School Assignment

For years now, section six of the following interview has been quoted as evidence of João Guimarães Rosa’s incredible knack for the languages of the world; and yet, as far as I can tell, no English translation of the interview in its entirety exists. This is surprising considering Silvana Guimarães’s opening comment, identifying the correspondence between Guimarães Rosa and his young cousin as one of the closest things to an interview with Guimarães Rosa we have today.

I particularly like the way the letter is written. Perhaps you will find some similarities between it and another text by Guimarães Rosa.

You can find the original Portuguese Here.

Interview: João Guimarães Rosa by Lenice Guimarães de Paula Pitanguy
Translated into English by Felipe Martinez & Daniel Werneck

[Silvana Guimarães]

Usually, Guimarães Rosa wouldn’t give interviews. He was against such “ostentation.”  However, he made at least one exception by reason of affection. His cousin, Lenice Guimarães de Paula Pitanguy, a young girl at the time, sent him a questionnaire for a school assignment. The questions were answered by letter, and are reproduced here with permission of the addressee, in its original spelling.

[Guimarães Rosa]

Lenice, my dear cousin,

Forgive me, a lot, for the delay; but only now am I receiving your letter dated August 23rd! Enny told me about it on the phone when she was here, I waited… and nothing. It was only today, as I said, that Tia (I mean Grandma) Carlotinha phoned me too, and finally sent me the letter, here, at the Foreign Ministry. Therefore, I must answer it quickly, quickly, so as not to leave you and your classmates without material for class. Therefore, never mind if the answers are given in a short and dull way, but I answer them with great affection and sincere joy.


I — Since I was a kid, when I was a very small boy, I always imagined playing out endless stories, true romances; when I started studying Geography—a subject I always enjoyed—I placed the characters and scenes in the most varied cities and countries: a lighthouse keeper in Greece, who was dating a girl in Japan, they fled to Norway, then went sightseeing in Mexico… things like that, almost surreal. But I only began writing for real in 1929, with a few short stories that are, naturally, worthless. Up until then, the only thing I was interested in, intensely, was studying Medicine & Biology. (I was born on June 27, 1908, so at that time I was 21, more or less.)

II — My first published book was Sagarana, in 1946 (the book had been written in 1937.)

III — The feeling I had when I saw my first book come out was one of dazzlement, joy… and fright.

IV — It’s difficult to say which book (we wrote) is our favorite. We always prefer a future book, one that we’re still thinking about writing. In any case, however, I can honestly say that, of everything I’ve written, what I like most is the story of Miguilim (entitled “Campo Geral”) from “Corpo de Baile“. Why? Because it’s stronger than the author, it always moves me; I cry every time I reread it, even when I review the proof sheets. But why, exactly, we don’t know, those are mysteries of the world of affections.

V — I think of “Sagarana” as a ‘son’ like all the others, despite being the oldest.

VI — I speak: Portuguese, German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto, a little Russian; I can read: Swedish, Dutch, Latin and Greek (but with a dictionary by my side); I understand some German dialects; I studied the grammar of Hungarian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Polish, Tupi, Hebrew, Japanese, Czech, Finnish, Danish, I snooped about in others. BUT ALL OF THEM, TERRIBLY. I think studying the spirit and the mechanism of other languages helps with a deeper understanding of the national language [of Brazil]. Above all, however, I study them for amusement, pleasure, distraction.

VII — I have already published four books: Sagarana, Corpo de Baile (distributed in the third edition as three: Miguilim e Manuelzão, No Urubùquaquá, No Pinhém, Noites do Sertão), Grande Sertão: Veredas e Primeiras Estórias.

Sagarana and Corpo de Baile are now also published in Portugal. In the United States, they’ve already released Sagarana and Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands), and they are currently translating Primeiras Estórias. In France, they’ve published Corpo de Baile and Grande Sertão: Veredas (Diadorim), and are translating Primeiras Estórias. In Germany they’ve released Grande Sertão: Veredas and Corpo de Baile (Corps de Ballet), the translation of Primeiras Estórias is ready, and now they’re translating Sagarana. In Italy they’ve released Corpo de Baile (Corpo di Ballo) and Sagarana, they’re translating Grande Sertão: Veredas, and a Spanish translation of Primeiras Estórias is all ready. Canada’s released the same as the United States. Sagarana is being translated in Japan. Grande Sertão: Veredas is being translated in Sweden, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia; its publication is being studied in Hungary, Romania, Holland, etc.

VIII — Your school is great, and I know they always seek to increase the cultural awareness of students. How could I, standing away from these living problems, give suggestions in this sense? All I can say to all of you is to read them books. Yourselves; the books, themselves, are what really matters. The authors don’t matter. The author is a shadow, in the service of higher things that, at times, he doesn’t even understand. The author is always “a banana tree that has already handed out its bunches.”

IX — Young people? It’s a wondrous thing. Young people are almost everything. It’s humanity and hope, starting all over again.

X —The best contribution the youth can make to improve society’s situation? The way I see it, it’s to study, to learn, to apply themselves to discipline and patience; and, above all, not to think, for now, about wanting to improve the current situation of society. But to seek, only, to improve itself.

Here they are, my darling, the answers – I hope they serve you and your classmates, and that you get a good grade. One kiss to each one of you.

Fond memories to Enny and Evaristo.

With another kiss, for you, from…



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