luiz viela
In the newsroom of Jornal da Tarde. São Paulo, 1968. Photo: Personal Archive

Luiz Vilela is the archetypal mineiro: he writes quietly, but what he writes speaks loudly. And he says a lot, although always in a few words. Debugging is a clear mark. Antonio Candido even spoke of the “absolute purity of his language”. So his style is deceptively simple. In addition to formal rigor, he betrays between the lines his training in philosophy. There is an existentialist aura to the characters, whether they are common people or intellectuals. The banal in his stories has a vague metaphysical flavor. Solitude is a constant presence and death appears as a reason for anguish, neglect or laughter. On the other hand, the lack of a subject can be a matter of dialogue, just as the excess of it seems to lead to self-absorbed silence – or to a conversation with an abandoned dog. Dialogue, by the way, is, unanimously, Vilela's strong point. Their conversations sound real to the point of putting the reader in the scene, as a listener.

Born in Ituiutaba, on the last day of 1942, Vilela began writing at the age of 13, after seeing a meteor cross the sky. The house always full of books was also a great stimulus. At 14 he was already published in the city's newspaper. He went to live in Belo Horizonte and then moved to São Paulo, where he worked as a copywriter and reporter at Jornal da TardeEarthquake it was published in 1967, at his expense, after Vilela was turned down by several publishers. The writer was 24 years old. Graphically modest, but literarily ambitious, the book began by winning the biggest Brazilian literary contest at the time, the National Fiction Prize, displacing established names such as Osman Lins and Mário Palmério, which provoked controversy and made him known. Tremor was always praised, from Stanislaw Ponte Preta to Clarice Lispector, as well as practically all the other books by the author, which include novels, short stories and novels. There are numerous dissertations and theses about his work, which has several translations abroad. the end of everything, fourth of his anthologies of short narratives, won the Jabuti in 1974. The head, from 2002, was a finalist for Portugal Telecom and appears in at least two lists of the best Brazilian books in the specialized press. The romance Perdicão won the Pen Clube do Brasil in 2012 and You will see, another selection of short stories, was awarded by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, two years later. Some of her stories were adapted for film and TV, on Rede Minas, Cultura and Globo.

In the following conversation, carried out by e-mail, Vilela was willing to answer 50 questions, to rhyme with the 50 years of Tremor, which now has a new edition, as well as a good part of his work, which has been re-released by Record. Generous and humorous, he talks about when he stumbled upon García Márquez, addresses the main themes of his books, quotes elucidating passages, tells stories, talks about his routine in Ituiutaba, where he returned after a period in the USA and Europe, tries to explain the art of dialogue, remembers his friendship with Murilo Rubião and João Antonio and comments on the current moment of literature.

CULTURA!Brasileiros – On the 20th of this month, his debut book,Earthquake, turns 50 years old. What does this mean for you?
Luiz Vilela –
 It means a lot, of course. I'm naturally suspicious to speak, but I think the Tremor reaches 50 without a wrinkle, without a gray hair. In other words, I think it hasn't aged at all, that it retains the same freshness and vigor as when it was published.

And how was the career of the book, which is now in its tenth edition?
I can't complain. A lot of good things happened to him over that time: reprints, translated short stories, participation in anthologies, inclusion in textbooks and entrance exam lists, the subject of master's dissertations and doctoral theses, adaptations for cinema and theater, comics, etc. Lately he has been discovered by young people on the Internet. One of them, a girl, read it on the recommendation of a writer and wrote a review on her blog, which she called “Earthquakeby Luiz Vilela should shake the country”. I don't aspire to that, but I would be satisfied if he, as he has done until today, continued to shake some hearts and some minds...

Do you write with pleasure or is writing a painful process for you?
Writing is very difficult, it always was and still is, but it's what I like to do most in life. I started writing when I was 13 and I'm 74. So I've been writing for over 60 years, without missing a year. And I have no intention of stopping. Sometimes acquaintances of mine ask me on the street if I keep writing. I answer yes and add: “Writing is my cachaça…”

luiz viela
In Iowa City, Iowa, USA, in 1969. Photo: Personal Archive

How did you come to this lean style?
At the cost of a lot of work, of writing and rewriting the text infinite times. I'm not hurry. You can't be in a hurry. Haste, says the proverb, is the enemy of perfection, and perfection is what I seek in my writings.

And that keen ear for dialogue?
“What is the recipe for writing a good dialogue?”, asked a young woman with pretensions to being a writer. “Look,” I replied, “I, who am from Minas Gerais, don’t even know the recipe for making a good cheese bread, let alone the recipe for writing a good dialogue.” “No, but say at least something,” she insisted. “Well,” I then said, “To write good dialogue, you first have to get into the soul of the characters; without it, it is not possible to write a good dialogue”. “And how do I get into the souls of the characters?” she asked. I thought for a bit, looked at her and said, “You know? I'm thinking you'd better look up the cheese bread recipe…” She laughed and changed the subject.

Have you ever tried poetry?
As a teenager, and later too, I wrote some poems, but I never thought of dedicating myself to poetry. In one of the poems, when I was 15 years old, I, who had gone through some health problems, ask death: “How long will I be the hunted hunted, / and never caught, / and never abandoned?” In another poem, from the same time, when I still had religious faith, I address Jesus: “These hands, which I nail to the cross every day, / are the same hands that bless me every day.”

And theater?
In my beginnings, I wrote everything. The theater could not be missing, as in fact there was not. At age 14 I wrote a two-page typed play entitled Dialogues, with two characters, Placido and Simplicio, names, I think today, reminiscent of something I read about Latin comedy. Plácido is running for mayor and explains to Simplício: “All you have to do is make a little marmalade, invent a few lies, get some henchmen and you’re in power.” Three months later I published a short article in a city newspaper entitled “Reform and reinvigorate our politics”. In it I said: “Dirty (politics) because politicians, mostly corrupt and corrupting individuals, distort it, making it a stage where the most vile scoundrels are represented.” Any resemblance, by any chance, to the present day?…

And the chronicles that, at age 15, you sent weekly from Belo Horizonte to your city's newspaper?
I really enjoyed writing them and, of course, seeing them published. They were chronicles of literary quality, as anyone can attest. I had read at the time, in newspapers, magazines and books, all of our great chroniclers: Rubem Braga, Fernando Sabino, Paulo Mendes Campos, Drummond, Bandeira, Rachel de Queiroz… Apart from the pleasure of reading, I learned a lot from them.

Besides the extension, what are the differences between a short story, a novel and a novel? Do you have a preference for any of them?
There are indeed differences between the three genres, but explaining them here would be time consuming and tedious. As for preference, I don't have it. I like all three equally and have always written all three. To be alone in recent times, in 2011 I published the novel Perdicão, in 2013 the collection of short stories You will see and in 2016 the novel The Son of Machado de Assis. And to whom it may concern, I inform you that my next book, already written, is a novel.

I knew that in your home, as a child, there were always many books...
IT'S. Everyone at home, my parents and my five siblings, loved to read, and so there were, as I say, books everywhere. There were books even in the chicken coop, as I told you once, and it was no joke, because there was even there, in the chicken house, an old wooden cupboard where there were some books. How they got there, I don't know, nor, as I said, if the chickens read them...

luiz viela
Luiz autographs copies of Earthquake at the launch, in Belo Horizonte, in 1967. Photo: Personal Archive

Did your parents write?
Not. They had no literary pretensions. But they did have the concern to write well, and they wrote. Both had very good schooling. My father studied with the Salesian priests in Cachoeiro do Campo and Lorena, graduating in Agronomy, in Niterói, at the Higher School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. My mother studied with Dominican nuns in Uberaba, at Colégio Nossa Senhora das Dores, graduating from the Normal course.

And the Philosophy course, how was it?
I learned very little in the Philosophy course, and what I learned I could have learned without taking the course, just by reading the books, since most teachers were limited to repeating what was in them. What I learned most about philosophy was what I read on my own since I was a teenager. Some of the philosophers and thinkers I read then and later, like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Unamuno, had a profound influence on my life and work.

How was the magazine time? Story?
The 1960s were, in Belo Horizonte, a time of great literary effervescence. Besides the Story, which in 2015 completed 50 years of creation and deserved a special edition of Literary Supplement of Minas Gerais, which, incidentally, appeared a year after the magazine, there was also the Text, another publication that I also created, with two other companions, and that last year also completed 50 years of creation. Text had a lot of repercussions. At Brazilian Civilization Magazine, then the best cultural magazine in the country and politically the most courageous, historian and critic Nelson Werneck Sodré dedicated a long and laudatory commentary to it.

And the time you spent in the United States?
I went to the United States invited to participate in the International Writing Program, a program that brought together writers from around the world in Iowa City, Iowa, for nine months. I was 25 years old. The program was great. In addition to getting to know a foreign country and living with writers of different nationalities, I had all the time there, and so I was able to finish my first novel, The new ones, which I had started three years earlier in Belo Horizonte and stopped when I went to São Paulo to work at the Jornal da Tarde.

From the US you went to Dublin, because of James Joyce…
Joyce was, and remains, one of my great admirations in literature. In Brazil I had already read almost all of his work, and then, in the United States, with the end of the Program and a few dollars in my pocket, I decided to visit Europe, and the first place that came to my mind was Dublin.

You then spent a season in Barcelona.
Yes, and it was a very pleasant season. In Barcelona I ate a lot Valencian paella, I saw the Picasso Museum, the works of Gaudí and a bullfight with Antonio Ordonez. And one late afternoon when I was passing through downtown, I saw, at the door of a bookstore, a guy very similar to García Márquez, who I knew was living in the city. I stopped, approached him and asked: “Are you García Márquez?”. “Yes,” he replied. Then I introduced myself as a Brazilian writer and we had a good chat.

Your stories, and even the novels and novels, sometimes seem not to have a proper ending, but only an interruption, as if you wanted to eliminate any trace of artificiality from the plot.
That's right. I run away from the artificial, in literature and in life.

In fact, the plot seems to have less importance than the dialogues and ramblings.
No, the plot is no less important. Plot, dialogues, ramblings, all have the same importance.

In his stories, the banal gains metaphysical dimensions.
Metaphysical dimensions may be a bit exaggerated, but the banal is indeed present in some of my stories. At the Perdicão, the narrator, at one point, says: “But what is not banal? Everything is banal: things, people, life… Everything is banal…”

There is also the difficulty of communication between the characters, no matter how much they talk.
There, there is this. Especially in my first three books, short stories, the EarthquakeAt the bar and the Late night. in the tale At the bar, which gives the book its title, the character says to another: “Did you know that we only hear our own voice? And that I've cried because of it? And that I've also laughed because of it?”

Loneliness is also a recurring theme.
Yes. “There is loneliness even in things”, says Nicolau, the character in my novel The Cry on the Pillow. Not without reason, Edward Hopper is one of my favorite painters. Before getting to know his paintings, when I was young, I was very fond of our Pancetti. I liked it and continue to like it.

The death…
With the word, once again, a character of mine, now Walter, from the short story The Dead Who Didn't DieLate night: "The death? Death doesn't matter. Death doesn't matter. Death is just the end.”

And the animals?
Ah, the animals… How sad life would be without the animals, I said it once and I say it again here. I've always had them at home, since I was a boy: dogs, cats, birds. Later, when I acquired a place, I started to have cows, pigs and horses. I could not, therefore, do without writing about the animals, and there are, in the pages of my books, the dogs Corisco, Bebé and Chicão, the rooster Filomeno, the turtle Adalberto, the bat Jonathan, the vulture Valdivino, the lizard Zoiuda … The fauna is varied… And more animals are coming, in my next book…

And the religion? At the Perdicão and in other books of yours there is a criticism of religions. Do you currently have any religion?
No, I don't. My parents were Catholics and I was educated in Catholicism. I made my first communion, studied at a priests' college and all that. In early youth, I lost faith, as was then said. Today I no longer have any religion. Neither religion nor any kind of belief in some deity or in the survival of something after death.

Finally, the mood...
“Laughter is the best medicine,” read the anecdote pages of old pharmacy almanacs in the title. Or Rabelais: “Rions, rions, que le risoe est propre de l'homme”.

His first novel, The new ones, was released in 1971 by a small publisher, because other publishers feared reprisals from the dictatorship. It was also a book that divided opinions, as many people of his generation saw themselves portrayed and did not like it. How did you feel when you were attacked by The new ones?
I felt what any author would feel when attacked by his book. I didn't like it, evidently. But what upset me most at the time was that the attacks came mainly from the people I most expected understanding from, namely my literary classmates. Years later, Wilson Martins, in one of his critical columns in the newspaper ofBrazil, rightly recalled that the book, “it is said, left not a few, if not all, of its models in a bad mood.”

And in relation to Hell Is Right Here, which was labeled “personal revenge” by a colleague from the Jornal da Tarde?
I have already said, and here I repeat it for the umpteenth time, that my novel is not revenge against anyone or anything and that I keep it from my times in the Jornal da Tarde the best memories. In 1993, in a special issue about Minas Gerais writers and journalists, launched on the occasion of an event in Belo Horizonte, the magazine This is, speaking about me, said that the Inferno “To this day, he often torments his companions at the time”. This was almost 15 years after the book's publication. And now, that almost 40 years have passed, is there still someone tormented by him? Hope not…

How do you see criticism in general?
Criticism is necessary. She is part of the game. From her I have already received, throughout my trajectory, confetti and stones. More confetti than stones, but I've received both and I don't think any writer has ever received just one of them.

And the academic works about your work?
Of the ones I managed to read to the end, some are reasonable. Few, very few I would call good. What particularly irritates me about them, when it doesn't make me laugh, is the excess of interpretations. I even created a word for it: interpretosis. They interpret everything, every detail of the text, and then, of course, they end up seeing a horn on a horse's head. Unless it's a unicorn, right?

luiz viela
Vilela on his farm, 1984. Photo: Personal Archive

Why are Brazilians, and especially Minas Gerais, so good at the short story genre?
Well, speaking only of the miners, what I can say is that the miner really likes to tell stories. I even wrote about it for a travel guide, the Brazil Guide. My text is exactly titled “Storytelling”. In it I mention a lecture I gave in São Paulo, in which I said that if people from Minas do not tell stories, they get sick, and I remember that later, in the 2004 Flip, in which I participated, interviewed by a reporter from the Sunday magazine of Financial Times, I was more incisive and said that if the miner doesn't tell stories, he goes crazy. There it is, in the magazine: “'Miners who don't recount cases go crazy', he says. 'Telling stories is our way of exorcizing madness.'”

Still on the subject, last year the centenary of Murilo Rubião's birth was celebrated… 
Yup. Although with an age difference of more than 20 years between us, Murilo and I were very good friends. Because of Literary Supplement, of which he was the creator, we met many times in Belo Horizonte, when I was still there or when I would go there later. Always attentive, Murilo went to practically all my releases. I have several pictures of us together and some letters from him. From time to time he also sent me a note, like this one, from 1968, in a little card, charging a story that I had promised to the newspaper: “Vilela, old man of war, readers can't wait long. Much less this friend and colleague of yours. Fire in the hominy and show up soon. Hugs. Murilo.” In 1979, in a special edition of Headline, dedicated to Minas, Joel Silveira, writing about the “new cultural generations” of the state, said: “When, for example, a Roberto Drummond, a Wander Piroli or a Luiz Vilela calls Rubião a mestre, the adjective is expressed with good humor , never with irony. Well, Mestre Rubião is.”

And the writers, also from Minas Gerais, Roberto Drummond, Oswaldo França Júnior and Wander Piroli? What would you have to say about them?
Mainly that they were three great friends of mine, three great friends that I lost and that I miss so much. The three of them had very different personalities, but I got along well with all of them. I fear that, like so many other writers of this generation who have also died, they are hardly read any more today. It's sad, the writer dies and soon forgetfulness comes...

Another date remembered last year was the 20th anniversary of João Antônio's death. Did you guys meet?
Yes, we met and were friends. We met for the first time in 1968, in São Paulo, when I was working at the Jornal da Tarde. After that, we had several other meetings: in São Paulo again, in Rio, in Belo Horizonte and even in Ituiutaba, when, on my recommendation, he was invited to a book fair. He came, had lunch at my house one day (“praise and gratitude to Dona Aurora’s tutu and sausage”, he said later, kindly, in a letter) and, of course, we spent a late afternoon playing pool, a sport that we were die-hard fans and that it made it into our books. Returning to that letter, at the end he wrote: “I continue in my angry and awkward romance. I intend to die like this, mate. Then, of course, living an irresponsible old age”. He did not reach old age, dying a few months before his 60th birthday. “Hugs, the most anarchists”, the letter ended, in its own style.

And the authors of today, do you follow them?
I follow the news, but reading the books is almost impossible. If I were to read only the ones the authors send me, there would be no time left for me to do anything else.

What is your opinion about the literary creation workshops?
In short, a workshop does not make a writer, but it can help a writer to make himself.

You have given many speeches throughout your career…
Yes, but lectures in the generic sense in which that word is used today in the literary world. Only once did I write a text of mine, which I read to the audience. It was in 1978, at the XII National Meeting of Writers, in Brasília. The text, “Why I Write Fiction,” was later published in Literary Supplement do Minas Gerais. My mediator in the lecture was Paulo Rónai. Paulo Rónai, check it out, Paulo Rónai, in whose French textbook, by him and Pierre Hawelka, Mon Second Free, I, at the age of 12, in the second grade of junior high school, in my city, had studied. And now there he was at my side, in the flesh, mediating a lecture of mine… As for the debaters, one on each side of the table, they were Antonio Carlos Villaça and Cyro dos Anjos. The meeting was recorded and I keep this precious tape in my files. Starting his speech, Villaça, in a relaxed tone, says: “In the last row, there are Murilo Rubião and Samuel Rawet, two great creators, two great fiction writers”. Hearing this today, it's like I'm seeing the two writers again, way back in the auditorium. Well… Murilo, Rawet, Villaça, Cyro, Rónai, everyone is gone…

What is your favorite book?
I don't really like this kind of question. But come on… My favorite book is the Bible. That would make a headline, huh? “Atheist writer declares that his favorite book is the Bible“… Because of my Catholic upbringing, I had early contact with the Bible. At the age of 13, in the eagerness to know everything, I not only wanted to read it, but also to have one. So I gathered my money and went to the parish hall. A priest, who already knew me from high school, attended to me. I said I wanted to buy one Bible. “Who is it for?” he asked. “For me,” I replied. His eyes widened and he just stood there, not knowing what to do. Then, without saying anything else, he went inside and got a Bible. I paid and left, taking with me the Bible, which I still have.

You said in an interview that you intended to read the Complete Sermons by Father Antonio Vieira. 
I intended and still intend to, but, at this point in the championship, I don't know if I'll be able to do that. Vieira is one of my greatest literary admirations. I read it for the first time in high school, in a Portuguese anthology. It was the famous passage about Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Then I read in daily, Belo Horizonte newspaper, which my father used to subscribe to, the sermon of the “Bom Ladrão”. I liked it a lot and even wrote down a few sentences in a notebook. At that time, Editora das Américas launched, in several volumes, the complete collection of sermons. In the excitement of my 14th birthday, I asked Dad to buy it. He, always sparing in spending, and rightly so, as he was not rich and had six children to be educated, did not hesitate and, to my great joy, bought the collection. It is the collection that I have and of which I have already read some volumes.

luiz viela
At age 13, on his father's farm. Photo: Personal Archive

Antonio Candido said that his strength lies in dialogue and also in the “absolute purity of his language”. How is our written language?
Bad, very bad. It's a daily massacre. In newspapers, in magazines, in advertising, in press releases, in contracts, in advertisements, in notices, on the Internet, in everything. A massacre. They are errors of agreement, of regency, of vocabulary, apart from cacophates, pleonasms and everything else. A massacre.

Were you bothered by any of the many film and television adaptations of your stories? On the other hand, did you particularly like any?
The adaptations already add up, at this point, to more than a dozen. The authorized ones, because there are the unauthorized ones, which circulate on the Internet. Of these, only one tale, or shaving, I've seen three. As for authorized adaptations, I especially like two: Françoise, with Débora Falabella, and The head, with Giulia Gam. An adaptation with good moments, and the great interpretations of Daniel Dantas, Lília Cabral and Maitê Proença, is Late night, directed by Roberto Farias and aired by Globo in the series “Brava Gente”.

And theater adaptations?
There were also some. Also last year, a theater group from Rio, Tábula Rasa, presented the show Rain, a montage of five short stories of mine.

What did you think of the Nobel Prize for Literature given to Bob Dylan?
I never thought about winning the Nobel Prize, but after seeing it awarded to Dylan, I got more excited and I'm even thinking about hiring a teacher to teach me how to play guitar. What do you think?

Another news that occupied the media at the end of last year was the death of Fidel Castro. In 1991 you were in Cuba as a judge for the Casa de las Américas Prize. Did you meet Fidel there?
Yes, I did. At the end of our work with the award, we were invited to a dinner at the Palácio de la Revolución. Fidel, in his usual military attire, greeted us at the entrance, shaking hands with each one, to whom he was introduced by a Cuban writer. He didn't participate in the dinner, but at the end, coming from inside and accompanied by bodyguards, he appeared again. Standing, surrounded by people, he spent more than an hour in the hall answering all kinds of questions. Then he said goodbye and returned, with his bodyguards, to their quarters. We, the writers and other guests, continued for some time in the salon, chatting, drinking wine and smoking cigars…

After living in Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, Iowa City and Barcelona, ​​why did you decide to return to Ituiutaba?
There are several versions of this: that I came after a beautiful woman, that I came out of disillusionment with the outside world, that I came to become a farmer… Before deciding on any of them, I would like to hear the version of Bissa, my character from The Son of Machado de Assis, for whom the writer had a daughter and she was called Carolina…

How is your city today?
cars. Cars and more cars. And motorcycles. Motorcycles and more motorcycles. This is my city today.

And how is your daily life?
I currently live alone and spend most of my time at home, writing, reading, or taking care of something.

Do you participate in social networks?
No, I do not, nor do I have any intention of participating. Being connected all the time? How horrible…

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Luiz Villela today. At 74, he has been writing for more than six decades. Photo: Personal Archive

Does Ituiutaba prestige you as a writer?
Let's say, mining, that, in general, more or less, and to a certain extent yes...

In the biographical information of his books there is a mention of a meteor that in 1956 crossed the skies of his city…
It was actually a meteorite, as I just learned, not a meteor. He was baptized Migomaspa, for having crossed, in a route of 800 kilometers, four states: Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso and São Paulo. In a diary of mine, aged 13, on June 3, 1956, at 18:25 pm, I wrote: “I was combing my hair to go to Cine Capitólio, when my mother said: 'Luiz, many people are looking at the sky, which will be ?' She and I went out to see what had happened. We looked at the sky and saw a roll of smoke that was lengthening and thinning, until it was lost to sight. We asked some people on the sidewalk what they saw. We were told that they had seen a fireball and then a roll of smoke. According to the opinion of the people and teachers, the phenomenon was nothing more than a meteor.”

What is the place of literature in the XNUMXst century, in a society dominated by mass culture, new media and the market economy?
I don't know where the place is, but whatever it is, big or small, or even nowhere at all, I think that as long as man exists, literature will exist. Well, maybe I don't think so, but it doesn't hurt, in times as dark as ours, to end the interview on a note of optimism, does it?

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