Cristina Peri Rossi, Cervantes Prize 2021

In the rebellious, Christina Rossi (Montevideo, 1941) recounts the key years of his childhood and early youth. He admired his uncle, a great reader “single, intelligent, educated, atheist and misogynist”. The latter is detailed in an anecdote. When she confessed that she wanted to be a writer, her uncle asked her how many women’s books were in her library. Peri Rossi listed all three: a room of your ownfrom Virginia Woolfan anthology of poems by Alfonsina Storni and another of poems by sappho. “Did you read how they died?” His familiar asked. “They committed suicide,” she replied. “Well, learn the lesson: women don’t write, and when they write, they commit suicide.”

The winner of the 2021 Cervantes Prize will not collect the award in Alcalá de Henares due to health problems. In her place, the actress Cecilia Roth will read this Friday the traditional speech that the Uruguayan writer based in Barcelona has prepared. In her uncle’s library she also read early The Quijote, which is usually cited in the speeches of the winners, but Peri Rossi also has to choose between her own biography, marked by the harshness of exile and the courage and firmness with which she has lived love and sexual desire.

“Perhaps it was an act of justice, one of the few that I have had to know in a very hard life in which I have been at risk so many times” were his first words after receiving the news. That is to say, a poetic act. In an interview on RNE in 2009, Peri Rossi related both aspects: “There are two exiles, two former, two forms of discrimination: exile is always outside the I had the misfortune to see the rise of fascism in my country and the enormous happiness of contemplating and being a part of the thaw of the Franco dictatorship, the rrebirth of the creative forces and the emergence of the libido”.

The first, the one that expelled him from Uruguay after the 1973 military coup, almost against his will, leaving behind a life and a library of 3,000 copies. “I always say it, it’s almost a miracle that I’m here, I didn’t want to go into exile. I let all the notices and warnings pass: they kidnapped my best student, who was taking refuge in my house. I owe it all to a friend who put sleeping pills in my tea and the next morning I woke up drugged on a boat”.

In a poetic chance, the destination was Genoa: the city of his grandparents before emigrating to Uruguay. “Montevideo is a city made up of foreigners. He had an image of the world as a cosmopolitan place, where everyone was from somewhere else and they had met in Montevideo to live in peace. I had never considered the roots and origins”, he affirmed. The fight against xenophobia and nationalism has been one of the battle horses of his political commitment.

The freedom to live love and desire

For the second, the lesbianism that the society of his time condemned, acted in an incorruptible way. “There was a very hard time in Montevideo, when I went to live with the woman I loved in an upper-middle class neighborhood and we had to buy bread in another neighborhood because there was silence around us. Luckily in Barcelona I didn’t have to suffer that. I have always been willing to pay any price to be authentic. If one is authentic, relationships with others are more authentic. I remember that I put a poster on one of the walls in my living room: ‘I have no prejudice against heterosexuals‘”.

Desire is the nerve of his work. In the rebellious (Less Fourth publisher) details how very early he discovered that something was not right. “I’ve never heard a man defined by what he lacks. I’ve never heard a grandmother or a mother say to a grandson or son: “You don’t have a clitoris or a vagina.” But sometimes it happens, like it happened to me, that even In my ignorance I didn’t know I had a clitoris, I spontaneously discovered what it was for: to provide me with autonomous, independent pleasure, without waiting for any Prince Charming”.

He says that he also experienced homophobia towards his work since he published in Uruguay. “I was surprised because, with the trajectory of a leftist woman that she had, I thought that she would scandalize the right, but I learned that the revolution did not necessarily imply equalityd”.

For Peri Rossi, the truth cannot be restricted only to the public or private sphere. “I say it with all sincerity: I always look for a partner and when I have one I am completely faithful. I have had relationships and some very long. One of the things I hate in life is lies. If in the political order we demand the truth, with the disappeared for example, we cannot have such a contradictory attitude of not doing it equally in life. I have been faithful, sometimes despite myself and with great sacrifice.

The supremacy of poetry

“Due to exile, I was a victim of nostalgia, which always idealizes, and like any poet I am nostalgic and melancholy. Margaret Atwood says something like this: poetry feeds on the melancholic part of the brain”, she explained on RNE.

And he uses a simple comparison to establish the supremacy of poetry. “If a narrator is good, like Proust, his prose is said to be poetic; but it is not said of Baudelaire that he recalls prose”. Serve the poem “Amar” (Poesía Reunida. Editorial Lumen) as an example:

to love is to translate


nostalgic forever

of the paradise before babel.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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