Thursday, August 18, 2011

WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS ASLEEP: an encounter with José Luís Peixoto in Botswana

'To write is to organise ideas...something that by itself isn't necessarily organised,' José Luís Peixoto.

'José Luís Peixoto is Portugal's most acclaimed, prize winning young novelist,' this is the first line in a write up Sandra Pires from the Instituto Camoes Lectureship at University of Botswana passes around as the author introduces himself.

Born in a small village off Portugal's southern interior in 1974 (a few months after the carnation revolution that put an end to authoritian dictatorship) José finds himself, sense of humour intact, in a University of Botswana faculty of humanities committee room after a hectic flight. There are 12 folks ranging from UB lecturers Tiro Sebina, Mary Lederer & Leloba Molema as well as Lapologa editor Ngozi Chukura to a few faces that bear the telltale signs of a just beginning foray into study. We may be few but he is charming and comfortable in the role of visiting author, as he should be with his first novel accepted for publication at age 25 having since been translated into more than 20 languages. He has written broadly across various genres from music lyrics to novels sometimes fusing autobiography with fiction, theatre play with poetry.

We speak about everything from translation "I leave it to other people its not my responsibility," he says with a smile - to the importance of not just reading but listening as one way that feeds writing. Upon request he reads excerpts from the closing chapters of three books, the poet in him boldly jumps out from beneath each breath held between the narrative. Even though he says he now writes more prose than poetry methinks that is a calling the Gods never take back.

We find out mid conversation that a street, actually the street where he was born and where his mother still lives was recently named after him - and how his amused (and no doubt proud) mother receives mail with her son's name as part of her address.

Having never been there I'm in love with the idea of all things Portoguese; the food, the whitewashed walls, I even dabbled in learning the language so I could better understand one visiting capoeira* instructor's attempts at making me a capoerista, I envy her lengthy coastline and now, her poetry or for now at least the sound of it.

He may very well be a prize winning novelist but I think he is a storyteller first, mediums are just that, a way to translate our experience or perception to the page or the stage. Please visit wikipedia/Peixoto for a bit more on the man and his work. While in Botswana José will run a creative writing workshop before heading to Namibia and South Africa.

*An Afro-Brazilian dance martial arts

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