibilities, but it is nice to know there are a lot of people working and supporting this.
For a literary creator, is it possible to tell Venezuelan situation in real time?
In general, the literary process is slow. Poets have the best response capacity in times of turmoil, but storytellers need to take distance from reality to turn it into valuable pieces. The point is not to create a historical document but fiction. There is impressive work, as Méndez Guédez and “Los Maletines” (The Briefcases), Alberto Barrera and his novel “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death), or Rodrigo Blanco who writes about the city of the blackouts. We could say there are more, but they will come slowly.
Maybe, the evils we see right now are not captured immediately, but they will be in a few years. In this respect, narrative captures reality taking references and transforming them into literary materials, this tends to take longer.
Maybe, our unconscious mind has to keep working on us?
See, there is a position that wonders where our great novel about oil is? We could think that someone can write a novel about oil, as Canaima is a novel about the jungle. I mean, why Colombia has a novelistic work about coffee, and you can identify its authors or Chile about copper, but Venezuela doesn’t have a novelistic work about oil. We could say we are indebted.
What is the reason for this?
There are different possible answers. In general, Venezuelan intellectuals have never gotten along with the oil issue. They understand oil as a calamity, so they address it as a doom and disgrace. I think this is a superficial glance that hurts us. I wonder how after one hundred years we continue turning our back to the most significant economic factor and why we can’t see the reality of oil. Maracaibo was the Mecca of oil in the 20th century, in science and engineering, as well as in social life: sailors and adventurous women who came to work on bars. I think this is a context not for one novel, but for many of them. Here is an outstanding debt.
Are we an elusive society that doesn’t want to learn and accept its reality?
We have lived history in recent years in a superfluous way, and that has damaged us as a society. Of course, thinkers have tried to go deeper, as López Pedraza said about the “Cheverismo” and that everything goes “chévere” (cool). He said once that collective psyche grows up, and becomes stronger as it suffers. Still, Venezuela’s situation can’t be justified, but I wonder if it is the fix of pain that we needed to become something new. Awakening from this nightmare with a minimum return: see the world and ourselves in a different way.
Regarding division, a country inside and a country outside, that is one of the most painful consequences of a dictatorship, how to build a bridge to unite our society?
There are some typologies in this situation:
1. Those that migrate and don’t want to know anything else about their country. It’s very hard to leave a world and begin in a new one, so to feel they made the right decision, they wish the worst for their homeland. It is hard to believe but happens.
2. Those that migrate but their heart and interests are always related to support and keep in touch with their homeland. The country is part of their souls.
3. Those that migrate and have a good relationship with the country, but they prefer not to live its reality or talk about the topic. It’s a mid-way position.
4. Those that stay and judge as traitors the ones that migrate. And finally, you can find the most healthy position, those that say “You are outside, I am inside, but we all are Venezuela.”
I think we have not reached the break point as many other countries in similar situations. The issue of reconciliation won’t be traumatic. There will always be extremists on both sides, but they are going to be very few. Venezuela is living now what other Latin American countries lived in the 20th century: migrations for political reasons, after being a country that was opened to a significant number of immigrants from European fascism and dictatorships in the South.
Support for the FILCAR
The effort and presentation of the book: “Nuevo país de las letras” (New country of literature) by Antonio Lopez Ortega, an anthology of 34 Venezuelan writers who were born after 1980, has been very successful.
Lopez Ortega works as a cultural manager but also represents the International Caribbean Book Fair (known in Spanish as FILCAR) He explained the difficulties experienced by Margarita Island to develop this reading event every year, which is so important because of its socio-cultural impact.
Margarita Island (Venezuela) celebrates every year the International Caribbean Book Fair. This is the most significant cultural event in the Island. FILCAR is the only event to offer free admission to conferences and workshops related to books, writing, reading, edition and design. It also has a reading hall for kids.
Every year, for nine days, kids from public schools and low-income families have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasure of reading, and listen to talks about poetry, narrative, journalism, design and alternative edition.
Due to the grave economic crisis in Venezuela, (with an inflation rate of 1,000%) the event is raising funds to make the participation of more than 60 writers from all over the country and six international writers possible in its 2017 edition.
For further information about the FILCAR fundraising campaign, visit here