Long time dream realized: I got to meet one of my all-time favorite authors last night. That's right, the goddess herself Isabel Allende. I read The House of the Spirits my senior year of high school and seriously felt like it was a life-changing experience. I never knew before that literature could be such a magical and intimate experience. It evoked so much emotion and passion in me. Come to think of it, since reading that book, I don't think any other piece of literature has been able to get me that same high.
The lovely Ms. Allende came to USF last night for an interview and book signing. She seemed to be an absolutely delightful person. Granted, the interviewer, a literature professor who seemed to be about 100 years old, didn't facilitate the conversation well at all. His dry, outdated sense of humor did not mesh well with Allende's vibrant personality, but she managed to shine through in spite of his attempts at domineering the conversation.
Hearing her speak about writing The House of the Spirits was probably the best part of the evening. She analogized that the book grew inside of her like a baby, and that it was maturing for years until she finally "gave birth" to it. She said it was the easiest book she ever wrote because it involved no research at all; it was all from inside of her. In contrast, she said her other books involved much more research. It's funny because I feel like I picked up on Spirits being much more organic that any of her other literature. Granted, I have not yet read her non-fiction work Paula, which I believe is a memoir about her life and the death of her daughter, so I hope to read that soon to compare. When she spoke about Paula her eyes definitely grew misty, and consequently so did mine. I have a feeling reading that one will make me cry my eyes out -- in an oh-so-good way.
I was interested to hear what she said about the magical realism genre that her work has been placed in. She tends to dislike the label because she said the literary technique of incorporating magical elements with an otherwise realistic story has been misused by many. She said magical realism cannot just be sprinkled in everywhere, as some authors have done, but should only be done when and where the story calls for it. She also gave a really lovely explanation of it, I thought. She said it is used in cultures where people do not understand everything in a purely logical and scientific way, so they rely on elements of magic to explain that which mystifies them. It is a way of bridging the factual with the incredible-- it is magical, but in a realistic way. So she noted that not all of her books employ magical realism because not all of the stories call for it.
As I said, Allende seemed to be a very vibrant and interesting woman. When asked what she did when she wasn't writing, she said "Eat, walk the dog, make love, really not much else." A woman after my own heart, I think. She also said when she was done writing (for good) she hoped to be dead.
Her husband Willie Gordon was there, and he seemed like a sweet man. He was quiet, of course, as to not take the spotlight from his wife, but even when she began to speak about him, he was hesitant to stand up. Supposedly, in addition to being a lawyer, he has written several mystery novels. I would be interested in checking those out, although mysteries are not typically my cup of tea.
I picked up her latest English language book, Ines of my Soul, and after the interview she signed it. She asked me, "Que es su nombre?" I got nervous and tongue-tied, but managed to spit out in mangled Spanish, "My llamo... Laura." I believe I tried to tell her what an honor it was to meet her -- although I don't remember if I spoke in English or Spanish; I was really quite nervous -- but I felt like nothing I could say would mean anything to her anyway.
Well at least I have an autographed copy of this sucker now. I haven't started it yet, but I have to say it looks really really really good. Maybe next time I see her, I'll work up the courage to eloquently tell her what I thought of it.