Posts Tagged ‘oral biography’
October 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Today is the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. Paul Ferris’s “Ink Is Wanted by Raving Brother: Dylan Thomas’s Swansea Years”—an oral history of the poet’s youth and early years in Wales—appeared in our Spring 2004 issue. The excerpt below explores Thomas’s brief, unhappy stint as a reporter.
In 1931, probably after the summer term, Dylan Thomas left school and went to work for the local newspaper, the South Wales Daily Post. He was sixteen years old. The paper was in fact an evening title, part of a London-based chain, and changed its name to Evening Post soon after. Its early editions circulated throughout southwest Wales, but the core readership was in the Swansea area. Local commerce and politics were featured to a degree unheard of in today’s vacuous local tabloids. The editor, J. D. Williams, assumed that his readers (some of them, at least) cared about music, theater, and poetry.
CHARLES FISHER (A lifelong friend of Thomas’s, and a fellow reporter.): His father probably got the job on the paper for him through J. D. Williams, as my father got me mine—he was head machinist there, he ran the rotary press. And since I had some talent for writing simple sentences, it was thought I could become a reporter. No one challenged that idea. I followed Dylan as a reader’s boy, a copyholder, and took that vacancy created when he moved on to be a junior reporter. I copyheld for about six months, then I was promoted to the newsroom. We wrote everything up in a strange, constricting, old-fashioned prose that really belonged to reporting at the start of the century. No one thought of treating news any other way. But our image of ourselves was a Chicago newsroom, the black hat turned down, the knowing look, the cigarette never removed once lit—which was a habit Dylan kept to the end.
ERIC HUGHES (A journalist, older than Thomas, and never very fond of his younger colleague.): I think Dylan was on the Post less than a year. I was a sub-editor, and when you saw his copy, it was appalling, with many lacunae. Nor was he reliable. To my knowledge, he wrote a crit of the Messiah at one of the St. Thomas chapels, to which he didn’t bother to go. Half his time was spent in the David Evans Café where they gave you a free State Express cigarette with your coffee. Read More »
April 25, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the last of five excerpts we’ve run this week. Read the complete text here.
ROSE STYRON: Somehow, everyone on Martha’s Vineyard seemed to know that he was coming to visit us. Everyone wanted to meet him. Harvey Weinstein, spotting me in Vineyard Haven, hurried over to say, “Please invite me—he’s my favorite author—I’ll sweep the floors.” President Clinton, whom Gabo admired and hoped to talk with, wanted Chelsea to meet him. We decided a large cocktail gathering on our lawn would be prudent, to be followed by a very small seated dinner so the president and Gabo and our Mexican guests, the Carlos Fuenteses and Bernardo Sepulvedas (he was the former foreign minister), could chat in relative quiet. At dinner Gabo’s goddaughter, our friend Patricia Cepeda, translated ably. Our Vineyard neighbors, the Vernon Jordans and the William Luers, and Hillary Clinton completed the table. We all remember that President Clinton’s sweater sported an Elvis crossword puzzle.
WILLIAM STYRON: Although I wasn’t listening closely, I could tell—I have enough Spanish to know—that Gabo and Carlos were engaging him in a talk about the Cuban embargo. They were both at that time passionate about the embargo. Clinton was resisting this conversation, I presume because his mind was already made up. He wasn’t about to be budged even by people that he admired as much as Gabo. So Bill Luers, sitting closer, seeing Clinton’s eyes glaze over, as an ex-diplomat spoke out firmly enough to change the tone of the conversation from politics in Cuba to literary matters. It changed the entire tone at the table. Someone, Bill Luers or perhaps Clinton, asked everyone at the table to give the name of their favorite novel. Clinton’s eyes lit up rather pleasurably. We had a sort of literary parlor game. I recall that Carlos said his favorite novel was Don Quixote. Gabo said The Count of Monte Cristo, and later described why. He said it was the perfect novel. It was spellbinding, not just a costumed melodrama, really a universal masterpiece. I said Huckleberry Finn just off the top of my head. Finally, Clinton said The Sound and the Fury. Immediately, to everyone’s amazement he began to quote verbatim a long, long passage from the book. It was quite spellbinding to see him do that because he then began to give a little interesting lecture on the power of Faulkner and how much Faulkner had influenced him. He then had this kind of two-way conversation with Gabo, in which Gabo said that without Faulkner he would never have been able to write a single word, that Faulkner was his direct inspiration as a writer when he was just beginning to read world literature in Colombia. He made a pilgrimage to Oxford, Mississippi. I remember him mentioning this to Clinton. So the evening was a great success, though a total failure as far as politics went. Read More »
April 24, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the fourth of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: I got a call from Spain about 4 a.m. that Gabo had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I put on a pair of pants and a sweater and left for his house, and there was Mercedes with all the phones off the hook. There was a big sign on the door of their house that said Congratulations. He had these big eyes wide open as if he were hallucinating.
JUANCHO JINETE: Obregon went to visit Gabito in Mexico. The address he had for the house was where rich people live, like Mexican soap stars. The day he went to visit was the day Gabo got the Nobel Prize. So when he got to the address, there were flowers everywhere, and he thought, Oh my! He’s dead!
HECTOR ROJAS HERAZO: When the Nobel came around, Colombia went crazy. Everybody was talking about Gabito. That must’ve changed him. The moment comes that he has to be faithful to the success he has achieved. Read More »
April 23, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the third of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: After a lecture, a group of us went to Álvaro Mutis’s house. On our way there, I had Gabriel next to me, and he started talking. When we got to Alvaro’s house—he had a tiny apartment—everyone had heard Gabo’s story so they scattered in various directions. I was so moved by what he was telling me that I latched on to him and said, “Tell me more. What happens next?” He told me the entire story of One Hundred Years of Solitude. From the very beginning. I remember he told me about a priest who levitates, and I believed him. I said to myself, Why can’t a priest levitate? After he told me the entire book, I said to him, If you write this, you will be writing the Bible. He said, Do you like it? And I said, It’s amazing. And he said, Well, it’s for you. I guess he saw me listening with such innocence that he thought, I’m going to dedicate my book to this fool. At that point he hadn’t started writing the novel. He had written notes but nothing else. I know because the room that Mercedes had built for him so that he could write all day hadn’t been built. They lived in a small house on La Loma, and in their living room Mercedes had someone build a wall up to the ceiling to avoid the noise, with a door. She put a pine table and a typewriter in the room. The room was very, very small. There was room for his table, a chair, and some sort of little easychair. Those were the only things that could fit. Above the easychair there was kind of a picture, something that resembled a calendar, a very tacky calendar that Gabo had hung there. Gabo went in that room and wrote all day. She built that room because Gabo had said, “I have to withdraw for a year, and I’m not going to work. See what you can do to manage.” She managed the best she could. She got credit at the butcher’s shop—later on when Gabo was famous he went back to the butcher to thank him. We started visiting them every night, one night with a bottle of whiskey, another night with a piece of ham. Read More »
April 22, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the second of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
JOSÉ SALGAR: Gabo came to El Espectador with a bit of fame, but when he arrived it was the same as any ordinary reporter. He was a bit uncouth; he was from the coast, a hick, and very shy. He would arrive with bags under his eyes and his hair uncombed because he had been writing that thing. I told him we couldn’t work like that. I would tell him to wring the swan’s neck—that literature was a hobby and what he needed to do was incorporate those things that he was making up into real journalism.
JUANCHO JINETE: He wrote something about the wreck of a ship that belonged to the navy, which was carrying smuggled goods and threw one of the young sailors overboard. He wrote an article that no one dared to write in this country, because it dealt with the armed forces.
GUILLERMO ANGULO: It must have been around 1955, I went to El Espectador looking for him and they told me he had left to be one of their correspondents in Europe and was going to study film at Centro Sperimentale in Rome. He has always had a love affair with film. It’s been disastrous. There isn’t even one great film or script by Gabo. His ideas are wonderful, but his writing cannot be used to make movies. It seems to me a bit much to ask Gabo to be a great filmmaker in addition to a great author. I was going to study at the same place, so when I arrived there I went to look him up. He had left me a letter in which he explained where to get a hold of him: I should go to the second floor and I would run into a lady who sings opera wearing a towel wrapped around her head. So I went there and sure enough the lady showed up and I laughed and she got angry. I laughed because she came out singing opera with her head in a towel. Then I asked her about Gabriel García Márquez. She said, Who knows him? And she was right. Who had ever heard of him? Then Gabo sent me a letter telling me that he had left Rome for Paris. He was at 16 rue Cujas. I wrote him that I was going to be in Paris for six months and that we would see each other there. Read More »
April 21, 2014 | by Silvana Paternostro
In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—read the complete text here.
At the end of 2000, I spent three months traveling around Latin America—Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bogotá, Mexico City— to interview friends and relatives for an oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez. Autobiography is central to García Márquez's fiction, and I was curious how the people (many of whom make appearances in his work) who knew Gabo as a young man would remember him.
People were generous with their memories—everyone, it seemed, had encountered the Nobel Laureate—and I spent afternoons listening to stories. In Barranquilla, I talked with García Márquez's neighbors from Aracataca (the model for Macondo, the town in One Hundred Years of Solitude), where he was born and lived with his grandparents for several years; and with his friends from Sucre (the place where the murder in Chronicle of a Death Foretold took place), where he moved when he was thirteen to live with his parents.
Rafael Ulloa, a distant relative of García Márquez, showed up unexpectedly one afternoon, with a folder full of clipped newspaper stories under his arm, and insisted on giving me his only copy of the special supplement that El Heraldo (the newspaper where García Márquez worked in Barranquilla, writing a column that paid so poorly the only place he could afford to rent was a room in a brothel) had published when Garda Marquez received the Nobel Prize in 1982.
Another afternoon, Juancho Jinete brought along Enrique Scopell, and over the next two hours, and two bottles of scotch, they revived the rowdy group of young writers, artists, and journalists who befriended García Márquez when he arrived in Barranquilla in 1950: Alejandro Obregón; Álvaro Cepeda; Germán Vargas; Alfonso Fuenmayor; and Alfonso’s father, José Félix. García Márquez used to show them early drafts of One Hundred Years at Japi, a bar where, as one of them told me, Faulkner, had he lived in Barranquilla, would have gone drinking. García Márquez has said they were the first and last friends he’s had. A writer’s solitude should always have this kind of company. Read More »