The great Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away today at the age of 87. He was born in Aracataca, Colombia, and wrote about what he knew in vibrant, ridiculous and wonderful language. He was a master of the written word, and the best thing was, he didn’t see himself that way. Here are six things to learn from this incredible man and writer.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: As far back as I can remember. My earliest recollection is of drawing “comics” and I realize now that this may have been because I couldn’t yet write. I’ve always tried to find ways of telling stories and I’ve stuck to literature as the most accessible. But I think my vocation is not so much to be a writer as a story-teller.
Q: Is writing a great effort for you?
A: Terribly hard work, more so all the time. When I say I’m a writer out of timidity, it’s because what I ought to do is fill this room, and go out and tell my story, but my timidity prevents me. I couldn’t have carried on this conversation of ours if there had been two more people at this table; I should have felt I couldn’t control my audience. Therefore when I want to tell a story I do it in writing, sitting alone in my room and working hard. It’s agonizing work, but sensational. Conquering the problem of writing is so delightful and so thrilling that it makes up for all the work…it’s like giving birth.
Q: Do you think that it’s common for young writers to deny the worth of their own childhoods and experiences and to intellectualize as you did initially?
A: No, the process usually takes place the other way around, but if I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told.
Q: Do you believe in the existence of life in other planets?
A: The arrogance of those who assert that ours is the only inhabited planet is touching. I think that rather we are something like a lost village in the least interesting province of the Universe, and that the luminous discs that are passing in the night of the centuries are looking at us like we look at chickens.
Q: Does a blank piece of paper
distress you as it does other writers?
A: Yes, it's the most distressing thing I know next to claustrophobia. But I stopped worrying about it after reading some advice of Hemingway's. He said you should only break off your work if you know how you're going to go on the next day.
Q: “In one of your short stories, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, a young prostitute tells her lover, “What I like about you is the serious way you make up nonsense.” Is that Gabriel Garcia Marquez talking about himself?
A: Yes, that is an absolutely autobiographical statement. It is not only a definition of my work, it is a definition of my character. I detest solemnness, and I am capable of saying the most atrocious things, the most fantastic things, with a completely straight face. This is a talent I inherited from my grandmother—my mother’s mother—Dona Tranquilina. She was a fabulous storyteller who told wild tales of the supernatural with a most solemn expression on her face. As I was growing up, I often wondered whether or not her stories were truthful. Usually, I intended to believe her because of her serious, deadpan facial expression. Now, as a writer, I do the same thing. I say extraordinary things in a serious tone. It’s possible to get away with anything as long as you make it believable. That is something my grandmother taught me.