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Learn As Much As Possible

In 1978, Jon S. Vincent, then Associate Professor and Associate Chairman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas, published his critical survey (in English): João Guimarães Rosa [1]. In his preface he writes: “It is no doubt excessive to preface a critical study with the admonition that readers of the study take the time to learn another language before proceeding further, but I know of few writers more worthy of that effort than Guimarães Rosa.” I can affirm: it’s worth it. A year or so ago I set out to learn Portuguese in an effort to more closely approach Grande Sertão: Veredas. I understand that even among Lusophones an approximate reading is, in many cases, the most a first-time reader of Grande Sertão: Veredas can ask for, so I don’t worry that I’m too (too) far behind.

Besides being able to read GS: V (relatively speaking), I can also now take advantage of the abundance of literature by and about the author available in Brazilian Portuguese. For example, this:

In 1983, Vilma Guimarães Rosa, João Guimarães Rosa’s daughter, an author in her own right, published Relembramentos: João Guimarães Rosa, meu pai [2] (Remembrances: João Guimarães Rosa, My Father), which includes an interview she gave to Brazilian writer and journalist, Suzi Frankel Sperber. The following is one question and response from that interview, translated by myself.

[Keep in mind that João Guimarães Rosa spoke six languages and read in fourteen.]

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Lusophone Literature: Brief Notes On Parallels Between The Prevailing Obscurity Of Works By João Guimarães Rosa & António Lobo Antunes in the English-speaking World

João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967), Brazil

António Lobo Antunes (b. 1942), Portugal

In May of this year, Oliver Farry published an article (via The Millions) concerning the contemporary and highly lauded Portuguese author, António Lobo Antunes, and his works’ prevailing obscurity in the English-speaking world despite its reputable English translators, Gregory Rabassa and Richard Zenith. Until now, I’ve refrained from posting “just anything” that might only remotely pertain to the discussion of João Guimarães Rosa and the obscurity of his work in English translation; however, I believe the following excerpts, taken directly from Farry’s article in The Millions (in large, bold print) warrant our attention in consideration of Guimarães Rosa’s similar troubled-when-present history in the Anglophone world. This, not only, but interestingly, because the Portuguese author, António Lobo Antunes, a Lusophone from the other side of the Atlantic, is one that American critic Harold Bloom has hailed to be “one of the living writers who will matter most.”  A similar claim was made about Guimarães Rosa at the time Grande Sertão: Veredas was translated into English in 1963.



“I received a letter from an American agent — a big name at the time; I wasn’t going to reply — I thought it was a joke. But I wrote back, thinking, why not, it’d be cool to have an agent in New York. […]In the U.S., if you have The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, you have America, and if you have America, you have Europe. [Lobo Antunes]

This was reportedly Guimarães Rosa’s precise attitude when he received a letter from the English translator, Harriet de Onís, who had read one of his short stories in Spanish translation, and who subsequently approached Knopf about translating Guimarães Rosa. He believed an English translation would open the way to translations in other major European languages, a belief which proved indeed to be very true: within five years of its English translation Grande Sertão: Veredas was translated into Spanish, German, French, and Italian.

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The Literary Achievement of João Guimarães Rosa

Studies in the Literary Achievement of João Guimarães Rosa, The Foremost Brazilian Writer of the Twentieth Century
Editors: Ligia Chiappini, David Treece, Marcel Vejmelka
The Edwin Mellen Press, 2012

This long awaited and very much deserved anthology is the first of its kind in the English language: an anthology entirely dedicated to the study of  works by João Guimarães Rosa. Originally published in Brazil in 2009, the anthology collects selected academic essays first presented at an international symposium held in Berlin, Germany, in December 2008, in celebration of Guimarães Rosa’s centenary, and has just recently been translated into English.

David Treece, one of the editors of the anthology (and the English translator of a collection of short stories by Guimarães Rosa) had this to say about the anthology when I first spoke with him in May, 2010:

“The volume that we’re publishing, I think, could be very important. It’s a very wide-ranging anthology of essays, which came out of some conferences that we were organizing in 2008. The essays range from overviews of the impact of Guimarães Rosa on Brazilian Culture as a whole, surveys of the impact his works have had in the other arts and elsewhere in literature, essays on adaptations of his work for the cinema, very in-depth literary analysis of work including Grande Sertão, his short stories and other texts, there is a biographical essay by Guimarães Rosa’s daughter—a whole range. So I think this book could be something of a companion to Guimarães Rosa. That’s where we are in the Anglophone world with Guimarães Rosa: we have a limited number of translations to work with, [now we have] a kind of companion study, the anthology.”

A companion indeed. Or better yet: twenty six companions (writers, translators and scholars, Guimarães Rosa’s daughter among them), representing seventeen universities in nine countries. Individuals who have studied Guimarães Rosa for decades in many cases, and provide the English reader with otherwise inaccessible insights into the work of (as the lengthy yet appropriate title states) the foremost Brazilian writer of the twentieth century. This work will prove invaluable to the reader who truly wishes to understand the scope of the impact Guimarães Rosa has had on modern world literature and the arts.

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