Our Word Hosts Reading and Conversation with Author Mariana Enriquez
BY Angeline Dimambro, April 7, 2021
Our Word, a student organization dedicated to enriching the Columbia University School of the Arts and the surrounding literary community with outreach, advocacy, and inclusion of new and old literary voices, recently hosted author and journalist Mariana Enriquez for a reading and evening of conversation.
Enriquez is one of the most spellbinding horror narrators in Latin American literature. Her debut novel Bajar es lo peor was published in 1995 by Espasa Calpe, followed by the novel Cómo desaparecer completamente (Emecé, 2004), Chicos que vuelven (Eduvim, 2011), and later her first short story collection, Things We Lost in the Fire (2009; 2017). Her writing has been featured in The New Yorker, Freeman’s, McSweeney’s, Granta UK, Granta en Español, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Asymptote. She has also contributed to magazines such as Rolling Stone, La Mano, Dulce Equis Negra, and La Mujer de mi Vida. Her writing entered the bestseller lists in Spain and Argentina, and has been translated into 30 languages. Her second short story collection, The Danger of Smoking in Bed: Stories, was released this year in the US.
For her reading, Enriquez chose the first story that appears in The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, translated as “The Little Angel's Exhumation” in Asymptote. “My grandma didn't like the rain, and when the sky darkened before the first few drops started to fall, she would take bottles to the backyard and half bury them in the earth, the bottlenecks facing downward,” the story begins. The piece follows a young woman, who after inadvertently digging up the bones of her great-aunt, is haunted by her presence later in life. Like much of Enriquez’s work, the story fuses the personal with the uncanny in a bold, visceral way.
Second-year Writing Program student, and Our Word Co-President, Raad Rahman, had the opportunity to not only introduce Enriquez, but also to moderate the discussion. When Rahman asked about the origins of this particular story, Enriquez shared that there was a tradition in Argentina when a baby dies before baptism, or very young, in which the grieving family hosts a large gathering before the burial. A central part of this tradition was to dress up the deceased child, dressing them up to look like little angels.
“I always wanted to do something with that tradition,” Enqiruez said. “I also wanted to write a ghost story that worked two ways. One way was the traditional ghost story of an apparition—it comes and asks for justice, that what has been done wrong be set right. That, basically, is what a ghost is to me—trauma and the demand of justice. At the same time, I wanted that ghost to be very physical. I didn’t want it to be a ghost that was floating nicely...And on the other hand, I wanted to write a story about lost bones, which is, not only in my country, but the whole of South America, connected to the unmarked graves...of disappeared people. Lost bones and mass graves. I wanted to put it into a story that wasn’t necessarily a solemn, political story, but a little gorey, ghost story that is a little funny too.”
Enriquez, who started writing in the mid-nineties as a teenager, had her first novel published at the age of 21. While her first novels were more steeped in realism, she found herself wanting to explore the genre of horror, as well as the specific voice of a female narrator. “In both of my first novels, the narrators are men, and I wondered why this happened for the longest time. I could write the female narrator, but it was very stuck, or she really sounded like me—it didn’t have weight...I started looking for female narrators and found a lot in the gothic tradition.” In turning to horror, Enriquez found the voices of the women that she had been after, and, at the same time, she learned how to write horror-ridden women.
“To me, realism is not the appropriate language for certain realities. Certain realities have to be told by a different language, and, in this case, by a different genre, which, for me, is horror.”
Enriquez’s books are available for purchase through Bookshop, or your local independent bookstore. Visit Our Word’s webpage to find further information about the organization and their upcoming events.