Urroz contests Latin American lit’s status quo

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Thirteen years after the controversial Crack Manifesto, which sought a rejuvenation of Latin American Literature, Mexican writer, professor and founding member of the Crack group Eloy Urroz will be holding court in Banff as part of Wordfest Sunday, October 18. Penned by a group of Mexican writers in 1995, the Manifesto was published simultaneously with the group members’ novels the following year.

Decrying the impoverished state of Latin American fiction since the ’70s, the Crack Manifesto called for a return to the ambitious fiction of the Latin American boom. The group felt that Latin American literature had reached its zenith in the ’50s and ’60s with authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar and Carlos Fuentes, to name but a few. Partly due to marketing, though, the region’s literary output descended into mere mass fiction by the mid-seventies.

“You start getting books that were . . . more like a best seller. More like, not real literature, but something lighter, a little less challenging to the reader, less experimental,” says Urroz.

The Crack Manifesto called for a rupture from this stagnant form and a return to the vaulting fiction of the earlier generation, where novels attempted more than to simply tell a story.

“We believe we were trying to do art here, like a painter does paint and he believes it is not just a portrait, but a piece of art. It might be or it might not be, at least that’s what he tries to do,” says Urroz. “That’s what we thought the boom was trying to do in the ’50s and then the ’60s.”

The Crack members met in high school in the late ’80s. From 1988-89 they collectively wrote a novel, Variation’s on Faulkner’s Themes, which served as the first major marker in the young writers’ careers. Ten years later Faulkner’s Themes was pseudonymously submitted to a Mexican literary competition. It won, and a couple of publishers wanted to release it. But the members of Crack had all moved on to different projects and weren’t sure if they wanted the book released. It was eventually printed in a 2004 volume which also included the Manifesto and essays by the Crack members.

Urroz’s works since Faulkner’s Themes include six novels, four books of poetry, four books of criticism and three volumes of political reporting. His most recent work translated into English was published in 2006 as The Obstacles, though it appeared a full decade prior in Spanish. Dalkey Archive Press will release Friction, his next book due for translation, in Spring 2010. Amongst its illustrious list of characters readers will find Pericles, Milan Kundera, Karl Popper, Gargantua and one more who will be intimately familiar.

“When you open the book you will see that you are the main character,” he says. “And the thing is that you read fiction, and while you read fiction you realize that your best friend is with your wife…it’s a very experimental novel.”

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