Featured Author: Sergio Pitol
The editors of Latin American Literature Today would like to express our gratitude to Will Evans of Deep Vellum Publishing and agents Antonia Kerrigan and Tom Colchie for facilitating the rights to publish the texts by Sergio Pitol included in this dossier. We would also like to thank Juan Villoro, Darío Jaramillo Agudelo, Victoria de Stefano, Ana Negri, and Daniel Saldaña París who, out of admiration for Maestro Pitol, contributed texts. Lastly, we are profoundly grateful to the family of Sergio Pitol, his cousin Luis Demeneghi and his nieces Laura and María Demeneghi, for providing the magazine with rare family photos of Maestro Pitol.
Works by and about Sergio Pitol in LALT No. 5:
Writing the introduction to a dossier dedicated to a writer of Sergio Pitol’s stature is a daunting task. How does one summarize in a few hundred words the thousands of pages written, tens of thousands of pages read, scores of books translated, dozens of countries visited, over the course of eight-and-a-half decades? Writer, reader, critic, editor, translator. In short, one of Mexico’s great polygraphs.
A woman prepares to sleep in a train berth, draped in blue silk pajamas. She has taken a sleeping pill to travel as if floating on air. However, before the pill takes effect, she begins another journey: a magazine she thought was packed away falls open at her feet, and she cannot avoid reading a particular piece, or rather rereading it, as the writer is her husband Guillermo, from whom she is presently separated, though he has given her all of his manuscripts to read.
Sergio Pitol is one of those writers who lives literature in thought, word, and work. To read, to think, and to write, or in other words: to want to create, to know how to create, and to be able to create. A life in which so much is read, thought, and written that, as if to quell any doubts of the generosity with which the life is led, it is also translated. Translation is, without a doubt, the best school in which to learn to internalize the structure of literary genres and of one’s own language.
Whoever has met Sergio Pitol, let’s say for example, in a book fair in whatever part of the world, who has seen him in some writers’ conference, who—getting into a time machine—had treated him like a diplomat, without digging too deep into intentions or into the nooks of his way of being, will always say that Pitol is an elegant, sober, attentive, chivalrous, elegantly mannered man. They will say, in short, that he is a well-balanced man.
It is nothing new that every writer is nourished through reading, but in the case of Sergio Pitol (Puebla, 1933), an indispensable author within parodic literature and winner of such awards as the Miguel de Cervantes Prize and the Alfonso Reyes International Prize, his passion for reading is even more intimate. Having been bedridden during most of his childhood due to malaria, he says: “I was under my grandmother’s care, who read day and night and lived in a house full of books, she gave me with the readings that gave me life.”
I’ve been an avid and loyal reader of Sergio Pitol since I was a teenager. I also owe him much of my readerly education: Pitol led me to many other authors who shaped my tastes and my vocation from an early age. Of his vast and multifaceted oeuvre, I think the first book I read—and the one I’ve re-read most thoroughly—was Taming the Divine Heron. This novel became one of my personal fetish-books, the kind that accompanies a reader, sometimes surreptitiously, for years.
On July 24, I was informed that an international jury had awarded me the Juan Rulfo Prize for Latin American and Caribbean Literature. It would be difficult for me to express the emotion of that moment. The very name of the award is cause for satisfaction and pride, such that it is equivalent to receiving another prize.
As always occurs in these circumstances, from the deep folds of memory, scenes, gestures, phrases, sometimes only monosyllables begin to emerge.
I know my name is Victorio. I know people think I’m mad (a fiction that at times infuriates me; and others merely amuses me). I know I'm different from the others, but my father, my sister, my cousin José, and even Jesusa, are different too, and no one thinks they're mad; worse things are said about them. I know we’re nothing like other people, but even among us there isn't even a hint of similarity. I’ve heard it said that my father is the devil, and though I’ve never seen any external mark that identifies him as such, my conviction that he is who he is remains incorruptible. Even so, at times it's a source of pride; in general, it neither pleases nor frightens me to be one of the evil one’s offspring.
I was invited to attend a biennale of writers in Mérida, Venezuela, where each of the participants was to explain his own concept of an ars poetica. I lived in terror for weeks. What did I have to say on the subject? The best I could do, I told myself, would be to draft an Ars Combinatoria. Or, more modestly, to enumerate certain issues and circumstances that in some way define my writing.
When she opened her handbag in search of her creams, the blue silk pajamas that her sister Beatriz had bought for her in India and that were so comfortable, her slippers, and a bottle of sleeping pills, the magazine fell at her feet (she could have sworn she had put in the black suitcase!), only to upset her again and render the possibility of rest even more doubtful.