Nelida Piñon has left. She has also left her mark on us.
A woman writer to reach the heights of leadership as the president of our prestigious Academy of Letters of Brazil in 96-97, Piñon spend the last month as writer-in-residence at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, in Cambridge.
Somewhat of a legend and no doubt a celebrity, Piñon –who holds the Dr. Henry King Stanford Chair in Humanities at University of Florida at Miami — stepped down to earth and gave herself to attentive listeners at her public appearances in Harvard territory.
What first moved me to go find her was obviously her name. I knew very little of her writing, but had been aware of the media fanfare when she broke ground and became the leader of the Academy.
But now, having heard her three times and bought two of her books, I have gained admiration for her zest for life as well as her splendid surrender to the world of words.
“ My relationship with Portuguese is one of great effort and intense work,” she said in her native Portuguese to a group of about 20 gathered for her farewell lecture at Boylston Hall. “ The sentence has a forgotten face that is hidden inside … you have to give it the opportunity to blossom.”
That was a poet trying to teach anyone, with incredible flair, that good writing is re-writing. She confessed to having revised one of her books – “ The Republic of Dreams” – nothing less than seven times.
“As you move the sentence around, it gives you a kind of metamorphosis… as you edit, everything takes on a new meaning…. The more I work, the more the language gives me,” she said.
Just as intense is her urge to be adventuresome, for the world is new and yet to be discovered every time one pays attention to it, she said. So writing and living go hand in hand, somewhat “intertwined,” she later confessed in one of her many moments of shared passion.
“ What has attracted me to literature from the beginning was its sense of adventure,” Piñon said.
As a young child she realized she could escape the daily routine once she gave herself to the powers of imagination.
“I wanted to transgress,” she said. “I wanted small transgressions to obtain a lot of adventures…. And I loved the liars.”
Sinbad was among her children’s favorites. The works of Brazilian Machado de Assis are among her favorites as an adult. But she was hardly restricted to books in her exploration of her “imaginary,” for she was always aware of her two cultures.
Her foreign heritage is from Galicia, a place she came to know in an unforgettable trip to Spain at age ten, but also through its rich culture transmitted to her by her family.
“I think my narrative biography registers my personal memories as well as others that I have inherited… I am very aware of that,” she said. “I spent my life picking up gestures, kindnesses, emotions… it is as if I swept my yard and collected it all for humankind.”
This careful craft has not gone unnoticed, for Piñon has won several very prestigious prizes around the world, including the Juan Rulfo Literature Award, in Mexico. Her books have also been translated into and distributed in 20 countries.
“Some people complain about the job of being a writer,” she said. “ I don’t. Literature owes me nothing. I owe it everything.”
Esta coluna foi publicada orginalmente no jornal Metrowest Daily News, em Framingham, Massachusetts, em março de 2000.