January 24, 2012

Professor Brings Writers Together at Cornell University

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Bolivian writer Prof. José Edmundo Paz-Soldán, Romance studies, has been organizing conferences and informal workshops to bring together Latin American and Latino writers at Cornell.

The professor launched a colloquium last fall titled “Latin American/Latino Voices for the New Century,” which explored the narrative of a recent issue of Granta, a prestigious literary magazine that highlights the work of young Latin American and Spanish writers.

“Latin American or Latino writers are often separated by language, so we decided to put these writers together,” Paz-Soldán said in a statement. According to a University statement, 22 authors — including eight from Cornell — participated in the conference.

Paz-Soldán has also been holding biweekly workshops for writers at his home. The workshops offer a relaxed atmosphere in which writers can present their work and talk about writing, Paz-Soldán said in the press release.

He added that the writers attending the workshop were a successful group.

“Two of the five members of the starting group had published work,” he said.

Paz-Soldán’s colleague, Prof. Debra Castillo, comparative literature, said that the author has become a kind of magnet for young writers — both graduate students and undergraduates — from various parts of Latin America.

“When I came to Cornell 14 years ago, I always wanted to have a space for creative writing in Spanish, or at least a symbolic space,” Paz-Soldán said in the press release. “Before, Europe was the preferred destination of many Latin American writers.”

But now, he said, more writers than ever are coming to the United States.

“Coming from a country where writing was seen more like a luxury or a hobby, I was in a city full of bookstores,” Paz-Soldán said. “I saw many young people who were writers or wanted to be writers. As a freelancer, I would interview writers. Those years were fundamental for me.”

After taking a crash course in English, Paz-Soldán came to the U.S. on a soccer scholarship to study political science in 1988, according to the University. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1999.

“I’m grateful to Cornell,” he said. “Here, I found a place where I’ve always been supported in all my projects.”

The main character of his latest novel, Norte, is based on a real undocumented alien and serial killer. Paz-Soldán said in a University statement that interviewers sometimes ask him about his moral responsibility as a writer to create positive, uplifting images of Latinos or Hispanics.

“That’s not the way I see it,” Paz-Soldán said. “Part of the responsibility to tell the whole story is to show the negative side as well.”

He is now working on a novel about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I first described it as a science fiction novel, but very low-budget S.F.; now I’m describing it as a war novel, [set] in a fictionalized region in the near future,” he said. “It’s a region full of mines — there’s isolation, alienation, an enemy you don’t know anything about.”

Though the novel conveys a theme of loneliness, two decades after first arriving in the U.S., Paz-Soldán said he feels at home in the country.

“I’m happy to have readers who read me in Spanish in the United States,” Paz-Soldán said. “This is not a foreign country to me anymore. I have roots here. I have two American sons. I see the U.S. as my own country.”

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee

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