Irene Solà. EU Prize Literature for Spain 2020.
Irene Solà Sáez (Malla, 1990) author of “Canto yo y la Montaña Baila” published by Editorial Anagrama and initially awarded with the IV Premi Llibres Anagrama de Novel·la 2019, is also the Literature Prize of the European Union for Spain 2020, being the first Catalan writer to obtain it.
Although the promotion of her award-winning “Canto yo y la Montaña Baila” (Editorial Anagramal) is being very intense, Irene Solà continues to pamper her different artistic aspects. This is how she is known as an intelligent and dynamic person, who we also find her participating in poetry festivals, in coherence with her face as a poet, as we can also admire her work as an artist in any of the different art exhibitions that she has held up to. now, either at the CCCB in Barcelona or the Whitechapel Gallery or the Jerwood Arts Center in London, to name just a few.
We can currently visit the exhibition “There is a woman who …” that Irene Solà exhibits until next August 12 at the Àngels Gallery in Barcelona (Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 27) and whose main theme is related to some of the themes treated in “Canto yo y la Montaña Baila”. In this exhibition, Irene Solà reflects on a legend of witches that the author has found repeated in different cultures during her research.
These different artistic aspects are nothing more than a broad sample that Irene Solà is art professional with great creative talent: a graduate in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona and a Master in Literature, Cinema and Visual Culture from the University of Sussex.
In her second novel “I sing and the mountain dances” (Editorial Anagrama) it is clear, once again, that we are before a writer who is worth discovering for her way of reinterpreting reality, in this case, through her vision particular of mountain life. For this reason, we met with her through videoconference, due to the Covid19 pandemic, and to get closer to the writer, knowing more details about her career, as well as her award-winning novel.
CR: Irene, in “Canto yo y la Montaña baila” (Editorial Anagrama) you tell us the story of different characters based on legends and popular stories with roots in the Catalan Pyrenees and the Pre-Pyrenees, and that, in In parallel, it is very possible that we also find in other European cultures. What has caught your attention the most about the cultural traditions and legends located in the Pyrenees and the Pre-Pyrenees to inspire you to write these intertwined stories?
IS: My interest in legends, folklore, popular culture and the oral narrative goes back a long way, and I think that in some way it is present and is part of the principle and core of this book. In this book, I was very interested in looking at a piece of the world and trying to look at it from as many perspectives as possible, and imagine everything that had happened up there, all the marks, all the lines, all the stories, the anecdotes that had taken place in the same place, and, among all these layers, I was also very interested in the magic layer, the mythology layer, the folklore layer, the imagination, the stories that have been explained there. , which were invented, which were imagined and which were told concerning that territory. And here comes my interest in these legends and these stories, which in my opinion are also a very good source of knowledge, a very interesting place to search as we have imagined or as we have told, how we have mythologically constructed our stories about the landscape where we live.
CR: The use of the different narrative voices in your novel is something that has caught my attention due to its creative peculiarity, but at the same time, I think it is narrated surprisingly because they are “unusual” narrative voices and different from the that readers could expect, and that is something that gives creativity and freshness to the text. Why did you choose to make use of the different narrative voices of your characters in each of the stories that make up this book? And about this, why the voices of those characters in particular?
IS: As I was saying, the desire to look at the world from so many points of view, from so many voices, from as many perspectives as possible, is one of the pillars of this novel. The first chapter that I wrote was the first, the chapter on clouds. It was clear to him that there was someone who would die struck by lightning and he wanted to tell that scene in a low angle, from above, from the perspective of the clouds. I tried it, I wrote it, and I had such a good time, that I decided to permit myself to keep trying, to keep playing, to get into everywhere, in all the places where I could get, literary speaking, and that’s how I found and testing the other voices. In a very organic way, I realized the needs of the novel, what it wanted to tell, and I put myself where I needed to be able to do it.
CR: Witches, water women, bears, women persecuted for being considered witches, peasants, mushrooms, goats and even tectonic plates dance to the rhythm of a narrative that is full of poetry, Irene. Which of the narrative voices was the most difficult for you to project literarily? And which one is easier?
IS: To tell you the truth, I don’t have the feeling that there are easier or more difficult voices than the others. The truth is that most of them came out very smoothly and in a very funny way, I took them a bit like a game, understanding the game as something very serious, but at the same time, very fun and very daring, to try, to be irreverent at times, to jump into the water and swim, and see what happened. If it is true that there are some of these voices that needed much more documentation than others, for example, I did not know much about roe deer either, I had to do a lot of research, I did not know much about the formation of clouds, or I also had to learn a lot about judicial processes for witchcraft, or read a lot about the Civil War and the passage of Republicans through this area, or about the formation of mountains. So some voices required a lot of this work, but, in reality, it is a work that I am passionate about, the fact of researching, asking questions, reading a lot and once I built a well of knowledge, around the subject that I wanted to discuss, once I had this whole well full of “water”, which is this knowledge, well I threw myself.
CR: Which of all those voices would you choose to develop in a larger project? Why?
IS: I don’t know which one I would be left to develop in a more extensive project, I think some would give to make a project like this, I think there are others that maybe not, but I don’t have thinking about which ones I would get into and stay. The idea of the novel was to get into all of them for a while, but not to let a single voice tell the whole story, but for the story to be built from many different places, to also realize and realize that each one sees the world understands the world, feels the world and is, therefore, able to explain the world differently. So the idea of the novel was very much this coral.
CR: Writers, we write mostly for literary pleasure, for vocation and because we enjoy the process, but for you, what has been the most fun of writing this novel? As you say, you have carried out a great research process before the writing of this book. How has this process been? Did you enjoy the research or the creative process more? Tell us, please, how you have felt and how you have lived the process of literary creation as an author.
IS: I don’t separate much the research process from the creative or writing process, on the contrary, for me they happen at the same time. I am searching, I am asking, I am researching, I am reading, I am going to all the places where I need to go, metaphorically and not, to be able to write the book, but at the same time I am writing the book, and the more I write, the more research paths and possibilities are open to me, and then I take them and then I keep writing, and, a little, I give them feedback like this. For me, the funniest part of the creative act of writing the book is having ideas, opening doors and possibilities, it is trying it, it is playing, it is having a great time, it is researching and it is using everything you are learning, everything you are, then playing, to build a story and fill it with ideas and thought.
CR: In history there appear, as we say, women persecuted for being considered witches, you tell us about women who kept in constant contact with nature. After all the investigations carried out in this regard, what has caught your attention the most about all those legends about women who were wise and persecuted by society for considering them, witches?
IS: What has caught my attention and what has interested me the most is the fact that they are not legends, or those witch legends or witch tales are based on historical events that happened and that were very beasts and terrible. For me it has been very interesting to work with all the real historical documents, which were written around these trials, and read all these documents, and reflect on the voice and the authorship, and the fact that these documents that have come to us with the written trials, where the names of these women are given and what they supposedly said they had done, etc., were written by the same men who took them, tortured them and then murdered them, and that, therefore, the history of these women have come to us through the handwriting of these gentlemen, and this idea was an idea that interested me a lot when thinking about and writing this book. Precisely, what I try to do in the chapter of the witches is to give them a voice, or let them tell their own story.
CR: The title “I sing and the mountain dances” in the book comes from a poem by one of the characters who, like you, is a poet, but you, as a writer, how do you feel more comfortable writing narrative or lyric? Why?
IS: It is not so much that I feel more comfortable in one format or another, but rather it is the project, a bit, that asks me for the format. The novel interests me a lot because it seems to me to be a very elastic format, a format within which a lot of research fits me, a lot of things fit me and which gives me a lot of freedom to play. But I think I’m going to see as projects come out and that I want to investigate and reflect on different ideas, because what form these projects are taking, and, in reality, for example, in Hilari’s chapter, which is the chapter of a character who writes poems, it was an exaggeratedly fun chapter to write. I always say Hilari’s poems are not my poems. I would never have written those poems, just like Hilari’s opinions on poetry, they are not my opinions on poetry, but it was very fun to invade his voice, invade his gaze, and write from that character.
CR: You are a woman, you are a professional with a high level of preparation, and you have talent, that mix can be uncomfortable for certain people who lack the same characteristics as you. Have you ever found yourself displaced or uncomfortable by the fact of being a prepared, recognized and talented woman in the publishing market?
IS: The truth is that I, as long as I have evidence in the publishing market, have not felt displaced or uncomfortable. Yes, I have found myself like everyone else, in some situations, because perhaps with certain hints of paternalism or situations in which, especially at the level of public talks that are broadcast on the Internet, well I have found directly sexist comments, from some of the people who were watching the talk or reading we were doing from their homes. A little these are the things that I have noticed, or that I have noticed, which does not mean that there have not or have been other women who have encountered much worse things because I am sure that is the case.
CR: Writers are also great readers. What authors do you think have influenced you the most in your work so far? and because? What work would you recommend us to read by these authors? Why?
IS: Many authors have influenced me, the list is very long, I will only say a few names. I am going to start with Mercé Rodoreda, about whom I think that, perhaps, it would be a very good idea to start reading “Death and Spring”, I am also going to talk about Victor Català and his work “Solitude”, but I am also going to talk about Halldor Laxness and his work “Independent people”. They have also been very important to me, for example, Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, but also Salinger, also Gabriel García Márquez, also Toni Morrison, also Dave Eggers and as I told you the list would be very long. Also some poets, such as Enric Casasses, Penny Goring or Maria Cabrera.
CR: So far you have published three books and the three winners (the poetry book Bèstia (Galerada, 2012) awarded with the Amadeu Oller 2012, the novel Els dics (L’Altra Editorial, 2027) awarded with the Documenta 2017 and “Canto jo i la muntanya Balla “(Anagrama, 2019) IV Premio Llibres Anagrama de Novel·la), in addition to the Literature Prize of the European Union for Spain for this year 2020 that was announced just a few weeks ago, and for which we congratulate you. After being awarded so many times, and with so much success in your publications, do you think it can be viable to make a living from literature?
IS: I don’t know yet if it can be viable to make a living from literature, I would like it to be so. I think that one should be able to live from literature and one should be able to live from contemporary art, or music, if one wants it, and I mix or work on projects that are part of both literature and art. contemporary, and I hope I can continue to dedicate as much time as possible to this type of project.
CR: You are the first Catalan author to have been awarded the EU Prize Literature 2020. What does this award mean to you? Do you think it will help you to consolidate your literature in other countries as well?
IS: For me, this award means great happiness, a great honour. It also means the ratification that it makes all the sense in the world to write in Catalan. It is something that we writers who write in Catalan, we already know, but that sometimes you realize that not everyone understands it, or that in international or Spanish contexts you are asked “How is it that you write in Catalan and not in English or Spanish? ” And this award confirms that everyone must write in the language they want, their own, or the one they choose and that as good literature can be made in Catalan as in any other language. I would like it very much and I would be very happy if this award helped the book to travel, and to enter or lean about other languages, other literature, other contexts.
CR: An almost obligatory question, not only for the pleasure of reading you but because I’m sure that, like me, many readers will want to read you again shortly, so are you working on a project that you can advance us something?
IS: Yes, I am working on a new project, but I can not advance anything yet. I need to continue working on it and be more advanced to start talking about the project.
CR; Thank you very much for your kindness, always, and for your artistic and literary talent, Irene
Solà. Enjoy a lot the European Union Prize for Literature that you have recently received, and that you have been the first Catalan writer to receive, and please, do not delay in delighting us with your good literature again. Thank you!
* Interview conducted by Cristina Redondo and published in the #InLiterature section of the culture, art and trends magazine The Citizen 09/05/2020