Monday, December 27, 2010

Ena Lucia Portela's "100 BOTTLES" in MIAMI BEACH Dec 29

Last year, I had the pleasure of translating Ena Lucia Portela's Cien Botellas en Una Pared into English. It was finally published last month by the University of Texas Press as One Hundred Bottles.

The job came right after I'd worked on Junot Diaz' Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, creating a Spanish-language version out of a seemingly impossible to translate novel that incorporated not just good chunks of Spanglish but also linguistic cameos by Urdu, Japanese, German, and a smattering of other languages, plus multiple and multi-layered references to pop culture, music and Dominican and American history.

So when Portela's book landed on my desk, I was both exhilarated and apprehensive. Probably none of the current crop of young Cuban writers -- except the word wizard Orlando Luis Pardo -- plays with language as much as Portela. The book had been a big hit in Cuba and gotten critical raves in Europe so there was little question in my mind that my immediate circle and my literary peers would be looking at it particularly closely. To ratchet up the pressure, it's Portela's book-length English-language debut.

What I found in translating Portela was an experience wholly different in every way from translating Diaz. For starters, the material -- crazy doings in Havana in the 90s -- was familiar. And the language, so very Cuban, so very Havanesque, was utterly recognizable in letter and spirit. The translation flowed like water, to be frank.

I'll be reading from the book for the first time Wednesday, Dec. 29 at the Books & Books in Miami Beach at 927 Lincoln Road. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. If you're in town, please stop by and tell me what you think.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Multi Kulti & Book Tasting Rocked!

The reading at Multi-Kulti earlier this month turned out to be a real blast. The subject was immigration and there was much more on the bill than just literature. Some young undocumented folks spoke about the DREAM Act (which, unfortunately, failed in the senate a week later and may be lost for a while) and about organizing in general, and poet Bill Hillman hosted another session of the Windy City Story Slam, which offered some shockingly good stories. My favorite reader, Karolis Gintaras Zukauskas, came in second but it was overall delightful.

I also had the good fortune to share the bill with John Schultz, who told a very emotional tale sans script, and the amazing Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, who utterly thrilled the crowds.

For me, it was a brand new experience in two different ways. For starters, I read non-fiction, a piece that ran in Vogue magazine in 1998 about the Elian Gonzalez debacle and how it affected Cuban families. I decided to go with it, after having left it alone for so many years, because it touched on so many aspects of immigration and assimilation. To make it current I had to revisit a few things but I was honestly stunned by how little needed to be changed.

The second thing was accidental -- my printer refused to work and I simply didn't have time to run out and get new ink. So I ended up mailing the entire manuscript to myself and reading it on my cell. I was quite terrified -- and I did lose my place once, badly -- but the audience was forgiving. What I discovered, though, was that it was remarkably easy once I got the hang of it. And though it presents a challenge in that I'm looking down a lot, it also has advantages: the pages are in strict order and there's no paper to hide behind. I might do this again, on purpose.

The entire reading was recorded on -- there are a few glitches here and there, but definitely not their fault. In fact, it's really a heck of an editing job.

Later in the week, I read a few pages from Ruins at Depaul's first ever faculty "Book Tasting." To my surprise, more than 150 people
showed up to hear a dozen profs and staffers read a few minutes from our books. There was dead serious stuff and very funny pieces and much in-between. After the reading itself, the authors were gathered for a reception to meet and greet and had our books paired with a select wine. Mine ended up being a tasty cabernet, full-bodied but not too sweet.

The "Book Tasting" idea had struck me as so bizarre, I'd really wondered about it but the event was a gigantic success. And it was great fun to hang out afterward and talk to the folks who'd come hear the readers, and to some of the other authors as well.

I have a big reading coming up this week in Miami, on Wed., Dec 29 at the Coral Gables Books & Books. It's a new experience for me, since I won't be reading from my own creative writing but from my translation of Ena Lucia Portela's One Hundred Bottles (University of Texas Press).

I'll have more details about the reading and the book tomorrow, and, later this week, about upcoming readings in Austin and Washington D.C.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CHICAGO: Two readings this week!

Coming up: This Saturday, December 4, 8 p.m., reading with Irvine Welsh at the Windy City Story Slam Immigration Show, Multi Kulti 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Then, next week, Wednesday, December 8, 6 p.m., at DePaul's University Center, 525 S. State St., what's being billed as A Book Tasting. The event features Haki Madhubuti, Regina Speller Sims, Patricia Monaghan, Larry Bennett, Joseph Ferrari, Rebecca Johns, Andrea Lyons and me. We'll read very briefly, sign, hang out and sip from whatever wine is being paired with our books. 

I'm not kidding about that -- and I do fear that because Ruins takes place in Cuba, I'll be paired with something sickly sweet and fruity where something deeper, like a Malbec, might work better. Yeah, I know Malbecs are Argentine -- close enough, don't you think?