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Anna Ballbona: “When you are able to devote a long time to a story you make things happen to you that perfectly match what you are writing”

Literature.  Barcelona,  13/11/2014

The writer Anna Ballbona, who was chosen to make a literary stay at Ledig House in Hew York as part of the Writers OMI programme – which has the support of the Institut Ramon Llull and falls within the OMI International Arts Center – has returned from the USA with renewed energy. After three weeks living with other international authors, her new novel is beginning to take shape and she tells us how her experience in America also featured chickens.

After your residency at Ledig House, how do you value the experience?

It was fantastic, great; I can only say grandiloquent things about it. I had never been in a writers’ residency nor had I done a retreat such as this, and the truth is that the three weeks I spent there – short, too short – were a very gratifying experience for many reasons. The place, the space and the conditions are exceptional; you have the time and the tranquillity to devote yourself to writing in complete freedom; the only break is dinner time, which is nice because it is when you share time, feelings, conversations and jokes with the other people staying there. Therefore, I am very pleased with the writing, working side of things. And as for the living and human experience, even more so. You have to broaden your ideas and opinions when you live with and speak to all the people who, besides loving literature, are a very personal and extraordinary mixture (from all over, with many roots!), when you see small towns in the heartland of America that you would hardly ever have got to know. Such a rich diversity –and I don’t want to sound hollow – was great fun. Our group of eight or nine – it changed, with people coming and going, depending on their length of stay – was made up of very diverse and interesting people. From all of them and with different feelings, I have come away with a fair number of exciting moments.

For a few weeks you lived with other writers from different backgrounds in a setting far from home. From the experiences you have brought back with you, which have marked you the most?

There were moments that were total joie de vivre. From the smallest and most anecdotic to others of great literary power: nights of making the evening last for hours, of putting music on, sounding the Troba Kung-fu and everyone starting to dance; walks, discovering an incredible roadside bar, sharing poems and texts, some weird videos too, and the trip to a bookshop in the middle of the woods or to a contemporary art museum, reading a few scenes from the plays by the group’s playwright ... Above all, perhaps the feeling of normality, normality as a Catalan writer, of being with other writers who write in other languages and respecting each other and being interested in one another. And all the windows that everybody was opening to you, beginning with their own life stories. There was one day, for example, when we performed a recital in the house; I read three poems of mine that two American companions had translated into English (this process was also something very special!). In one of them Patufet appeared; I explained to the audience who he was and I showed them a picture of him, and then they asked me about Catalan and Catalonia (the independence referendum came up, of course) and everything, everything was so natural. In short, I have brought the joie de vivre with me in many ways, a well of energy to continue writing and a reaffirmation: you have to be broad minded, think big and don’t waste time over trifling issues.

Have you made progress with the new novel? Can you tell us about it?

Yes, but there’s still a long way to go! It’s strange to talk about something that you are still doing and whose idea and shape keeps changing. But, anyway, for the moment it seems quite clear that hens and Joyce appear in it, and a journalist who is surprised by the world, who tries to observe and measure it, and who sees that the real madmen are those who do not seem to be. The story has many open threads, which the stay at Ledig House allowed me to stretch out and give them a bit more meaning. When you are able to devote a long time to a story – which I think is what a novel calls for, unlike poetry – you can begin to see things a bit more clearly that up to now seemed too complicated. And as you place all your senses in it, you also make things happen to you that perfectly match what you are writing. It is no coincidence that one day I got lost out for a run in those parts of rural America, among deer and over-the-top cars, and I ended up calling at a house, after more than an hour running, to ask the way back to Ledig House. In that instant in which you do not know if the lady watching you suspiciously will come out with a rifle I thought of a passage in the novel. And that snippet of a story with the lady – which ended well, as you can see – also ended up being a novel. Another example: on the day I left Ledig House, Daisy, one of the ladies who look after the residency, a charming Puerto Rican, took me to the nearest railway station, in Hudson. On the way, she told me that the houses of Ledig House had once been a chicken farm. At that moment I clearly saw that yes, one day or another I would finish the novel.

An interview with the writer after her literary residency at Ledig House

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is a consortium that comprises the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia), Balearic Islands Government and the Barcelona City Council, and its mission is the promotion of Catalan language and culture abroad.

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