Skip to content

“Good books, even if you don’t understand everything that happens, have a reverberation that stays with the reader”

Granta was born in 1889 in the halls of the University of Cambridge and has since established itself as one of the most important literary magazines in the English language. Its Spanish version appeared for the first time in May 2003 and after publishing texts by figures such as Ricardo Piglia, Luisa Valenzuela, Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Nayla Chehade, its most recent issue has been dedicated entirely to contemporary Peruvian literature.

Valerie Miles, head of the delivery, set out to simulate a journey through the geography, flavors and traumas of Peru with the help of 42 narrators, some consecrated and others making their way in the complicated and so thankless path of national literature. This number shines the talent born in our country, but also rebukes our eternal habit of making posthumous recognitions.

―This interview surprises us a few weeks after the death of Julia Wong (1965-2024). How did her text about the fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food end up in this edition of Granta?

I was reading Julia’s poetry and I realized the power of her voice. She had very clear ideas and I was interested in finding someone who could provide a perspective that would capture the diversity of the last century of migration. It was difficult to find her and Peru, along with Colombia, is one of the most difficult countries for female writers. Six years ago, while she was carrying out a project on Peruvian literature, the comments about the work of Peruvian writers were always negative. So I included Blanca Varela and other classic names supported by the critical apparatus.

And how did you find other creators?

The New York Times asked me to write a review of “The Blood of Dawn” by Claudia Salazar Jiménez, she was my gateway to discovering new names. In the past I had consulted women who worked in the field of organizing fairs, but they were not very generous in their comments. I wanted to look for writers of various genres, but I had the problem that at Granta we don’t publish much poetry, it is a magazine focused more on narrative.

However, in this issue there are verses that are in languages ​​other than Spanish.

It was impossible to make an issue dedicated to Peru without poetry.

Returning to the texts that revolve around Peruvian food, it must be said that it is a topic that has become a cliché over time. How did you manage not to fall into that commonplace?

I tried not to use the word culinary, I did not want to enter the tourist and commercial vocabulary of food, but rather understand it as ritual, memory and art. Ask the writers who collaborated in this section to capture their memories around the flavors that tie them to Peru, not what their favorite food was.

Would you say that although Peru lacks large museums and galleries, our best artistic and historical collection is in food dishes whose origins we do not know?

Exactly, that is why the section opens with a text by Gastón Acurio. His discovery of the first ceviche demonstrates how food is an art that brings Peruvians closer to the land. The same happens with what is written by JJ Maldonado about the pachamanca, Efraín Kristal linking the Jewish tradition with rice with duck or Mónica Carrillo and Lucía Charún-Illescas talking about the Afro-Peruvian tradition.

When we talk about Peru, its food is always mentioned and when we talk about Peruvian literature we always mention Mario Vargas Llosa. Was it possible that this issue of Granta appeared without a Nobel text or is it that this entire generation of creators continues to work under his influence?

You could, perhaps, if you weren’t alive. For any country it is impressive to have a Nobel, even if it is a questionable prize because Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov did not win it, by which I mean that perhaps there are other Peruvian writers who should have been considered. You may be against the way Vargas Llosa sees the world, his somewhat sexist political stances, but he has a work with top titles that cannot be ignored. When someone wins a prize like the Nobel, more people appreciate and respect literature, it affects those who are writing and publishing and encourages future generations. It is an award that works like a shock wave that affects the entire literary fabric of a country.

In other words, among those chosen in this issue of Granta you see a potential Nobel Prize winner.

In some cases they are still very young and have a career to cultivate. Jaime Rodríguez Z. is leaving the way he was used to writing and appears here with “Desértica y olvido”, an absolutely wonderful text. Carlos Yushimito…

Who had a very long literary silence, by the way.

Sometimes when writers start to shine, the publishing industry insists that you should write a novel when perhaps you are not a novelist. They do it only thinking about how much they will sell and I think Carlos was under a lot of pressure and decided to take a moment to think about who he was as a writer. Now, with this story (“The Prefecture”), he has returned saying: “This is me.” He shows that his narrative, like the paintings, evokes. You don’t quite know what exactly is happening, but it doesn’t matter because it leaves you with a feeling. Carlos Yushimito is a writer with an extraordinary inner look like Miluska Benavides.

And it is surprising that in the case of Miluska the large Peruvian publishers have not paid attention and care to his work.

One wonders about the reasons for this silence, but nothing happens, that’s what Granta is for. Our role is to find these types of underserved writers not for quality reasons, but for social or political reasons. There are cases of writers, like the Colombian José Ardilla, who, since they are not from the capital, the center of power tends to push them away. I don’t know if this is the case with Miluska.

Something similar happened with Karina Pacheco who wrote for years, won awards, but attention fell on her when she won the National Literature Prize.

Today we see that women are reading women. If female writers sell more than male writers, what will power do? He will bet on them and to do so they need to win more awards and have their works reviewed. What began as a social claim is becoming a market and as it grows we will see more women receiving awards and having their space. It is not because we are good to them, but because the market demands it. Now the publishing world needs a Karina Pacheco and a Katya Adaui because they are supported by a National Literature Award.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the publishing world will be to capture a new generation whose attention and retention capacity does not exceed five minutes.

There has been a commitment to increasingly lower the quality of the books. The large publishing groups now publish collections of poems by people who are not even poets. There are always periods in which we enter the cave for a moment and manage to get out because people recognize that it has reached such a point of banality that they begin to look for quality. They are cycles.

How to prevent this new commitment to quality from returning to elitism?

When they refer to the intellectual elite in the United States, I always wonder if they know how much we earn. If elite means that I read many books and have knowledge, anyone can be elite thanks to the network of libraries that is accessible to anyone.

Elite also refers to the group of people who are jealous of their social circles even with those who are training to be like them.

It is natural that there is a hierarchy of knowledge. Any person cannot know the same thing as another person who has dedicated their life to intellectual work and sometimes it is even difficult to explain what you know because it has taken you more than two decades of reading and study to get to where you are. Those who sing in the shower don’t even consider going to La Scala in Milan and asking to be allowed to sing for a while, but we see that some who have only dedicated themselves to writing tweets believe they have the ability to write a novel.

That is to say, the greatest fear is no longer the disappearance of the book but, as you pointed out, the constant appearance of collections of poems written by someone who is not even a poet?

Thats the big problem. Good books, even if a person is not able to understand everything that happens, have a reverberation that stays with the reader. You don’t have to be Shakespeare himself to experience his works. If you trivialize too much, people fail to understand what the true value of a book is. You end up selling something empty that they will buy once or twice, but by the third time you have already lost the reader.

Are social networks good allies for publishers?

They were good allies when only information was shared, now it is just advertising, all very commercial. Someone talks about a book just because it will get likes. It’s not that waves are created, they just add to them.

Who can you trust to understand the tide of the publishing world?

I am lucky to move in the Anglo world. It is not that it is more important, but that being larger it is less prone to information corruption. We have outlets like The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, The Guardian and 150 literary magazines. This makes it much more difficult for a large group to master the information that is coming out about a novel. In Spain it is more difficult because Penguin is the largest and most important group and everyone wants to look good because they have the money and the power. A literary culture is healthy when there are specialized magazines, that’s where I go to find the information I need.

In conclusion, consult magazines, be wary of the first shelves that we see in bookstores and search among the hidden books.

You have to contrast and select or have a reliable source. In literature it is good to challenge yourself and not always read what you know you will like. I have always said that literature is not something that should make you feel comfortable at all times, it should grab you by the lapels, savage you and force you to look from a position that, sometimes, is not even natural. Literature is an experience, if you don’t waste your time. Literature is dangerous because you are entering into communion with another person, with a point of view that is not innocent and that is trying to seduce you.

Which texts from the Granta edition dedicated to Peru challenged you the most?

That of Patricia de Souza (1964-2019), who is a huge loss for Peruvian letters. No one paid attention to her for many years and then she dies. I am glad to have published this text of hers, which is supposed to be the draft of something she was writing. I don’t think it is, it’s more like a diary. She was seeing the end approaching and you can feel it when reading it, as if she recognized that they are her last lines. She was a powerful voice that could have grown with a little recognition. The poems of Ch’aska Eugenia Anka Ninawaman and Joseph Zárate also challenged me.

I understand that the order of appearance of the texts has an explanation

We tried to take a walk starting from the north, going down to Lima to open ourselves to the diasporas. The issue ends with the text by Vargas Llosa (“Write a novel”), but before him is Giancarlo Poma (“Years of pilgrimage”) because I think he was a worthy contender for the Nobel Prize. They are from different times, but he is a person with a lot of potential for the coming years.

And there is also a text of yours, “La serpentínica ú”, in reference to a verse by Vallejo.

As I read and looked at Peruvian art, the snake constantly appeared. While for Christianity, this animal is linked to the devil, in Peruvian indigenous cultures it is associated with rebirth, as a symbol of eternal return. Then I saw it in Vallejo’s work and thought it should have a constant appearance in this edition. We worked on this issue during the conflicts recorded after Pedro Castillo’s coup d’état and the death of almost fifty Peruvians. I thought again of the snake as an important symbol as it was the beginning of a new cycle, thinking of a new exit, as a sprout of hope because everything that is founded on the dead has to be thought about.

Source: Elcomercio

Share this article:
globalhappenings news.jpg
most popular