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10 Years of Gutun Zuria

It's hard to believe that Gutun Zuria, Bilbao International Literature Festival, started 10 years ago! This year has marked the 10th anniversary. 

We had the oppotunity to listen and chat with over 100 well-known writers. Among them Salman Rushdie, Orhan Phamuk, Margaret Atwood, Herta Müller or Chuck Palahniuk. For years now, I struggle with my schedule in one week of April, trying to fit all the meetings in between my job obligations. I never feel like a winner: I manage to squize maximum three talks into my already busy agenda and some others, in best case, I can watch online.

This year was no different: I've seen 3 different meetings, with Annie Proulx, Siri Hustvedt and Guillermo Arriaga and an inauguration act with Alberto Manguel. Below you can read my impressions and see some photos.

DAY 1, 25.04.2017, Inauguration

The celebrations were opened by the mayor of Bilbao, Juan María Aburto. Apart from mentioning the evident passion of Bilbao for literature and advertising the city as the one that has 365 days of literature, he admited:
"Gutun Zuria is ten years old and, I think, that is something to be proud of. It has put Bilbao on a map of literary events. (...) People who read are also a better kind of people. We´re setting a great example for youngsters."

After that brief, luckily free of politics, presentation, we had an opportunity, as each year, to watch a dance show, "The Endgame" by Olatz de Andrés. And, as each year it left me disappointed. Not only this year had nothing to do with literature (it was inspired by a game of chess), but it seemed to me not well rehearsed. The lack of coordination between the dancers was clear and at moments sad to see.

Thankfully, next was the amazing speech by Alberto Manguel, the director of National Library of Argnetina and author of numerous books. That part was emotional and rational at the same time: with some very fine arguments and examples, Manguel showed how books are fool of life and how they make our lives more complex and give them meaning. "We are childrean of dreams of paper and of ink", he said, adding a few minutes later, that we llok for consoltaion among the pages and not online. We are never alone. For any reader Manguel's words were what we feel since we read our first book, but what we never knew, up to now, how to explain.

And then it was time for the main event: Annie Proulx in conversation with José Luis Rebordinos, the director of San Sebatian Film Festival. Proulx is an American novelist, short story writer and journalist. She won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction and National Book Award for Fiction for her second novel, The Shipping News. But, unfortunately, she is best known as an author of an original story that the film "Brokeback Mountain" was based on. She never complained about that, but I can't imagine someone with such a wide bibliography not being annoyed by being classified because of just one short story. Real pity!

Here are some of the most important quotes from that meeting:

1. Her advice for young writers:
"I always thought that the advice to write about what you know is really stupid. (...) It gets boring after a while. If you're going to write, write about something important. Important to you, important to society. Don't just write about crime or unhappy families. It HAS TO be important."

2. Main topic in her stories:
"Almost all I write is about place,  connected to place. and that is connected to change. We live such a long lives that we become ghosts. Living ghosts, Our world is gone, we are on the edge of change."

3. Reason to write
"I´m more of an observer than a fighter for a cause. What is the role of a writer or an artist? Observe and decide what, and if, you want to do something. Go and plant some trees. If you recognise we are living in a time of great change, it's good to have a notebook and a pen. Write it down. People in future will need it. They might learn from history. It hasn´t happen yet, but it might. I have hope."

4. Humanity not learning from the past:
"Why do we we have to do it? I don't know. But over and over people do the same things. We don't learn. Some learn from history but most don't."

5. About her writing process:
"I didn't start to write until I was in my late 50s. I wasn't a writer - I was a writer. And now I write. I don't think about it, that's what I do. No deep thought, no preparation. It's perfectly regular and normal. I have a little notebook I carry with me all around. You're always at work."

6. About "Brokeback Mountain":
"I know rural world. I had a lot of gay friends. And I saw how many of them in Wyoming had to live a secret life. It occured to me, it would be a very good subject. It was a very hard story to write. Because what does a middleage woman know about homophobic world where a gay lives. It's only a few pages, but they were hard to write."

Eventhough these fragments are rally interesting and give us some idea abouth Annie Proulx, the whole interview was rather difficult. Her answers were really short and rather cutting, quite repetitive. I couldn't stop imagining how difficult it must have been for the interviewer. My suspicions were partly confirmed at the book sigining. Proulx, unlike many other authors before her, was not ready to chat with her readers, she was just sigining the book, with an almost invisible signature. I want to believe that she was simply tired, but definitely, it was not one of my favourite events this year!

That was the official DAY 1. But there is one more thing I would like to mention here: each year at Gutun Zuria there is a book stand with the books of the authors presented that day. And each year, just after getting a good seat, i go to check if there is something I want to buy. That's exactly what I was doing, when the bookseller kind of whispered to me: "Look! They are behind you." And he was right. And just becuse of him, I have this wonderful photo with Alberto Manguel and Annie Proulx:

You can see the bookseller, from the Jakinbide bookshop in Bilbao, in background. Thank you!

DAY 2, 26.04.2017

The next day, was the one I wanted to see most: Siri Hustvedt in conversation with Almudena Cacho. I expected a lot from this one. Hustvedt is the author of a book of poetry, six novels, two books of essays, and several works of non-fiction, the earliest of her works date back to the early 80s. Even so, she is known to many as Paul Auster's wife (which always makes me wonder: what would she have to do, to be recognised as herlef?!).

Unfortunately, the interview started in a weird way. Since the very same day there were still some celebrations of an anniversary of Guernica bombing, Cacho asked Hustvedt´s opinion about where the famous painting should be. The writer answered saying how important and well-known the painting is and how she understands the concerns about where it belongs, but avoided taking sides. The journalist insisted and that's when Hustvedt said: "No, I am not an expert. I can't give my opinion on this one. It's your war, fight ot among yourselves" and she was widely applauded by the public. It was, kind of humiliating for the interviewer, who however, shouldn't have insisted on obtaining an answer to such a delicate matter from a writer, not an artist, not a politician: an American writer. 
As bad as it was, that was not the end. The second uneasy moment was much, much worse. Almudena Cacho in one of the questions asked about Hustvedt appearing as a character in one of her novels. To that the writer said, wait, can you repeat, i believe there was some problem with translation. And the journalist repeated exactly the same words. So, Hustvedt's answer was: "No. I have never written myself as character in any of the novels." Categorically. Instead of, rephrasing or leaving it to be, Cacho insisted. And insisted. And insisted. To which she heard: "No. I would know, I've written it." Uncomfortable. The problem was the phrasing: Hustvedt appears in one of her novels as a reference; a ficitional character tells other character about the book she is reading. One sentence, one short mention, a reference. Generally, they were speaking about the same part f the book, but the unfortunate phrasing on part of Cacho was at first interpreted as ignorance. 

Thankfully, the rest went much better and it was truly a fascinating talk. Siri Hustvedt was open and communicative, was giving exhaustive answers. Also at the end of the act, she was ready to chat and take pictures with her readers. 

Here are some of the most interesting parts of the talk:

1. Life, men and women:
"What would a man say looking at her ['A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women' - her newest book title] looking at men? A man occupies central place. To take an eye position he would have to understand what women's position is in culture, which is different, it's marginal.
It's dangerous to lump men in single category and to lump women in single category. I am married to a feminist. And there is any number of women who have prejudices against women."

2. About being a complicated woman:
"I gave writing classes in a hospital and a student there described me as a complicated woman. He sent me his first book and a letter 'Dear Siri, thank you for saving my life and helping me to become a writer.' In that book, there is an entire chapter about that class in a hospital. 
The idea of complexity has always atracted me. Question of perception... A complex perception is a good thing."

3. About why Trump was chosen:
"Many people like simple answers. For people who are afraid and want to keep everything very clear and unambigous it has an appeal. Especially white men, uneducated..."

4. About psychoanalysis:
"I was in my 50s when I started psychoanalysis. When I first came my analyst asked: 'What took you so long?' I didn't think I was neurotic, but there came a moment when I realised I really was neurotic. 
What has always fascinated me about terapeutic space? The idea that there is a space for dialog. The between space. You and I talking together create the 3rd thing."

5. About women in literature:
"A Norwegian author when I asked him about female authors said: ' There is no competition' Real competition exists only among men - it's deeply imprinted in our culture. Male authors as influences always mention other men. Assigning authority to women is masculating them. Women, many, have the same prejudices."

6. Science:
"Science is inside the culture. Ideology continuously infiltrates science."

DAY 8, 01.05.2017
I was supposed to be a meeting of three great screenwriters: Jean-Claude Carriére, Guillermo Arriaga in conversation with Michel Gaztambide. Unfortunately, Carriére had to cancel due to some health problems. The amazing thing is, I don't think that after the event there was a single person disappointed by that. Guillermo Arriaga was amazing. He charmed the public completely with lots of jokes and anegdotes. He was simply brilliant. And Michel Gaztambide maintained the conversation on a very high level, asking intelligent questions, not straight from the script, but natural ones, following the conversationa and answers given by Arriaga. I have to say, he was a great interviewer! 

Guillermo Arriaga, what not many remember, started as a writer, as a novelist. But at some point, he forgot about it, focused on the revolutionary processes in Mexico, he wanted to create a better world. Already as a child he was dreaming of 3 things: an Oscar, Cannes and Nobel. He was playing "Oscars" and receiving his own with Coca-Cola bottle. He started writing becuase he was stuck in bed for months after a nasty car accident that was an inspiration to write "21 Gramms" and "Amores Perros". After that accident, he realised he want to do something before he dies, to leave something behind. And some stories refuse to die, so similar accidents appear in more than one story written by him. The original accident happened on 26.12.1985 at 6:17. 4 adults, 3 children and a dog were going in a car through a mountain road. On one of the curves, the driver lost control over the car and it fall down 12 metres into a forest. There was a straight wall of 12 metres separating them from civilisation and Arriaga, with a broken and pushed into a skull nose, fractured face-bones and heavily bleeding climbed it to look for help. 

Both cinema and books are literature for him. He actually finds it offensive, when doing films he's asked when he'll be back to literature: he's never leaving it! When someone goes to the theatre to see "Romeo and Juliette", he knows it's Shakespeare's, nit the director's. In cinema, the screenwriter disappears, noone remembers about him and it's the director who takes all the credit. It's unfair

When he writes a novel, all is improvised, he doesn´t have it all thought through. He never knows how it ends, he just has a vague idea. The influence comes from the surroundings, he allows the inspiration to carry him into the story. His last novel took him some time, 5 years and he finds it strange that after so much effort some read it in one day.

Among many anecdotes he told us, he mentioned how he met Tommy Lee Jones and Jennifer Lawrance, about hunting with a bow and a mediatic fight with Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of "Amores Perros", also about his street childhood, dangerous episodes with the Mexican police and with knife fights. But after all that he said: "You don't necessarily need a street [experiences to write]: Jane Austen wrote masterpieces about how boring it is to sit and wait for a suitable husband, being a Victorian woman, Borges writing was based on his library. To me this experiences were important, but everyone can write from their own reality." And a bit more about writing: "Not everything has to be deep. Write your story. If you are a deep person, it will also be deep." and "Writing is a solitary act. There are moments when you think 'I want out of it'".
The last thing he mentioned and that I find perfect to finish this little chronicle: " 'The imagination is more important than knowledge' is Einstein's quote that impressed me a lot."

And that was the end of Gutun Zuria 2017. I am already waiting for the next one! It took me a long time to copy all my notes here, so I hope there are not many spelling mistakes. If you find any, don't hesitate to let me know! Thanks :)