Friday Mar. 6, 2015

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The Invention of Heaven

The mind becomes a field of snow
but then the snow melts and dandelions
blink on and you can walk through them,
your trousers plastered with dew.
They’re all waiting for you but first
here’s a booth where you can win

a peacock feather for bursting a balloon,
a man in huge stripes shouting about
a boy who is half swan, the biggest
pig in the world. Then you will pass
tractors pulling other tractors,
trees snagged with bright wrappers

and then you will come to a river
and then you will wash your face.

“The Invention of Heaven” by Dean Young, from First Course in Turbulence. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission of the author.   (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who said, "I've always been convinced that my true profession is that of journalist." That's Gabriel García Márquez (books by this author), born in Aracataca, Colombia, on this day in 1927. He's the author of one of the most important books in Latin American literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).

He once said, "I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway ... [but the] tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable, into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.''

He worked for a newspaper in Bogotá for many years, writing at least three stories a week, as well as movie reviews and several editorial notes each week. Then, when everyone had gone home for the day, he would stay in the newsroom and write his fiction. He said, "I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn't be able to work."

He learned to write short stories first from Kafka, and later from the American Lost Generation. He said that the first line of Kafka's Metamorphosis "almost knocked [him] off the bed," he was so surprised. In one interview, he quoted the first line ("As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect") and told the interviewer, "When I read the line, I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories."

It was from James Joyce and Virginia Woolf that he learned to write interior monologue, he said, and he prefers the way Woolf did it.

And it was from William Faulkner, he said, that he learned to write about his childhood surroundings. Just after college, he went home to his early childhood village of Aracataca, a place he hadn't been since he was eight years old. On that trip home, he felt that he "wasn't really looking at the village, but ... experiencing it as if [he] were reading it." He said: "It was as if everything I saw had already been written, and all I had to do was sit down and copy what was there and what I was just reading. For all practical purposes everything had evolved into literature: the houses, the people, and the memories." And he said: "The atmosphere, the decadence, the heat in the village were roughly the same as what I had felt in Faulkner. ... I had simply found the material that had to be dealt with in the same way that Faulkner had treated similar material." His birth town, Aracataca, is the model for the fictional village Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It was from his own grandmother that he learned the tone he used in One Hundred Years. His grandmother told stories, he said, "that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness ... what was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised."

For a long time, he had tried telling the fantastic stories of One Hundred Years without believing in them. He said, "I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face." And he said, "When I finally discovered the tone I had to use, I sat down for eighteen months and worked every day."

One Hundred Years of Solitude begins, "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

His other novels include of Love in the Time of Cholera (1988), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), Of Love and Other Demons (1994), and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2005).

He started a journalism school in Colombia in 1995. He read most of the important magazines from around the world each week. He said that he really only felt comfortable in Spanish, but spoke Italian and French. And he said in a 1980s interview: "I know English well enough to have poisoned myself with Time magazine every week for twenty years." He wrote from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., but said he can only "work in surroundings that are familiar and have already been warmed up with my work. I cannot write in hotels or borrowed rooms or on borrowed typewriters."

He said: "One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be."

And he said: "Ultimately literature is nothing but carpentry. Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work involved."

[Note: Gabriel García Márquez quotes are from The Paris Review interview conducted by Peter H. Stone. García Márquez's then-teenage sons translated his answers into English.]

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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