Q&A with Chilean Writer Alejandro Zambra, in Phoenix for Residency

Ofelia MontelongoOctober 4, 2017
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You have been recognized for breaking the traditional narrative mold in your books and stories. What motivated you to break the mold?
I am looking, nothing more. I enjoy the process of searching. I start with intuitions and images that are half blurred. My idea is to discover the book along the way, but also to be willing to go wrong, to get lost. There are no rules in literature. Each book creates its own universe.

What’s your writing process?
I have a diary that is pretty boring, like all the life diaries. But sometimes, something comes up from it and starts to become independent from the experience. I’m more obsessive than methodical. When I’m trapped writing a book, I can spend many hours writing it, and when I leave it, I keep thinking about it.

How autobiographical is your work?
I’m not sure… I would accept that everything is autobiographical without including dreams. The story itself changes every day: what you remember, what you are looking for when remembering, everything.

Your books usually have poetic elements and in previous interviews you mentioned that your first book Bonsai began as poetry. Can you talk a little about the importance of poetry and fiction in your work?
Yes, I think the differences between poetry and prose and between fiction and non-fiction, are exaggerated. I grew up reading Chilean poetry, which is the great myth of my country, because it is the only thing we have been “successful” at… And because there is a great, complex and heterogeneous tradition. I think the reading principle should be the same. Wondering what story tells a poem, for example.

Your books have been translated into more than 10 different languages. How do you think translations affect the rhythm and the theme of the stories?
In many ways, I suppose. I do not write to be translated; it always surprises me that my books reach readers of other languages, especially those I completely ignore, which are the majority. I am very grateful to the translators. Let’s say I can only read the translations into English, Italian and Portuguese, but the language [beside my native Spanish] I more or less speak is English. I was lucky enough to meet a great reader like Megan McDowell [who translated Zambra’s works from Spanish to English]. I am sure that if she wrote, her novels would be better than mine.

What would be your advice for aspiring and upcoming Latin American writers?
Don’t ever take advice too seriously and invent your own mentors and teachers.

About the event:
Thursday, October 5, 7 p.m.
Changing Hands Bookstore
300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Free event and open to the public.
changinghands.com

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