FunCulturalJosé Ardila: "I'm not interested in stories that can...

José Ardila: "I'm not interested in stories that can happen anywhere"

Interview with the Colombian writer José Ardila, included in the second list of the magazine “Granta”, a publication that explores the voices of young writers.

José Ardila (Chigorodó, 1985) is a writer, but he wanted to be an actor. He has lived in Medellín for more than 20 years. He was recently included in the second selection of the best young writers in Spanish that Granta magazine makes every 10 years. He has published two storybooks: Divagación en el interior de una whalena (2012) and Libro del tedio (Angosta, 2017), and is currently working on his first novel.

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Where do their stories come from?

From a constant exercise of observation, memory and imagination. Observation, to notice what could be the starting point of a story – an anecdote, an image, a phrase that I hear from someone, a fear, a grudge …-; memory, to preserve what is really worth what I observe, and imagination, to deform it, to trace paths.

When did you start writing?

When I was a teenager, but without the full awareness that I was writing literature. I have always liked the theater. My lifelong dream was to be an actor. Not a playwright, not a director, an actor. And the library of the town where I was born, Chigorodó, was still – I don’t know now – very precarious. There were very few books of everything, but especially there were almost no theatrical texts. Perhaps a collection of Antioquia authors edited by the Antioquia Government, with which I met and fell in love with the work of José Manuel Freidel. It was natural then that various groups from the town and the region had the same works by Freidel staged: Avatars, Amantina or the story of a lack of love … So the playwrights were something necessary: a solution to a problem. I was one of those accidental playwrights. Later, in Medellín, I got to know the library of the University of Antioquia -which was more important to me than the degree I finished (journalism) -, I began to attend literary workshops, such as that of Luis Fernando Macías, and little by little I found my vocation. It seemed to me at some point that there was not much difference between a theatrical monologue and a first-person story.

How important is geography in your stories?

It’s fundamental. There is a phrase that still has some value in some circles, especially academic ones, to describe the work of a good writer: “This could happen anywhere.” Well, well, I’m not interested in stories that can happen anywhere. They bore me. Reading and writing them. The nothing – or the whole, which is the same – is too sterile for creation. My stories are constructed from a kind of vital limbo: from a simultaneous sense of rootedness and uprooting. Chigorodó, Urabá, appear as memories, sometimes as a place I escaped from, and Medellín as a city that has defined a good part of who I am, to which I owe almost everything I love now, but which I also feel like a trap from which he should flee at any moment.

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Valerie Miles, co-founder of Granta magazine in Spanish, writes in the book’s introduction: “One of the substantial differences between this selection from 2021 and the one from 2010 is that many of these young writers pay special attention to the sound qualities of language. written … ‘Neutral’ Spanish is renounced ”. How important is orality in your stories?

Geography passes through the tongue. Urabá is a region that has received people of very diverse origins. There are people from the Pacific, the Caribbean, from the interior of the country … There are indigenous people, black Chocoanos, black Caribbean, whites, mulattos and all the variations of miscegenation … And each of these groups speaks a different Spanish, which have been mixing with the years, like food. I can’t write in neutral Spanish if I grew up in such a diverse environment. It is genetically impossible.

His story, “Juancho, baile”, included in the book “Granta”, talks about childhood, cruelty, dignity, family, boredom, loneliness, social classes … is the world in a neighborhood, on Narrow Street, what inspired you to write it?

Narrow Street is also called the street where I grew up, in Chigorodó. It is, as the name says, a very narrow street. With an entrance in front of the church and another in front of a sewage pipe. Like a tube. And it always gave me the impression that the facades were so high above, so close to each other, that one could easily learn about the intimacies of the neighbor. And one had to put a lot of will not to be a gossip. He must, of course, write about it sometime. But I couldn’t find the story. There was the setting, but not the story. Until a few months ago I also began to think of a character from the town: Juancho. A big black man with mental retardation, who for some reason danced when people, especially children, asked him to. And he danced no matter what he was carrying. Not how heavy it was. I put those two things together with an idea that I have had for many years: that childhood is hostile territory. Or not necessarily happy. More often than we want to admit it, childhood is full of violence, cruelty, and things we prefer to forget.

What are your literary references?

They change, in general, over time. When I was a teenager, since I wanted to be an actor and wrote theater, my great reference was the Antioquia playwright José Manuel Freidel. Then came the interest in stories. And there Andrés Caicedo was fundamental, especially because his work connected me with Allan Poe and Lovecraft and Baudelaire. Since then I have had lasting loves and many fleeting loves. The short story writer Cortázar, Borges, García Márquez, Rulfo, Huidobro, Carpentier, Kafka, Chesterton. Two great fleeting loves were Hemingway — also the storyteller — and Carver. Over the years, I understood that those styles based on silence did not interest me. That they did not really contribute to what I wanted to express. Three great lifelong loves: Capote, Harper Lee, Cheever. And three relatively recent, but I think they are going to be forever: Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson.

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You are working on your first novel right now, could you tell us a little about it?

There is a character, or a type of character, that has haunted me for a long time and that has even appeared in some of the stories in Book of Tedium: the impostor. He who earns what he does not deserve, even against his own will. It looks a lot like the compulsive liar, but an impostor may not necessarily lie in order to achieve success – it may be the result of a series of fortunate or unfortunate events, as in blunder comedies – and a compulsive liar may have no purpose. different from lying for the sheer pleasure of lying. An impostor who lies is a fake. And it seems to me that Colombia, and especially Antioquia, and especially Medellín, is a fertile land of phonies. The phony is a national archetype. And this happens because we are willing to accept and celebrate them very easily. There are almost harmless phonies, like the lazy skull uncle who always has a very convoluted reason for not going to work, but there are also very dangerous phonies, such as the politician or the religious leader who falsifies titles and figures, who makes enemies at his convenience, that moves masses with its lies and is eventually capable of deciding on the lives of thousands or millions of people and leading them to destruction, if necessary to achieve their goals. The novel I’m finishing is about such a character. And I have two novels started and some short stories in mind for a book about characters like that. And the funny thing is that I still do not feel that I repeat myself. That the subject is exhausted. Because, first, each of the fakers in those stories is unique and tells me a different farce and, second, the impostor is a character with a long literary tradition.

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