Granta Youngsters Live: Barba, Olmos, Montes at Elliott Bay Books 5/16/2011

I had the opportunity to see Andres Barba, Alberto Olmos, and Javier Montes at Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle. It is one of only two stops on the west coast and one of only 6 stops on their tour, so we were quite lucky. We were elected at the last moment because like the other stops we have one of Spain’s Instituto Cervantes in Seattle and they were sponsoring the tour.

The event started at 7ish and the first author didn’t start until 7:30 thanks to everyone who needed to introduce the authors. I don’t get what it is with people who have to go on, one after another with introductions that drone on. Rick from Elliot Bay always gives introductions and that is fine. Then came one of the editors of the edition and that was interesting to some degree, although it was mostly about the purpose of the magazine and not the specific edition, and finally came a professor from the UW who was selected to introduce them, but it was obvious he had done little more that read the bio in the book. What’s the point there?

Javier Montes, when he finally had a chance to speak, said that his piece was the opening of a novel that he had not gotten very far with. He said he had only finished the week before, so the reader, like him, should wonder what is coming.

Barba said his piece came to him when he was writing the prize winning essay, Ceromonia de Porno, with Montes. He heard a bout a French porn star who became obsessed with plastic surgery and had so man it hurt her to sleep. She began fantasizing about having a horn place on her forehead. I can’t say that makes the story in more interesting.

Olmos’ piece is also part of an unfinished novel that he has been blocked on. He went on to say he writes mostly autobiographical works. Two of his novels are about his time living in Japan. For him, it is neither charter or plot that interests him, but ideas. You can see that in his story I think.

Unfortunately, after that first round of comments, David Gueterson spoke. I don’t blame him for his awkward performance, but who ever invited him. He was supposed to be some sort of bridge between cultures because he has been translated into Spanish. He talked for a while, telling jokes about his translation experience and passing out copies of Snow Falling on Cedars in different languages. I think it was at this time I wish we had one presenter. What ever the merits of a conversation of translation, this was not the way to approach it. It was a bizarre performance to see Guterson talk, while the featured guests just sat there. The only thing he said that really felt interesting is he said American writers are really dedicated to something Akin to craft, and these writers and those in Spain were dedicated to the new.

On the subject of translation they all liked their translations. Montes said he is a pick translator and likes things as exact as is possible. But he knows that translation changes things. He said, he read his piece in English and said it wasn’t exactly what he had written, but he could like the guy who wrote it.

Barba said he likes everything that is translated of his and isn’t too picky. Then he went on to tell a story about when he was in Syria and a man said, I’m going to translate your book. Barba said, it has lots of prostitutes, and the man said, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. When the book came out, he had a friend read it and he said the prostitutes had been changed to tailors.

Olmos on the other had has been little translated and has been happy with the Granta experience because it gives him more exposure.

An awkward question came up about academy Spanish and colloquial Spanish. While it was quickly pointed out there isn’t a correct Spanish,  Olmos said that the younger generation using a more standard Spanish so they can get published in Spain. It was the McDonaldization of Spanish. Montes didn’t care so much. Olmos went on to say that is what he most likes and reads Colombians because everything they write has style.

Finally, there was wine afterwards and a chance to talk to the authors one on one. Montes said Onetti was his biggest influence and the best author in Spanish of the 20th century. I asked Olmos if Japan had influenced his writing, but other that the two books no. I didn’t have a chance to go much farther into it. And I asked Barba what El Publico Lee is like, mostly because I was curious, but also I didn’t find his work particularly fascinating to come up with a better question.

2 thoughts on “Granta Youngsters Live: Barba, Olmos, Montes at Elliott Bay Books 5/16/2011

  1. Thanks for reporting on this. I find Olmos’s comment on the McDonaldization of Spanish interesting, in part because it evokes the opposite concern to that usually tied to standardization (i.e., that it is too tied to tradition, stuffiness, etc.). Is his criticism about the globalization of literary minimalism (a la Carver in the U.S.), or it about the standardization of a fused corporate-youth style?

    Also, the Barba story about the change to tailors is great. I wonder if it improves things.

  2. In his comments he seemed to be particularly interested in word choice. He thought that young authors were giving too much up to be published. Something along the lines of a Mexican author using charlar for chat, instead of placticar, which means the same thing but is regional. The example is mine and probably not the best, but has the right idea. They didn’t seem to have anything against Carver. Unfortunately, the evening was rather short on that kind of interesting material.

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