How Pedro Mairal Convinced His Parents He Needed to Study Literature
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Pedro Mairal is the guest. His new novel, The Woman from Uruguay (trans. Jennifer Croft), is out now from Bloomsbury.
From the episode:
Pedro Mairal: I thought I wanted to study medicine when I finished school, and I failed completely, just in the first year. The sciences completely destroyed me. Math and biology and science. But I didn’t dare say that back home. I couldn’t confess that I was failing, so I went to the cafeteria every morning in the university. I thought it was less of a lie if I went to the university, but I just went to the cafeteria. And I started reading there a lot, and I started doing my own writing. And then I realized that I wanted to study literature, but I didn’t know how to say that, because with the kind of big father figure of the lawyer. You remember that film called Dead Poets Society? There was a kid that committed suicide because they didn’t let him study theater. So I told my parents it is very important for me that you go and see this movie. And they went, and I remember when they came back from the cinema and they were pale and saying, “Of course you have to study whatever you want!” It was a horrible trick, but it worked.
I started studying literature the next year. And I started going to a writers workshop in a parallel way, because the literature studies turn you into a good reader but not necessarily into a writer. I started writing poems and short stories, and then I sent my first novel to a literary contest, and my novel won. That was in ’98. That’s how I started writing, in a way. So I owe a lot to the literature studies, of course, but I think I owe even more to that workshop. I even met my wife there. We were friends for a long time, and now we are still friends, but we’re married too and we’re in love.
But that workshop was very important for me. I learned a lot of things, and I learned not only from the teacher there, but the group—listening to other people write and read what they wrote and discussing things. I still have with me that kind of idea of the group thinking things. It’s like I brought the group into me, and when there’s some subject or something, I can sometimes imagine what we would have said in those times between everyone. So it was very, very important for me, that writing workshop.
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Pedro Mairal is a professor of English literature in Buenos Aires. In 1998 he was awarded the Premio Clarín and in 2007 he was included in the Hay Festival’s Bogotá 39 list, which named the 39 best Latin American authors under 39. Among his novels are A Night with Sabrina Love, which was made into a film and widely translated, and The Woman from Uruguay, which was a bestseller in Latin America and Spain and has been published in twelve countries.
Jennifer Croft won the Man Booker International Prize for her translation from Polish of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. She is the author of Homesick, a Saroyan Prize winner, and numerous pieces in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literary Studies from Northwestern University and an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa.